Poetry analysis is the process of investigating a poem's form, content, and history in an informed way, with the aim of heightening one's own and others' understanding and appreciation of the work.
The words poem and poetry derive from the Greek poiēma (to make) and poieo (to create). That is, a poem is a made thing: a creation; an artefact. One might think of a poem as, in the words of William Carlos Williams, a "machine made of words". Machines produce some effect, or do some work. They do whatever they are designed to do. The work done by this "machine made of words" is the effect it produces in the reader's mind. A reader analyzing a poem is akin to a mechanic taking apart a machine in order to figure out how it works.
Like poetry itself, poetry analysis can take many forms, and be undertaken for many different reasons. A teacher might analyze a poem in order to gain a more conscious understanding of how the poem achieves its effects, in order to communicate this to his or her students. A writer learning the craft of poetry might use the tools of poetry analysis to expand and strengthen his or her own mastery. A reader might use the tools and techniques of poetry analysis in order to discern all that the work has to offer, and thereby gain a fuller, more rewarding appreciation of the poem.
"Another" by Robert Herrick
Returning to the mechanical metaphor introduced earlier, some machines — ballpoint pens, flashlights — can be taken apart by hand or with only the simplest tools. Similarly, some poems reward careful reading, and respond to analysis, but do not require that the reader have mastery of an extensive set of critical terms. This short poem, written by Robert Herrick in the 17th century, provides a good example:
Here a pretty baby lies
Sung asleep with lullabies:
Pray be silent and not stir
Th' easy earth that covers her.
In the first three lines, the reader understands the speaker to be...