How to Summarize a Poem

People are often asked to summarise a poem when they haven’t read it. With an extensive list of poems available to choose from, coming up with your own summary is not always easy. 

This blog post will help you by giving you 10 different ways to summarize a poem, many of them short and straightforward, which will give you the best chance at success.

10 Tips on How to Summarize a Poem

how-to-summarize-a-poem

1. Summarise the poem in one sentence

This is the clearest way to convey the message of a poem – and often it is quite easy to do so. A good example of this method would be: “The speaker of the poem describes his experience of going to a football match.” 

The length and wording of your summary will vary depending on your knowledge and understanding of the text. As a general rule, though, try to stick as close as possible to what you’re sure is in there.

2. Make a gist of each stanza separately

You will probably find that some stanzas are more memorable or clearer than others. You could summarise the first stanza as “The speaker is looking forward to going to a football match,” the second as “He finds himself surrounded by people and some of them,” and so on.

3. Do it with keywords

Using one or two keywords from each stanza that convey the same meaning will allow you to build a summary that covers pretty much everything in the poem. You could say: “The speaker speaks of the joys and difficulties of going to football.”

4. Try using a metaphor while summarising 

Using a metaphor will naturally give your summary a poetic quality, but it is also an effective way to summarise some longer poems. You could say for instance: “The speaker describes his experience of being lost in anxiety and confusion”.

5. Take the help of imagery

“Go on, kick me in the head” may be a descriptive poem about physical violence, but it still describes an emotional reaction (anger) to the striker’s words. Using a few words that describe the images in your poem will allow you to summarise the entire thing. You could say: ‘The speaker is angry and frustrated, but also hurt.’

6. Condense with a question

This can be difficult to do, as it depends on how many questions are actually asked within the poem. If there aren’t any, then this technique will be less effective. Good examples might be: “Who is speaking? To whom? Why?”, or “What kind of match has been described?”.

7. Sum it up by telling what it made you think of

If your poem isn’t about an actual event, but rather something that happened to you, then think about how it made you feel. For example, “I was sad and lonely” is an appropriate summary of “A Farewell To Armchairs”. If you have no memory of the events described in the poem, then this approach could also be used in your summary.

8. Encapsulate with a quote

The text of a poem is created by two people – the poet writing it down, and the speaker using it to tell its story. If you want to summarise a poem, then try to think back to what was said by the speaker.

9. Outline with a list

Certain poems are easier to summarise when you use this technique. They often describe a series of events or have listed in the text. 

10. Recap with an example sentence or paragraph

Certain poems are more memorable if you focus on a particular phrase in them, rather than the whole thing. 

Conclusion

The above list is a representation of the different ways you might summarize a poem. There are many others of course and you can always come up with their own versions of the above structure. These 10 are merely instances of some of the different approaches you might want to take to summarise any poem.

It may not be easy, but it’s definitely worthwhile. A word of warning – don’t just copy the above format as that works best for some poems, but instead look at what’s there and try to fit your own thoughts around it.

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