Tone And Diction In Poetry

2879 words (12 pages) Essay

19th May 2017 English Literature Reference this

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Analyzing poetry begins with carefully weighing the words and considering every nuance. Tone and diction are two poetic devices to take into account. Tone refers to the attitude or mood conveyed by the poem, while diction refers to word choice and word order.

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When you read a poem on the page, grasping the tone can be tricky-after all, you can’t actually hear the poet’s voice. So, you need to pay attention to context and connotation. Identifying loaded words can help you decipher the tone.

Diction can also help you understand the poem’s tone. Word choice affects meaning and also determines the sound of the poem. Sound, in turn, contributes its emotional effect.

SCREEN 2:

Tone in Poetry

A poem’s tone can be defined as the attitude expressed toward its subject. Tone isn’t stated directly: you have to analyze the language carefully to grasp it. You can decipher tone in several ways.

You’ll need to read the poem more than once. First, read the poem to understand its content. Is the poem about an event? Or does it describe a feeling? Does it consider a social problem? Identifying the basic content will help you determine the tone. A poem about discrimination, for example, might be expected to have a dejected or angry tone, while a poem about childhood may have a happy, carefree tone.

But those simple assumptions aren’t always the case. The poet might be using tone to convey more complex meaning. So, reread the poem and ask yourself, “Who is speaking in this poem?” and “Who is the speaker talking to?” Your answers will give you a sense of the relationship between the speaker and the reader, and between the speaker and the subject. Is the speaker very close to the action, even immersed in it? Or sitting back and contemplating it? These different positions could give the poem a very different tone.

SCREEN 3:

After you’ve identified the poem’s subject and the speaker, consider how the poem’s word choice and structure relates to its subject matter. Meter (rhythm), imagery, metaphor, allusion, and diction all contribute to the tone. For example, a quick beat and steady rhyme pattern usually conveys a happy, or lively, tone.

Remember, poems about the same subject can have different tones. For example, a poem about graduating high school might have a joyous tone when written by someone who can’t wait to get to college, be independent, and experience the world. A person who didn’t get accepted into the college that she’d aspired to for years might write a poem with an angry or sarcastic tone, expressing a sense of being cheated.

Closely considering the language and form of the poem will help you catch the nuances of tone in poems that might otherwise seem similar.

SCREEN 4

After you’ve identified the poem’s subject and the speaker, consider how the poem’s word choice and structure relates to its subject matter. Meter (rhythm), imagery, metaphor, allusion, and diction all contribute to the tone. For example, a quick beat and steady rhyme pattern usually conveys a happy, or lively, tone.

Remember, poems about the same subject can have different tones. For example, a poem about graduating high school might have a joyous tone when written by someone who can’t wait to get to college, be independent, and experience the world. A person who didn’t get accepted into the college that she’d aspired to for years might write a poem with an angry or sarcastic tone, expressing a sense of being cheated.

Closely considering the language and form of the poem will help you catch the nuances of tone in poems that might otherwise seem similar.

SCREEN 5

“Funeral Blues”

W. H. Auden wrote “Funeral Blues” in 1938, but this poem about a loved one’s death became famous in 1994 when actor John Hannah recited it in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral. Watch Hannah’s performance, and then read “Funeral Blues” closely.

Auden used tone to enrich this poem’s meaning. The first stanza’s tone is one of sorrowful anger. The speaker uses commands, such as stop, prevent, and silence. He angrily demands that the noise of everyday life cease, so that he can reflect on his loss. Only the low sound of a muffled drum at the funeral is tolerable.

The tone shifts from anger to despair as the speaker moves into more effusive sentences. He insists that the whole world, machines and nature, grieve with him: airplanes should “moan,” and white doves should wear black.

SCREEN 6

The third stanza of “Funeral Blues” has a more reflective and melancholy tone. The speaker shares what the man he lost meant to him. He repeats the word my nine times, emphasizing the fact that this man was everything to him-his compass in life and the inspiration for his work. This stanza ends with a key line in the poem: “I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.” The single-syllable words plod steadily to the concluding word, “wrong,” that devastates the speaker.

In the final stanza, the speaker’s tone is bitter. If he has lost this man forever, then all life in the universe should end too. Once again, the speaker uses curt commands, this time to tear apart those elements that sustain life: “Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.”

