Once somewhat ignored in scholarly circles, close reading of poetry is making something of a comeback. By learning how to close read a poem you can significantly increase both your understanding and enjoyment of the poem. You may also increase your ability to write convincingly about the poem.
The following exercise uses one of William Shakespeare’s sonnets (#116) as an example. This close read process can also be used on many different verse forms. This resource first presents the entire sonnet and then presents a close reading of the poem below. Read the sonnet a few times to get a feel for it and then move down to the close reading.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Performing the close read
The number indicates the sonnet’s place in a cycle or sequence of sonnets. Although you may examine the poem on its own terms, realize that it is connected to the other poems in the cycle.”
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