Poetry – Language Features





How to analyse a poem –

Mrs Mitchell’s system and template.

unfam latest refined template


Look at the actual words in the order they have been placed by the writer.

How does the text’s structure impact its message?

Identify what is literally happening in the title, the beginning, the middle and the end.

What is literally happening in the title?

What is literally happening at the beginning?

What is literally happening in the middle?

What literally happens at the end?

What links are there between the title and the ending?



What are the ideas or messages/meaning I got from what literally happened? I.e. From what happened in each section (the title, beginning, middle, end) what did it make me think of? What idea(s) did it give me? The ideas might be quite different from what is being literally portrayed. E.g. A man going to a fun fair might literally be about him seeing all the crowds and rides but the idea created could be regret and isolation.


TONE = the attitude of the writer to the subject, the audience or a character in the text.

MOOD = how the text makes ME (the reader) feel or react as I’m reading. I.e. The feeling created (by the writer) as experienced by me (the audience).

From what happened in the title – what ideas did I get? What tone/mood is created?

From what happened in the beginning – what ideas did I get? What tone/mood is created?

From what happened in the middle – what ideas did I get? What tone/mood is created?

From what happened in the end – what ideas did I get? What tone/mood is created?

How do the ideas change? Develop? Stay the same? What piece of wisdom does the writer seem to be presenting me with?

What links are there between the ideas I got from the title and the ideas I got from the ending?

From what happened what ideas did I get about the setting, mood, tone, style?



HOW were techniques used to convey the meaning/create effects?  How did these contribute to the tone/mood?

HOW did the writer use techniques to impact the audience?  

FIND techniques that directly link to the main ideas and messages you have found. (Every word, piece of punctuation, etc, is a feature of language so choose the techniques you recognize AND that create impacts that link to the important ideas of the text.)

This section is the nuts and bolts of poetry analysis. You demonstrate your understanding of wordcraft by explaining HOW the writer was able to use specific language features to create an effect on the audience. That effect or impact might be a particular sound effect, a sensory experience or image, a connotation (positive or negative), etc. It will be something that triggers or links into our everyday experiences with language in real life and how we like to operate as human beings. For example, the technique of rhyme satisfies our human preference for things to match. It gives us a feeling of completion. Therefore it makes the ideas being presented feel like they should be somehow comfortable. Rhyme also makes things more memorable. These general effects can be considered whenever you are analysing what a particular rhyme might be doing in a poem you are investigating.

So, to discern the effect of a technique, think about how the words are legitimately acting upon you. Say them out loud. Listen to them. Does the flow speed up or slow down? Is that an important aspect to discuss? How does the technique affect the rhythm of the piece? Does it have a connotation or a literal meaning that influences the message of the piece? Does it trigger our emotions? If so, which one(s)? Be as specific as you can.

Technique, Example, Explain Effect. 

Quote from the text, describe and explain HOW they were used to create an effect.



Writer’s purpose? Why did they write?

LINK your WHY to the writer’s efforts to create a specific tone or mood in the text. The tonal shifts in a text are a fantastic spine upon which to connect all your other analysis.

What was the writer trying to achieve? Persuade, inform, entertain? Did the text make you believe, understand or imagine? Did it get us to reflect, relate, be challenged?

Who were they trying to reach?

How did they use techniques to try and fulfill their purpose and reach their audience?

The writer’s purpose will always link to WHY they wanted to communicate the IDEAS or messages you have already identified – to a particular AUDIENCE.

WHY that technique therethen? (MICRO i.e. How does the technique create an impact in that phrase, sentence, stanza, etc?)

HOW does that particular example relate to the text as a whole? (MACRO i.e. How does the use of that technique in that spot impact the meaning or message of the text as a whole?)

What was the writer wanting to achieve in the:

Title: Why are those ideas there? (It will link to the message(s) they are aiming to communicate PLUS the audience(s) they are trying to communicate it to.)

Beginning: Why are those ideas happening there?

Middle: What changes? What develops? Stays the same? WHY?

End: Why is that at the end?