The tone Auden creates in “Funeral Blues”-whether it is interpreted as sorrow, anger, bitterness, or love-is effective because it creates a powerful emotion in the audience. We grieve along with the speaker, even though we don’t know the unnamed man who meant so much to him.

SCREEN 7

The American poet Marge Piercy’s poem “Barbie Doll” also seems to be about death, but the poem’s main subject is something else: society’s devaluation of girls and women. Read Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” and think about its tone.

In the first stanza, the tone is dismissive and infantilizing. The girl is called a “girl-child,” an indistinguishable female member of a species, not a person with a name. She is born “as usual,” as if there were nothing to be celebrated in the birth of a baby girl. The phrase “did pee-pee” is baby-talk, suggesting girls are forever babies.

In the next stanza, notice how the speaker describes the girl’s positive traits in a direct, objective list. The speaker doesn’t inject emotion into the description, rather just states the actual facts, implying that they were clear for all to see. But society could care less, and ignores her positive attributes because she wasn’t pretty. The tone is one of icy objectivity, even perhaps, cold fury.

SCREEN 8

Probably the most dominant tone is one of sarcasm, however. Sarcasm threads through the poem, first appearing in the phrase “the magic of puberty” in the first stanza. Puberty is typically a hard transition, not a time of wondrous transformation as the word magic suggests. And for this girl, cruelly told she is ugly-well, some magic!

In the final stanza, the same girl who was told she was flawed with a “big nose and fat legs,” is called pretty as she lays cold and still in her coffin, with the undertaker’s cosmetics on her lifeless face. The line “Consummation at last” continues the heavy sarcasm and also lends the poem a tone of anger. The word consummation evokes society’s ultimate goal for women, to find a husband, and ironically equates it with death.

Lesson Activity – Self-Checked

Read Piercy’s “What’s That Smell in the Kitchen.” Then compare this poem to “Barbie Doll” in 150-200 words, answering the questions in the Tone in Poetry section of the Lesson Activities.

SCREEN9

For the American poet Robert Frost, tone was very important. He said, “It’s tone I’m in love with; that’s what poetry is, tone.” Frost believed that tone conveyed the art in poetry. He called himself an “ear reader,” not an “eye reader.” He interpreted the meaning of what he read by how it sounded to him. This is reflected in his own poems, which come to life in the reader’s auditory imagination.

Frost used tone to make his poems interesting, or as he said himself, “You’ve got to get dramatic.” Read the poem “A Patch of Old Snow” to see how he shifts tone to create a sense of drama.

The first six lines describe a patch of old, melting snow. The tone is one of nonchalance: this bit of snow is barely worth noticing, just a “blown away” scrap in a “corner.” Once a symbol of winter’s beauty, the snow is now as unimportant as yesterday’s discarded newspaper. In the last two lines, however, there’s a shift in tone. The speaker catches himself short with a dash: “The news of a day I’ve forgotten—/If I ever read it.” His attention is suddenly captured by the irony of old news. The voice might even drop when reading “If I ever read it.” While people may read the newspaper diligently every day, even today’s seemingly stunning news is as temporal and unimportant as a patch of melting snow. This sudden shift in the tone in the last two lines mocks how transient a person’s interest is.

Lesson Activity – Teacher-Graded

Read Frost’s poem “The Pasture,” and then answer the questions under Tone in Poetry in the Teacher-Graded section of the activities sheet.

SCREEN 10

Diction in Poetry

In the poems you just analyzed, did you notice how tone can be determined by the word choice and word order? This is diction, or the vocabulary that a poet uses-basically the poet’s linguistic style. Compare these ways of describing a confused state of mind: “He knew not what to do,” and “he had no clue what to do.” While the first is formal and perhaps pretentious, the other is plainspoken.

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A poem’s tone is also affected by altering the word order; for example, a poet might change “She went down to the riverside in her dark mood,” to “Down to the riverside, dark in mood, she went” to give the line a more dramatic and foreboding tone.

The diction a poet chooses can also depend on the poem’s context. For example, when describing the death of a heroic warrior, a poet might use the dramatic “He breathed his last in the arms of his beloved,” over the straightforward “He died in his lover’s arms.”

SCREEN 11

Now take a look at some examples of how poets vary diction in their poems to convey their thoughts and feelings. Read the English poet Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and note the kind of diction the speaker uses to address his beloved.

