Poetry in Reading Comprehension – How to Find the Meaning and Mood

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a student. It went like this:

I’m just saying that I need to improve in English – Poetry. It’s hard to understand the words and what it means. I generally need to improve in comprehension as well.
Also, I find it difficult to find the mood of the text. Can you please send back telling me how to find the mood.
So to conclude, I need some assistance with finding the meaning of it, and the mood.

The first thing to note is that poetry is a special form of text in reading comprehension. It is shorter than your narratives and is heavy in figurative language (that’s when words have a different meaning than what’s written).

We can associate different types of reading comprehension texts to different forms of artwork. Your narrative is like a landscape painting. The meaning of the picture is what’s shown. For example, this landscape picture is of a lake surrounded by mountains.

Landscape picture of lake surround by mountains

Source: By Frank E Jamieson, 19th century (HARGESHEIMER & GÜNTHER KUNSTAUKTIONEN DÜSSELDORF) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Contrastingly, poetry is like abstract art. Like the below image, abstract art doesn’t paint a discernable image e.g. a cat, a landscape etc…. Instead, the image evokes emotion from us through its use of shapes and colours. The result of abstract art is often more powerful and open to deeper understanding.

Abstract painting by Jack Mancino

Source: By Jack mancino (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Therefore, to find the meaning of something in poetry means that your brain has to work harder – or do what people call more cognitive processing.

There’s really no way around this and there is no short cut formula, unlike mathematics. (Psst… we cover this in our online reading comprehension classes)

Here’s what I mean.

Imagine someone says: “My hand is cold”

When you read this is tells you exactly what it is – their hand is cold. This is literal language. It tells you exactly what is there. There’s very little work required by the brain to understand this.

But how about this sentence: “My hand is an ice block”

On first instance, many people would understand that this means my hand is cold because this is a common expression. However, imagine that you’ve never head of it before and assume that this is a stanza in a poem.

Your brain has to work harder to understand the meaning of this. Instead of a straight out understanding (as in literal language), with figurative language (which is common in poetry), there are many links to be made.

You have to first consider the hand. Secondly, you’d consider the ice block. We know that an ice block is frozen cold that it cannot move. Then we associate the hand being like the ice block.

There were 4 steps to go through in finding the meaning in figurative language (poetry) rather than just the 1 step in literal language.

Ok. So that means from this stanza, you have the meaning. That meaning is that the hand is cold, not just any type of cold, but frozen cold!

Can you see that with figurative language, i.e. the language used by poetry, writing has a bigger impact compared to literal language.

With literal language we know it’s cold straight away, but don’t feel the cold. Poetry is powerful because it uses a lot of figurative language, which, using the above example helps us really feel how cold a person’s hand is.

The second question this student raised relates to how to find the mood in poetry.

Mood in poetry comes from words that together create an atmosphere.

See the fictional example below:

Ella sat alone in her house in the woods, shivering for there was no electricity let alone a fire. Small gaps in the walls enabled the scaly creatures from outside to creep in and settled down uninvited. Cobwebs were strewn in every corner of the room and at night, she heard the scurries of the water rats as they rummaged for food. (By Vi Nguyen, 62 words)

Let’s now highlight some words that create an impact. ADD <mark

Ella sat alone in her house in the woods, shivering for there was no electricity let alone a fire. Small gaps in the walls enabled the scaly creatures from outside to creep in and settled down uninvited. Cobwebs were strewn in every corner of the room and at night, she heard the scurries of the water rats as they rummaged for food. (By Vi Nguyen, 62 words)

You can see there that the highlighted words together create the feeling of fear and desperation.

To get to this point, especially in poetry you need to:

First, understand the meaning of words. If you don’t understand the meaning of a word, please look it up in the dictionary. Unlike mathematics, it’s not just a clear-cut answer – you need to think about it.

Secondly, you need to consider all the words combined and what mood that leans towards.

For example, the following words combined add to the feeling of fear:
Alone, shivering, scaly, creep, uninvited, cobwebs, scurries, water rat, rummage.

However, the following words alone or with another word, may lead to another mood or tone.

Shivering => cold
Rummaged => hunger

The key with finding the correct mood is in first understanding what words mean and secondly, selecting all the available adjectives / adverbs and key nouns that combined lean to a particular mood over another mood. (Did you know this? Ace your reading comprehension test and join our online classes!)

I hope this post has assisted you in coming to find the mood and the meaning of figurative language that is prevalent in poetry. Don’t forget to leave a comment below! I read all of them ;-)

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for all the information about how to understand mood in poetry but I would like to know the type of questions are more likely to appear in poetry and how to answer them. :-)

  2. Julia says

    Hi I am studying for a selective school scholarship test happening this year in June. I am trying hard to practise everything I can for the big day. For all the tests in the MacRob test, what should I focus on the most in everyone test? I struggle mostly in maths and argumentative writing. Is it okay if you can please give me a brief understanding of all the tests and what tips and resources I could use? Thankyou very much, this would help a lot!

    • says

      The most thing I struggle about is the reading test and creative writing. Because I’m not really creative and it takes a long time to think about what I need to plan.

      The only thing I am good at is argumentative writing. mathematics and general ability.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>