What links are there between the title and the ending? WHY?



WHO does this relate to? Did the text make you believe, understand or imagine? Why? Why not?

HOW did this apply to you or the wider world? 

WHAT did this poem teach us about human nature, society or the human condition?


Putting it all together



 S – Statement + TONE Ideas that link to the tone(s) TEE – Technique, Example, Effect P – Purpose EL – Extension, Link
(Rewrite the exam question as a statement and ANSWER the question. Include the TONE(s) you have identified as part of your ANSWER) The writer’s TONE at the beginning is…in the middle it is…

later this changes to…


When………happened in the …… of the text… it created the idea(s) of…..  The writer used the technique of……..in the example of “…………….”  This technique created the idea of………by using it to………………. This worked together with the technique of ……in the example of “…………………..” These techniques worked together by….  The writer wanted to create that impact of………..because……..   The way this idea was presented here was important to the text as a whole because……  Using the techniques in this way was especially relatable for people who….. It taps into the Human Condition because…. 



Introduction to Poetry     


I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Billy Collins


Language features and their effects

Use this checklist:

  • to understand the ways in which writers gain impact in their writing
  • to use various features in your own writing (creative and transactional, as well as for your oral presentations) in order to craft your writing and gain impact
  • to help you achieve unit standards which require you to explore language and think critically about poetic / transactional / oral texts

Language feature

Definition or explanation


General effect

(you must decide on the specific effect relative to the text)

Rhyme The ends of words have the same sound. Usually at the ends of lines in poetry, but may be internal (within a line). That second day they hunted meFrom hill to plain, from shore to sea.Then Billy who was sillyAlmost every other day… Makes the text memorable and can make poems amusing. Can tie together the middle and end of verses.
Rhythm A regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. I went to town to buy a phone.On the road there’s a girl with a bike. Makes the text as a whole more memorable and makes it flow better.
Alliteration Repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of words – usually close in succession. Having heard the song, he sang it softly.There came a ghost to Mary’s doorWith many a grievous groan. Makes small sections of the text hang together and flow better. Draws our attention to this phrase. Creates a harder or softer mood in line with the meaning (hard consonants are b d k p q t, soft are f h j l m n r s v w y z, while c and g can be either hard or soft)
Assonance Vowel sounds are repeated at the beginning or middle of nearby words. Her early leaf’s a flowerBut only so an hour.There were excited bursts and swerves as the cattle stampeded. Makes small sections of the text hang together and flow better. Draws our attention to this phrase. Repetition of vowels generally gives a soft, quiet, calm mood unless the sounds are the short vowels, eg in cat, pet, pin, off, cup.
Sound clusters A group of sounds is repeated throughout a sentence or a group of lines in a poem, not just at the beginnings of words. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…I love to see the cottage smoke curl upwards through the trees. These create a “wall of sound” with a number of repeated sounds, not just one type. They usually create a particular mood by using a number of hard or soft sounds, rather than a combination of the two.
Onomatopoeia Words sound like the sounds they name. There came a furious woofing from the seals.The brrrring of the alarm woke him. This helps us hear the actual sound being named and therefore we understand it properly or it transports us to the place of the sound.
Repetition Repeating the same or nearly the same words for effect. Come on, Come on!” she shouted. “We’re late!” This is used to emphasize whatever is being said or written, or to mimic repetition in nature.
Parallel construction Using the same word class order twice (in same or two sentences) Into the valley, through the marsh, rode the hunting pair. Parallel construction provides rhythm while it expands the detail of the description and creates balance.
Triple construction Repeating three times a group of words which have the same pattern of word classes. Each group may or may not start with the same word/s. that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the face of the earth.Then leaf subsides to leaf,So Eden sank to grief,So dawn goes down to day… Same as for parallelism, but the triplet provides closure or finality along with that sense of balance.