By describing his love in terms of world geography (“by the Ganges side”) and Biblical history (“ten years before the Flood”), the speaker attempts to impress her with the vastness and depth of his devotion. The mention of the Ganges River in India also suggests that her beauty is exotic.

The words should and would, repeated many times and indicating action that might happen, convey a sense of languor in the first stanza. But in the third stanza, the speaker urgently tries to persuade her to give in to his advances, using active verbs such as sport, devour, and tear.The diction creates a tone of ardent entreaty.

Lesson Activity – Self-Checked

Go to the Diction in Poetry activity in the Self-Checked section and experiment with diction as directed.

SCREEN 12

Let’s look at a very different example of the role of diction in poetry. With just a few well-chosen words, the twentieth century African-American poet Gwendolyn Brooks powerfully conveys the bravado of a group of young boys. Listen to or read Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” which is about a group of kids skipping school.

In this poem, Brooks uses the slang “we real cool,” instead of the grammatically correct “we are really cool” to convey the teenagers’ attitude. Brooks uses the collective we, instead of the singular I, to communicate that the speakers of the poem are a group of teenagers. The word we is also used to show their solidarity to each other. This word depicts their reliance on their group identity, since these teenagers haven’t developed their own individual identities yet and are overly influenced by their peers.

SCREEN 13

In the poem, Gwendolyn Brooks uses the precise diction to mimic unrefined teenagers, and successfully conveys their seeming toughness while in truth they are insecure and defensive. She keeps the poem short to indicate their limited vocabulary and limited self-awareness. These teenagers are “rebels without a cause.” The poet herself said that the we of “We real cool,” is to be said softly to show their uncertainty. Listen to what Brooks says about the poem just before she recites it to understand how the poem’s diction helps establish the desired tone.

Did you also notice how the diction of this poem seems to echo jazz sounds? The repetitive alliterations in the lines (“We lurk late,” “We strike straight,” “We sing sin,” “We Jazz June”) give it a musical quality, and the shortness of the words and lines have a percussive effect, like when cymbals in a jazz band crash.

Lesson Activity – Not Assessed

Read more about how to use diction effectively in poetry. Then go to your Lesson Activities and write a short poem of your own in the Not Assessed section.

SCREEN 14

Tone, Diction, and Meaning

You’ve seen how analyzing diction helps you identify a poem’s tone and understand its meaning. Now, read John Keats’s poem “This Living Hand,” and think about how the tone is conveyed through its diction.

“This Living Hand” has a mournful, realistic tone. If you analyze the poem closely, you’ll notice that certain words such as cold,tomb, and icy evoke death and create a strong tone of dread. When Keats wrote this poem, he knew he was dying. This poem was, in fact, the last poem Keats ever wrote. He died when he was just 26.

The speaker is accepting death as inevitable, but is unhappy about a life not completely lived and is resentful of those who will live full lives, as is obvious from the lines, “So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights, That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood, So in my veins red life might stream again.” The speaker faces death, and makes readers face it too, with his outstretched hand.

SCREEN 15

Just as it’s possible to identify a poem’s tone and understand its meaning from the diction, it’s also possible to alter the poem’s tone and meaning by changing the diction. Read Robert Browning’s “Pippa’s Song.” This poem has a peppy tone, which comes through words like morn and spring, and particularly the last lines “God’s in His heaven,/ All’s right with the world!” If you were to change certain words in this poem, though, you would invert the poem’s tone and meaning. For example, changing spring to winter, or at the morn” to at dusk could help create a dark, gloomy tone.

Lesson Activity – Teacher-Graded

Read Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “A Dream Within a Dream” and write a 250- to 300-word essay as instructed in the Tone, Diction, and Meaning section of the Teacher-Graded Activities.

Lesson Activity – Self-Checked

Listen to or read Brooks’s “We Real Cool” again. Go to the Tone, Diction, and Meaning section of the Self-Checked Activities and rewrite this poem as directed.

SCREEN 16

Summary

The French poet, playwright, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau once said, “The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.” And that’s what you, as a reader, need to do when analyzing a poem’s tone and diction.

If tone conveys the mood and attitude of a poem, diction helps create the tone. To analyze tone, you need to understand diction. You also need to figure out who the poem’s speaker is, to whom is it addressed, and what the poem’s central concern and context is. For example, you may miss the irony in Robert Frost’s “A Patch of Old Snow” and the bravado in Gwendolyn Brooks’s “We Real Cool” if you don’t read the poems closely.

