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What Does a Poem's Central Theme Mean?

by Kate Prudchenko, Demand Media Google
    In Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," the central theme is perseverance.

    In Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," the central theme is perseverance.

    The central theme of a poem represents its controlling idea. This idea is crafted and developed throughout the poem and can be identified by assessing the poem’s rhythm, setting, tone, mood, diction and, occasionally, title. The theme is rarely stated explicitly, and it is not a moral but an important idea that is prevalent throughout the poem.

    Feeling the Poem’s Central Theme

    Poetry has certain rhythms, just like musical compositions and songs, and these rhythms convey a certain feeling. If a poem is read out loud, the person hearing the poem will get an inkling of the poem’s theme from the feeling that it evokes. This feeling will appear even before the person is fully away of what the poem means using a more analytical and cognitive approach to interpreting the poem.

    How a Poem Conveys Meaning

    The poem’s central theme is contained in the subject matter of the poem. In other words, it is the abstract idea of what the poem is saying about life. A poem may convey different levels of meaning, simultaneously. The same poem may work on the literal level by telling a particular kind of story, on a figurative level by incorporating specific metaphors and similes and on the sonic level by using a certain kind of rhythm and tempo. A good interpretation of the poem will consider all of these elements.

    Identifying the Poem’s Central Theme

    The reader can identify the poem’s central theme by considering the poem’s rhythms, feelings, and sounds as well as its meter, diction and word-choice. Identifying the poem’s central theme is an important part of the interpretation process. The poem’s central theme incorporates and conveys the values of the poem as a whole, instead of focusing on only one or two stanzas or elements.

    Conveying the Central Theme

    Students can convey the poem’s central theme by using a theme statement. This statement is a simple and clear interpretation of the poem, a summary of all the minor interpretation that the reader made, in one statement. It does not focus only on the poem’s setting, imagery or structure but incorporates these elements into one main interpretation of what the poem is about. This statement, which is generally one sentence, both captures the overall meaning of the poem and conveys the reader’s unique interpretation of the poem.

    Example

    Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” conveys meaning on many levels, namely literally and figuratively. On the literal level, it tells the story of a man with a horse who stops to watch his neighbor’s trees get covered with snow. After wondering what the horse is thinking, the man moves on with what he has to do. The poem also conveys figurative meaning using symbols like “snow” and “woods,” similes like “miles to go” and metaphors like “sleep.” Relying on these elements, we can conclude that the poem’s central theme is about bearing hardships and perseverance.

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    About the Author

    Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.

    Photo Credits

    • Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images

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