5 elements (time, place, events, reader, traditions) to think about when commenting on a poem

The context of a poem can help you to understand it better. Context can include:

  • the time and place the poem was written
  • how the poem has been read at different times and in different situations
  • biographical details about a writer’s life
  • how the poem relates to literary traditions
  • times and places referred to in the poem

Knowing about these things can give us an insight into the poet’s intentions and purpose in writing a poem. A poem may appeal to you more strongly during a particular stage of your life. Also consider how different readers might have engaged with a poem through time. These factors can all influence the way a poem is interpreted, so the final meaning of a poem is never entirely fixed.

If you are writing your response to a poem and have been asked to comment on context, it’s important that you only offer information that is relevant to the question, rather than just including all facts you know about a poem or the poet. This guide will help you think through different contextual factors to help you develop your skills.