1. Identify the speaker. What can you tell about the speaker? You may not know a name or gender or anything else, but identify the perspective: poems, at some level, will always have a consistent perspective if they have nothing else. The lines do not drop from the sky but from a perspective.
2. Identify the audience. Often the audience is the general reader, but just as often there is an audience for the speaker within the poem, a person or idea that the speaker addresses. Occasionally, as in Hughes, the audience will be white Americans or black Americans specifically. Determine which, and be clear and consistent.
3. Identify the subject. The subject of the poem is literal and clear. Be sure you recognize it and give it a name.
4. Identify the plot. In a poem, this task can be a little tricky, and the plot, or narrative, might not be very strong or complete, but something happens. What?
5. Identify the big structural components of the poem. Does it have a beginning, middle, and end? How do you know where the poem progresses from one part to another? There might be more than three parts. What does each part do, or what is its function?
6. When identifying structural components, explain how the poem works as it progresses from one part to another. If “God” appears in the first part, and “Lucifer” appears in the next, explain the connection, or how the first part moves into the second with contrast or opposition as one organizing principle.
7. Identify key small structural components. Are there patterns of line length, of repetition, of rhyme? What patterns do you notice at the “micro” level, and if they have an effect you can identify, make that effect explicit and explain.
8. Identify the theme. How does the poem’s concrete language suggest universal abstractions or social commentary? (Social commentary is a poet’s judgment of some aspect of society).
9. Identify the mood. The mood can shift as the poem progresses. A definition of mood and a great many words to describe mood can be found here. Explain how you know the mood using evidence from the poem.
10. Identify the tone. Tone is usually quite consistent. A definition of tone and many useful words for describing it are also here. Explain how you know the tone using evidence from the poem.
11. What part do musical devices (sound devices, like alliteration, assonance, consonance, repetition, internal and end rhyme, caesuras, end stops, line length, meter) play in accomplishing any of the poem's effects? Do not emphasize these without pointing out their effects!