Analyzing poetry begins with carefully weighing the words and considering every nuance. Tone and diction are two poetic devices to take into account. Tone refers to the attitude or mood conveyed by the poem, while diction refers to word choice and word order.

When you read a poem on the page, grasping the tone can be tricky-after all, you can’t actually hear the poet’s voice. So, you need to pay attention to context and connotation. Identifying loaded words can help you decipher the tone.

Diction can also help you understand the poem’s tone. Word choice affects meaning and also determines the sound of the poem. Sound, in turn, contributes its emotional effect.

SCREEN 2:

Tone in Poetry

A poem’s tone can be defined as the attitude expressed toward its subject. Tone isn’t stated directly: you have to analyze the language carefully to grasp it. You can decipher tone in several ways.

You’ll need to read the poem more than once. First, read the poem to understand its content. Is the poem about an event? Or does it describe a feeling? Does it consider a social problem? Identifying the basic content will help you determine the tone. A poem about discrimination, for example, might be expected to have a dejected or angry tone, while a poem about childhood may have a happy, carefree tone.

But those simple assumptions aren’t always the case. The poet might be using tone to convey more complex meaning. So, reread the poem and ask yourself, “Who is speaking in this poem?” and “Who is the speaker talking to?” Your answers will give you a sense of the relationship between the speaker and the reader, and between the speaker and the subject. Is the speaker very close to the action, even immersed in it? Or sitting back and contemplating it? These different positions could give the poem a very different tone.

SCREEN 3:

After you’ve identified the poem’s subject and the speaker, consider how the poem’s word choice and structure relates to its subject matter. Meter (rhythm), imagery, metaphor, allusion, and diction all contribute to the tone. For example, a quick beat and steady rhyme pattern usually conveys a happy, or lively, tone.

Remember, poems about the same subject can have different tones. For example, a poem about graduating high school might have a joyous tone when written by someone who can’t wait to get to college, be independent, and experience the world. A person who didn’t get accepted into the college that she’d aspired to for years might write a poem with an angry or sarcastic tone, expressing a sense of being cheated.

Closely considering the language and form of the poem will help you catch the nuances of tone in poems that might otherwise seem similar.

SCREEN 4

After you’ve identified the poem’s subject and the speaker, consider how the poem’s word choice and structure relates to its subject matter. Meter (rhythm), imagery, metaphor, allusion, and diction all contribute to the tone. For example, a quick beat and steady rhyme pattern usually conveys a happy, or lively, tone.

Remember, poems about the same subject can have different tones. For example, a poem about graduating high school might have a joyous tone when written by someone who can’t wait to get to college, be independent, and experience the world. A person who didn’t get accepted into the college that she’d aspired to for years might write a poem with an angry or sarcastic tone, expressing a sense of being cheated.

Closely considering the language and form of the poem will help you catch the nuances of tone in poems that might otherwise seem similar.

SCREEN 5

“Funeral Blues”

W. H. Auden wrote “Funeral Blues” in 1938, but this poem about a loved one’s death became famous in 1994 when actor John Hannah recited it in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral. Watch Hannah’s performance, and then read “Funeral Blues” closely.

Auden used tone to enrich this poem’s meaning. The first stanza’s tone is one of sorrowful anger. The speaker uses commands, such as stop, prevent, and silence. He angrily demands that the noise of everyday life cease, so that he can reflect on his loss. Only the low sound of a muffled drum at the funeral is tolerable.

The tone shifts from anger to despair as the speaker moves into more effusive sentences. He insists that the whole world, machines and nature, grieve with him: airplanes should “moan,” and white doves should wear black.

SCREEN 6

The third stanza of “Funeral Blues” has a more reflective and melancholy tone. The speaker shares what the man he lost meant to him. He repeats the word my nine times, emphasizing the fact that this man was everything to him-his compass in life and the inspiration for his work. This stanza ends with a key line in the poem: “I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.” The single-syllable words plod steadily to the concluding word, “wrong,” that devastates the speaker.

In the final stanza, the speaker’s tone is bitter. If he has lost this man forever, then all life in the universe should end too. Once again, the speaker uses curt commands, this time to tear apart those elements that sustain life: “Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.”

