Form, structure and language

Illustration of a house to show the difference between form (the house), structure (the rooms), and language (the furniture)To see the difference between these three terms, think of a house where the whole building is the poem's form, the rooms are the poem's structure and the furniture is the poem's language

It is crucial to observe a poem's form, structure and language but once you've identified the techniques that a poet has used for these, you should think about how they link to the meanings and effects of a poem.

MeaningQuestions to ask yourselfConsiderations
FormSome poems adopt specific forms eg sonnets or narrative poems. Many don’t have an identifiable form. Can you spot a specific form? Why might the poet have chosen this? How does it link to the message of the poem or its ideas? If the poem does not have a specific form you recognise, think about the impact of the structure.
StructureThe way the poet has organised the poem on the page eg number of stanzas, lines per stanza, breaks in between lines and stanzas.How might the way the poem appears on the page link to its meaning and effect? Think about big and small building blocks of a poem - the overall shape, number of stanzas, length of stanzas, length of lines, movement between lines and stanzas.
Rhyme, rhythm, metre The poem may have a rhyme scheme and/or a noticeable rhythm in each line.Can you spot a rhyme scheme? Is this regular or varied? Are there a regular number of beats or stresses in each line? Does this vary? How does this link to the mood of the poem? Don’t just count beats and rhyming words, think how these link to the mood of the poem.
LanguageThe power of individual words or phrases and the overall effect of the language in a poem.When I read the poem and look away, what words, phrases or lines do I remember? Why are they powerful? How does the language of the poem support the overall effect and meaning? Language is like the engine of a poem. What fires it up is thinking about the power of the language. This can be a strategy for getting to the heart of a poem.
Poetic techniques or devicesWays in which a poet uses language in a particular way to create effect eg simile, metaphor, alliteration, personification.Once I’ve felt the mood and message of a poem, can I spot the ways the poet has used language to support the meaning? How do specific techniques link to meaning? Identifying techniques is only the first step. A good analysis has to think about how these link to meaning and effect.

Example question

Read the opening of She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron. Select one thing that strikes you about the form, structure or language and think about how that might link to the meaning or effect of the opening.

She Walks in Beauty

by Lord Byron
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in the aspect of her eyes.

Sample response

Byron uses asimileto compare the woman to a ‘cloudless’ and ‘starry’ night. By opening the poem in this way, he immediately conveys what a strong impression she made on him. Comparing her to such a striking natural scene suggests he finds her very beautiful, perhaps even sparkling like the stars he refers to and therefore standing out from other people.

Feedback

This response does more than just stating that a simile is used. It shows clear understanding of the effect of this use and provides an understanding, and appreciation, for why the poet chose to begin the poem in this way.

Explore the study guide for 'She Walks in Beauty'.