in A Level, English Literature, Essay Technique, Poetry, Writing Skills

This page takes you through everything you need to know when starting out with understanding the basics of poetry. It’s great for complete beginners, or experienced writers wanting to refresh their knowledge. It’s equally useful for literature students, such as those taking GCSEs, IGCSEs, and A-Levels. If you’re totally stuck on poetry and how to read a poem, this is a perfect place to start – it’s for Literature and Creative Writing students.


Thanks for reading! If you find this article useful and you’d like more help on poetry, essays and creative writing, you can see our full English courses below:

Unseen Poetry

Basic Essay Writing

Descriptive Writing

All Courses


How should I think about poetry? 

Let’s start with a basic question: What is a poem? I want you to think about that and answer it in your own words if you can. You might also want to research how other people describe poems. Here are a few to get you thinking: 

“Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted” — Percy Bysshe Shelley (Romantic Poet) 

“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” — William Wordsworth (recognise him? You should, because he’s in your collection!) 

“Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry” — Muriel Rukeyser 

“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” — T.S. Eliot

“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” — Emily Dickinson

“Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat.”Robert Frost

“Poetry is eternal graffiti written in the heart of everyone.” — Lawrence Ferlinghetti


Ok, ok. I got a bit carried away with that exercise. But, you can hopefully see just how many interesting and different opinions there are about the mere idea of poetry – never mind when you get deeper into the poems themselves! I like Frost’s idea that poetry is ‘taking life by the throat’, it’s quite a surprising and violent image but it suggests the power of poetry; that it can get to the heart of what life is really about and explore important ideas about how we should live.

I also love Shelley’s assertion that “poetry is a mirror” and it reflects the world around us. It can make ugly things beautiful, beautiful things ugly, and it can make everyday things that we take for granted seem magical and miraculous – if only for a moment. My favourite poems create a shift in perception; once you’ve read them you can’t unsee how they teach you to see or unthink how they teach you to think. Hopefully, you’ll find that with some of the poems in this collection – it happened to me with several of the poems… but I won’t tell you which ones because you should find your own connections and favourites! 

Some of these writers above (especially Shelley, TS Eliot, Dickinson, and Frost) have been such a great influence on my life and the way I interpret the world, that I thought I had to do them justice and make you aware of them too. At its best, poetry can change the way you think about and respond to the world. It can be a force for political change, but it can also help with your own personal growth and development, as well as your mental health and happiness. Whenever I’m sad, I read poetry. When I’m lost and I don’t know what to do with my life, I read poetry. I encourage you to do the same. 

It’s not a deal-breaker if you don’t love poetry and you’re just trying to analyse it to pass an exam. But the more you actually understand and respect it, the easier this whole process of learning poems and writing about them is going to be. If you’re an ambitious student and you’re aiming for those As and A*s – it’s very hard if not impossible to get them if you can’t cultivate a love of literature in general, and poetry in particular. 

If you think that some people just naturally understand poetry, and others don’t, you’re wrong. Poetry is not just for ‘clever’ people that get it. All poems are difficult to understand at first, so you’re not dumb if you read a poem and you don’t know what it’s on about straight away – that’s the point of poems! If you read a poem and you understand it from the first reading, it’s probably not a good poem. I think of them like puzzles, where you have to spend a while thinking about them and re-reading them to unlock the meaning. 

So, what’s the conclusion?

Poetry isn’t just for posh old people, or the elites. It’s for all of us, to understand more about ourselves and the world. It’s a guide in moments of darkness, a tool for self-help and improvement, a form of art to help us appreciate the beauty in life. I really hope that by the end of this book, you’ll find some personal value in poetry and not just think of it as a way to get an exam grade, because it can be so much more than that. Don’t just stick with these poems, either, find ones that you love that connect and speak to you personally.

For how to break down and understand a poem, click here.


Thanks for reading! If you find this article useful and you’d like more help on poetry, essays and creative writing, you can see our full English courses below:

Unseen Poetry

Basic Essay Writing

Descriptive Writing

All Courses

Write a Comment

Comment