The tone Auden creates in “Funeral Blues”-whether it is interpreted as sorrow, anger, bitterness, or love-is effective because it creates a powerful emotion in the audience. We grieve along with the speaker, even though we don’t know the unnamed man who meant so much to him.

SCREEN 7

The American poet Marge Piercy’s poem “Barbie Doll” also seems to be about death, but the poem’s main subject is something else: society’s devaluation of girls and women. Read Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” and think about its tone.

In the first stanza, the tone is dismissive and infantilizing. The girl is called a “girl-child,” an indistinguishable female member of a species, not a person with a name. She is born “as usual,” as if there were nothing to be celebrated in the birth of a baby girl. The phrase “did pee-pee” is baby-talk, suggesting girls are forever babies.

In the next stanza, notice how the speaker describes the girl’s positive traits in a direct, objective list. The speaker doesn’t inject emotion into the description, rather just states the actual facts, implying that they were clear for all to see. But society could care less, and ignores her positive attributes because she wasn’t pretty. The tone is one of icy objectivity, even perhaps, cold fury.

SCREEN 8

Probably the most dominant tone is one of sarcasm, however. Sarcasm threads through the poem, first appearing in the phrase “the magic of puberty” in the first stanza. Puberty is typically a hard transition, not a time of wondrous transformation as the word magic suggests. And for this girl, cruelly told she is ugly-well, some magic!

In the final stanza, the same girl who was told she was flawed with a “big nose and fat legs,” is called pretty as she lays cold and still in her coffin, with the undertaker’s cosmetics on her lifeless face. The line “Consummation at last” continues the heavy sarcasm and also lends the poem a tone of anger. The word consummation evokes society’s ultimate goal for women, to find a husband, and ironically equates it with death.

Lesson Activity – Self-Checked

Read Piercy’s “What’s That Smell in the Kitchen.” Then compare this poem to “Barbie Doll” in 150-200 words, answering the questions in the Tone in Poetry section of the Lesson Activities.

SCREEN9

For the American poet Robert Frost, tone was very important. He said, “It’s tone I’m in love with; that’s what poetry is, tone.” Frost believed that tone conveyed the art in poetry. He called himself an “ear reader,” not an “eye reader.” He interpreted the meaning of what he read by how it sounded to him. This is reflected in his own poems, which come to life in the reader’s auditory imagination.

Frost used tone to make his poems interesting, or as he said himself, “You’ve got to get dramatic.” Read the poem “A Patch of Old Snow” to see how he shifts tone to create a sense of drama.

The first six lines describe a patch of old, melting snow. The tone is one of nonchalance: this bit of snow is barely worth noticing, just a “blown away” scrap in a “corner.” Once a symbol of winter’s beauty, the snow is now as unimportant as yesterday’s discarded newspaper. In the last two lines, however, there’s a shift in tone. The speaker catches himself short with a dash: “The news of a day I’ve forgotten—/If I ever read it.” His attention is suddenly captured by the irony of old news. The voice might even drop when reading “If I ever read it.” While people may read the newspaper diligently every day, even today’s seemingly stunning news is as temporal and unimportant as a patch of melting snow. This sudden shift in the tone in the last two lines mocks how transient a person’s interest is.

Lesson Activity – Teacher-Graded

Read Frost’s poem “The Pasture,” and then answer the questions under Tone in Poetry in the Teacher-Graded section of the activities sheet.

SCREEN 10

Diction in Poetry

In the poems you just analyzed, did you notice how tone can be determined by the word choice and word order? This is diction, or the vocabulary that a poet uses-basically the poet’s linguistic style. Compare these ways of describing a confused state of mind: “He knew not what to do,” and “he had no clue what to do.” While the first is formal and perhaps pretentious, the other is plainspoken.

A poem’s tone is also affected by altering the word order; for example, a poet might change “She went down to the riverside in her dark mood,” to “Down to the riverside, dark in mood, she went” to give the line a more dramatic and foreboding tone.

The diction a poet chooses can also depend on the poem’s context. For example, when describing the death of a heroic warrior, a poet might use the dramatic “He breathed his last in the arms of his beloved,” over the straightforward “He died in his lover’s arms.”

SCREEN 11

Now take a look at some examples of how poets vary diction in their poems to convey their thoughts and feelings. Read the English poet Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and note the kind of diction the speaker uses to address his beloved.

By describing his love in terms of world geography (“by the Ganges side”) and Biblical history (“ten years before the Flood”), the speaker attempts to impress her with the vastness and depth of his devotion. The mention of the Ganges River in India also suggests that her beauty is exotic.

