The Close Reading of Poetry
A Practical Introduction and Guide to Explication

The Title

A poem’s title does not always have great significance. The title might not make much sense until you start to gain some understanding of the poem. The title The Sick Rose (by William Blake) gives us a reasonable hint about what the poem means. T. S. Eliot’s title The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock seems to give some direction, but after reading the poem, the title might be considered misleading or ironic; yet the title of another of Eliot’s poems, The Hollow Men, can immediately signal one of the poem’s central themes and point you to key imagery. Wallace Stevens’ title The Snow Man probably gives you very little help, except, perhaps, to raise your curiosity about the poem.

  • Does the title immediately influence what you are about to read, or does it, at the moment you begin your first reading, remain mysterious or vague? Does the title point you directly or indirectly to the poem’s subject or subjects—and what is the effect of this?
  • Does the title possibly announce key poetic elements of the poem, like tone, imagery, or theme?
  • After you have thought about the poem, how do you think the title relates to it? Is it leading or misleading?