Interpreting PoetryPoetry is one of the oldest art forms; together with music and some religion, poetry is found in every human culture. And poetry is often found combined with music and religion in most cultures.
A pragmatic definition of poetry is that it is rhythmic speech with heightened meaning. This is, poems follow some kind of meter and the the words are especially meaningful.
To understand a poem, we must appreciate its genre, its form, and its meaning.
There are many poetic genres. Each genre deals with different themes and each has different conventions that we must be aware of. Epic poetry tells stories with great deeds, often connected with war. Lyrical poetry is highly personal, focusing on the emotions of the poet from a subjective point.
A poem can take many forms. The form is determined by the rhythmic patterns of each verse, and how we put these verses together. The form of a poem gives sets the mood of the poem through the musicality that it imprints on the poem. Different languages associate certain rhythmic patterns with different moods and genres, and it is good to be aware of these.
The semantic meaning of the poem centers on its poetic image, which is achieved through descriptions and figures of speech. Rhetoric has classified many figures of speech, and understanding the most used in poetry helps to discuss the topic with others.
Also important to know is that the meaning of a poem is often indefinite. That is, there are -and if it is a good poem, should be- a multitude of interpretations from which a reader may make meaning.