Unlike simply highlighting lines of poetry, which is more of a passive activity, the process of annotating poetry should help you remain firmly focused on the writer’s use of language devices and poetic techniques. Whenever it comes to responding to an essay question or a controlled assessment, your notes will be the perfect revision guides.
It is important to read everything at least twice. During the first reading, you should try to get a sense of what the text is about. You can then read more carefully and critically, annotating the key words, especially any vivid adjectives and effective verbs, punctuation and sentence structure, rhyme repetition, figurative language, and other aspects of imagery.
Using Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est”, this guide will show you the best approaches to annotating a poem.
5 Important Steps To Annotate A Poem
- If you are not sure about a word’s meaning, look it up in a dictionary and write a definition between the lines of the poem.
- Underline key words and use the margins to make brief comments.
- Circle important language devices and explain their significance in the margins. In fact, use any white space available on the front or back of the page.
- Connect words, phrases and ideas with lines or arrows.
- Use post-it notes when you have exhausted all available space.
The following example is from the third verse:
Of course, these lines and shapes can get confusing so you could use different colours to distinguish between the various aspects of language and form.
Since a simile is a comparison between two things, you should try to identify both nouns. You could also circle the “like” or “as” so you know it is probably a simile.
In this example taken from the opening lines of the poem, you should also underline the connection the speaker is making between the “old beggars” and the soldiers who are identified by the plural pronoun “we”.
Metaphors are also a comparison between two different things, but it is not always possible to highlight two nouns. Consider this example from the first verse:
The word “drunk” is a metaphor comparing the clumsy movement of the soldiers to intoxicated men who are almost unable to control their legs. It is certainly worth highlighting.
When a writer repeats a sound, word or phrase, they are using repetition. If there is alliteration, you should circle the first letters and then look at where they appear on the line because this will help you understand the impact on the rhythm. For example, by emphasising the /m/ on the first two syllables of the line, Owen creates an awkward rhythm which is appropriate for the movement of the men.
If an image or thought runs from one line into the next without a break in the syntax, usually a comma or dash, this is called enjambment. In the following example, notice how Owen separates the noun “blood” from the verb “come” and then the noun “cud” from the preposition “of”. This enjambment has been indicated by the arrows.
By breaking these phrases, Owen is able to draw attention to the words and present the image more effectively to the reader. He is also trying to emphasise the motion of the “blood” spewing out from the “froth-corrupted lungs” by forcing the reader to move down to the next line.
Annotating Rhyme Scheme
If a writer has added a pattern of sounds to the end of lines, you should identify this rhyme scheme by adding the appropriate letters. In the example below, “sacks” and “backs” rhyme so you mark it with the letter a. Since “sludge” and “trudge” are different sounds, you would label this rhyme as b.