Language feature

Definition or explanation



(you must decide on the specific effect relative to the text)

Simile An image which compares two things using like or as The black smoke rose like a wizard’s tower spiralling into the sky.The playground was as empty as a ghost town. All imagery gives the person/animal/thing being described the characteristics of something else. It therefore enlivens descriptions by helping us to see these people/animals/things in a new light – in a way we may
Metaphor An image which compares two things without using like or as We emerged from the cool dark of the hut into the blast furnace heat of a Central Otago summer afternoon.The fireworks were sparkling flowers exploding in the night sky. have never seen them or thought about them before. Metaphors are more compact and tighter in their comparative description than similes.
Personification An image which gives human qualities to non-human things. The night hung out a multitude of lanterns to guide the travellers.Raindrops danced on the pavement. In addition to the above, personification makes inanimate objects seem lively and lifelike while it also contributes to our sense of oneness with these inanimate objects.
Choice of words(vocabulary) Using more unusual or specialized or technical words The wind moaned, a low-pitched, unutterably eerie threnody (sad song). He died of a myocardial infarction. Sometimes, more unusual words provide more specific meaning than common ones. Specialized or technical words make it seem like the writer/speaker really knows the topic.
Use of slang Most likely used in direct speech. Hey, you guys, let’s cut loose tonight and paint the town red.” Grounds the text in informality as well as a certain social group and period of time.
Use of direct or indirect speech Quoting or reporting spoken words. Come over here!” Jack yelled, then proceeded to tell us all how he’d won the Melbourne Cup pool in his office. Makes the character come alive. We can “hear” the way s/he speaks – the actual vocab, grammar and tones.
Use of incorrect grammar Generally used in direct speech but may also be used in autobiography for particular effect. Let’s have ourselves a few beers.”I sure do hate them direct marketers always calling at dinner time.” Creates an image of the character – helps to define personality and place him/her in a particular educational or social class. Provides authenticity in your writing.
Pun Word play involving the use of a word with two different meanings or two words that sound the same but mean different things.Often used in advertising. An advert for an omega-3 margarine has this statement: The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. This gives new literal meaning to an old figurative phrase which involved romance rather than health. Provokes amusement and therefore a tendency for the reader to feel good about the company / product and possibly to buy the product.If used by a character, shows that that character is rather clever and witty.

Language feature

Definition or explanation



(you must decide on the specific effect relative to the text)

Hyperbole(pronounce high per bow lee) Deliberate exaggeration I’ve told you thousands of times to clean up your bedroom. Used for emphasis to get a point across. Also illustrates something of the mood of the speaker/writer.
Litotes Deliberate understatement Well, I was sure was brassed off when he walked out on me.” Shows just how strong the emotion is and illustrates something of the character of the speaker/writer.
Use of multiple adjectives or adverbs The adjectives give more information about the noun and the adverbs about the verb. The air was full of driving, needle-pointed ice spicules…Slowly, stealthily, the wind was lifting a swell. Builds up a very full picture of the object/animal/person or the activity so that it becomes very clear in the reader’s mind – the reader feels s/he can picture it or see it happening very precisely.
Simple sentences These have only one complete verb, though there may be one or more incomplete verbs. Passing the school, we saw the flames pouring out of the office. Used to establish one idea. Often used as topic sentences, making clear what the paragraph is about or marking a change of place/topic/etc
Compound sentences These have a minimum of two complete verbs and each part of the sentence can stand on its own. We danced all night, then climbed the hill to see the sun rise. Used to get across two main ideas with some supporting detail.
Complex sentences These have a minimum of two complete verbs; the part of the sentence which has one of those verbs, but cannot stand on its own, is called a subordinate clause. We left the party because the level of violence was getting way over the top.Although the sky was overcast, no snow fell that night. Used to provide explanations and other more detailed information about the idea expressed in the main clause.
Rhetorical question A question that does not expect an answer from the reader or audience So what would result from such a plan? Chaos, that’s what. To get the readers’ / audience’s attention and make them think about the answer before giving it.
Use of command This is the verb used alone (without a noun or pronoun). Can be used with adverbs or other word classes. Stop! Come here and sit down while I talk to you. To catch people’s attention, whether it’s another character in a narrative or the audience listening to a speaker. We are socially conditioned to obey commands so the advertiser or speaker may get some affirmative response.
Use of first and second person pronoun 1st person singular = I, me, my, mine, plural = We, us, our, ours2nd person singular and plural = You, your, yoursMostly used in