The words should and would, repeated many times and indicating action that might happen, convey a sense of languor in the first stanza. But in the third stanza, the speaker urgently tries to persuade her to give in to his advances, using active verbs such as sport, devour, and tear.The diction creates a tone of ardent entreaty.

Lesson Activity – Self-Checked

Go to the Diction in Poetry activity in the Self-Checked section and experiment with diction as directed.

SCREEN 12

Let’s look at a very different example of the role of diction in poetry. With just a few well-chosen words, the twentieth century African-American poet Gwendolyn Brooks powerfully conveys the bravado of a group of young boys. Listen to or read Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” which is about a group of kids skipping school.

In this poem, Brooks uses the slang “we real cool,” instead of the grammatically correct “we are really cool” to convey the teenagers’ attitude. Brooks uses the collective we, instead of the singular I, to communicate that the speakers of the poem are a group of teenagers. The word we is also used to show their solidarity to each other. This word depicts their reliance on their group identity, since these teenagers haven’t developed their own individual identities yet and are overly influenced by their peers.

SCREEN 13

In the poem, Gwendolyn Brooks uses the precise diction to mimic unrefined teenagers, and successfully conveys their seeming toughness while in truth they are insecure and defensive. She keeps the poem short to indicate their limited vocabulary and limited self-awareness. These teenagers are “rebels without a cause.” The poet herself said that the we of “We real cool,” is to be said softly to show their uncertainty. Listen to what Brooks says about the poem just before she recites it to understand how the poem’s diction helps establish the desired tone.

Did you also notice how the diction of this poem seems to echo jazz sounds? The repetitive alliterations in the lines (“We lurk late,” “We strike straight,” “We sing sin,” “We Jazz June”) give it a musical quality, and the shortness of the words and lines have a percussive effect, like when cymbals in a jazz band crash.

Lesson Activity – Not Assessed

Read more about how to use diction effectively in poetry. Then go to your Lesson Activities and write a short poem of your own in the Not Assessed section.

SCREEN 14

Tone, Diction, and Meaning

You’ve seen how analyzing diction helps you identify a poem’s tone and understand its meaning. Now, read John Keats’s poem “This Living Hand,” and think about how the tone is conveyed through its diction.

“This Living Hand” has a mournful, realistic tone. If you analyze the poem closely, you’ll notice that certain words such as cold,tomb, and icy evoke death and create a strong tone of dread. When Keats wrote this poem, he knew he was dying. This poem was, in fact, the last poem Keats ever wrote. He died when he was just 26.

The speaker is accepting death as inevitable, but is unhappy about a life not completely lived and is resentful of those who will live full lives, as is obvious from the lines, “So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights, That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood, So in my veins red life might stream again.” The speaker faces death, and makes readers face it too, with his outstretched hand.

SCREEN 15

Just as it’s possible to identify a poem’s tone and understand its meaning from the diction, it’s also possible to alter the poem’s tone and meaning by changing the diction. Read Robert Browning’s “Pippa’s Song.” This poem has a peppy tone, which comes through words like morn and spring, and particularly the last lines “God’s in His heaven,/ All’s right with the world!” If you were to change certain words in this poem, though, you would invert the poem’s tone and meaning. For example, changing spring to winter, or at the morn” to at dusk could help create a dark, gloomy tone.

Lesson Activity – Teacher-Graded

Read Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “A Dream Within a Dream” and write a 250- to 300-word essay as instructed in the Tone, Diction, and Meaning section of the Teacher-Graded Activities.

Lesson Activity – Self-Checked

Listen to or read Brooks’s “We Real Cool” again. Go to the Tone, Diction, and Meaning section of the Self-Checked Activities and rewrite this poem as directed.

SCREEN 16

Summary

The French poet, playwright, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau once said, “The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.” And that’s what you, as a reader, need to do when analyzing a poem’s tone and diction.

If tone conveys the mood and attitude of a poem, diction helps create the tone. To analyze tone, you need to understand diction. You also need to figure out who the poem’s speaker is, to whom is it addressed, and what the poem’s central concern and context is. For example, you may miss the irony in Robert Frost’s “A Patch of Old Snow” and the bravado in Gwendolyn Brooks’s “We Real Cool” if you don’t read the poems closely.

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