Ah poetry, one of the most romantic arts, albeit one of the most damn confusing. Poetry's full of oxymorons, similes, metaphors, and other things, and reading it is like a huge jumble of everything that most people can't understand at first, so here's a simple guide.
|Call it your crappy Rosetta Stone.|
First of all, look for a theme. Usually the author will have some sort of recurring symbolism or image. It could be a word, a small phrase, a verb, just look for a sort of trend. Once you see it, then you can at least know, in general what the poem talks about.
|I'm not sure but that word right there seems important.|
Now, try to find the literary figures. This is very difficult at first, but then it becomes easy. Then again, only the truly smart poets write thinking about literary figures. Otherwise, you can look at the impression the poem gives you. Does it make you sad? Happy? Feel in love?
What's going on in the poem? Sometimes a complex language can be used so the situation can be hard to understand sometimes. To truly understand the text you need to go line by line analyzing every single word. Also understand the context of the poem. Was this during the hardest time of the author's life? Had he just fallen in love?
|Had his last hope flickered away? Again?|
Read the poem out loud. Look for a rhythm. Is there rhyme? A certain pattern? How about an alliteration (repetition of a certain noise, such as the same vowel with the same pronounciation), or divisions? Be it by stanzas or perspective (some poems can change very drastically from beginning to end). Also look for an order. A poem can go from more to less or less to more. You can make a list of the verbs or pay attention to the mood. Some words will serve a double function, too, so you should pay attention to that (usually it'll be the difficult words).
|Or the ones that don't make sense. They can have hidden meanings.|
After doing all of this and realizing you've learned nothing you can go ahead and kill yourself or you can ask yourself whether the poem actually had any effect on you, and usually that effect can lead you to figuring out the meaning of the poem. If it doesn't, don't bang your head on the table about it. Read prose instead!