  • autobiography
  • 1st person narrative
  • direct speech
  • oral presentations.
I would like you to think hard about what I’m going to tell you next.You wouldn’t dream what happened to him. I can’t believe it myself!”I opened the door wide, then opened my eyes wider when I saw a small black dog sitting on the step.I was born on a grey winter’s day in Dunedin. My mother tells me that the nurse bathed me in cold water by an open window so that’s probably why I enjoy the cold southern winters…. First person: Gives immediacy to the text – the author or character makes a direct connection with the reader / audience. The emotional qualities of the text / character are more available also – the internal life of the author or character. “We” in a speech involves the audience with the speaker (“We all know that violence is wrong”).Second person: In speeches and adverts, this direct address to the listeners/viewers involves them and may challenge them to respond, even if only mentally. In narrative, the use shows interaction between characters.

Language feature

Definition or explanation



(you must decide on the specific effect relative to the text)

Symbolism Use of an object (concrete noun) to represent some emotion or belief system or other abstract noun Simple symbols are widely accepted, eg. heart / love, dove with an olive branch / peace. Others are more complex and individual to an author / character, eg. neon lights / urban sophistication These are a form of shorthand to emotions – an author can use a symbol so that the reader / audience understands the emotions invested in the object without describing those emotions every time the object is used. Provides the reader with a visual (actual or mental) aide-memoire – something that conjures up certain memories and/or emotions or qualities when s/he sees the symbol.
Euphemism Use of a less objectionable or harsh expression to avoid upsetting or offending people His wife passed away (died).The firm was restructuring (sacking workers).She is vertically challenged (short). Amusement in the reader, or revealing of the character of the person using it (kindhearted or sarcastic or squeamish, for example)
Neologism New word – an invented word nylon, radar, Thermos Newness / novelty / difference from “ordinary” words makes it stand out – make the reader/viewer remember them
Listing Objects/reasons/parts of a whole, etc. are listed – in text, usually with commas separating them; in adverts/web pages or text, can be with bullet points We give him access to the biomechanics, conditioning, nutrition, physiology and psychology he needs to be the best. Shows the extent of or emphasizes the topic/object/event being discussed/described; shows the author’s wide knowledge of the topic
Emotive language Choice of words which have specifically intended emotional effects or are intended to evoke an emotional response in the reader There was a clammy self-congratulating illiteracy of the heart drooling from every word. The attitude and emotions of the author are transferred or made clear to the reader
Sarcasm Unkind humour directed against what the writer / speaker doesn’t like fluff-filled catalogues.. (as above – the emotions and attitudes are ones of disdain or contempt or revulsion or dislike or bitterness)
Irony saying the opposite of what you mean ..cultural icons like McDonald’s carparks.. (as above – the intent and effect are less offensive than in sarcasm, but the author may still feel strongly on the subject)
Contrast Using word of opposite meaning close together In a city that never sleeps, she seems to be trying to keep us awake.The sun warms on a bitterly cold day Strengthens each aspect of the contrast by showing up the differencesTo emphasize a change or difference or idea
Use of numbers / statistics Thousands died and hundreds of thousands are homeless A specific number or statistic gives the impression that the speaker/writer is authoritative and knowledgeable
Use of authority figures The words (or image) of a famous person or celebrity are used (Paris Hilton wears only Versace). (Daniel Carter loves Jockeys). The reader / viewer aspires to share the goals of (and use the product promoted by) the personality
Allusion A reference to another work Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries plays during Apocalypse Now It’ll be just like Coral Island.” Adds another dimension to the text by introducing material from our external knowledge (if we get the allusion)
Quotation Direct use of another’s words (spoken or written) Churchill famously said, “We will fight them on the beaches….” A quotation will add some of the authority of the original author to the current speaker/writer