Poetry Explained

[How to] Analyze Poetry with SMILE

While reading a poem, a question often triggers thoughtful readers, “how to analyze this poem?” If one has this hack pre-installed in mind, the process won’t seem tedious anymore!

What is SMILE? Is it something related to an expression of happiness? Hopefully, the answer will bring happiness. As it will help one to fairly analyze a poem, without leaving any portions untouched. The SMILE approach for poem analysis is not the only one, yet it is an effective one. Several approaches are there. But SMILE mostly touches the basic components that one has to scan from a poem while close-reading. This article delves deep into the nitty-gritty of this approach of poetry analysis.

Analyze Poetry with SMILE


Definition of SMILE

SMILE is an approach of analyzing a poem using which one can understand how to appreciate poetry concisely, yet effectively.

SMILE is a mnemonic for remembering the basic components of a poem that one has to analyze. A poem has several elements. Each one has its importance concerning the overall idea of the poet. But, in this approach, readers have to first restrict themselves to the following five aspects depicted in the mindmap. Though these are the basic ones, one has to master the sections before stepping up.

  • S – Structure
  • M – Meaning
  • IImagery
  • L – Literary Devices
  • E – Effect


A step-by-step guide to using SMILE

The SMILE that stands for five different yet integral aspects of a poem, gives a reader a few specific instructions before writing an analysis. The following steps will be of great help if one follows them with little tweaks.


Step 1: Close Reading

Firstly, a reader has to go through the bare text without coloring the vision with the excess of information. One cannot understand a poem at one go. Therefore, having a dictionary on one side, and the text, on the other hand, will be of great help. Reading till the text starts to speak to oneself directly, is the essence of reading poetry closely.


Step 2: Identifying the Structure

Then one has to be technical with the structure of the poem. First of all, one has to look for the rhyme scheme. If there is not any, one can look for the usage of repetitions that create internal rhythm. If the rhythm is missing, then it comes under the genre of blank verse. Thereafter comes the role of scansion, using which one can metrically scan a poem. Lastly, one has to understand the form and identify whether it is a sonnet, lyric, aubade, beat poem, or something else.


Step 3: Grasping the Meaning

If one has followed the first step well, then the meaning would be clear. This step is purely subjective. However, getting under the grip of intentional fallacy should be discouraged. The simple way to grasp the meaning of a poem is to understand the poet’s argument or statement. This process seems hard at first. After reading a few poems, one starts to develop the mindset of looking at a poem as it is.


Step 4: Imagining the Imagery

Imagination comes into action in step 4. For those who can read a line and quickly visualize the image present there, this process seems easy. Whereas if one struggles with this process, one can set out for images that can be easily searchable. Like, in some poems, one can find the image of the moon, sea, rose, river, or sky easily. While in some poems, poets use critical imagery. In that case, sufficient time should be given to that section.


Step 5: Understanding the Literary Devices

Literary devices deal with comparison, contrast, association, or wordplay. Acquaintance with the general rhetorical devices such as simile, metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, epigram, palilogy, anaphora, asyndeton, polysyndeton, alliteration, anticlimax, climax, etc. will help a reader in this process. So before moving into this section, one’s familiarity with the literary glossary is a must.


Step 6: Impression on Mind

Last but not least, comes step number 6, “Impression on Mind.” In this step, a reader has to ask the question, “What is the poet conveying to me, and how does the message influence my mind?” The answer can be subjective but one should not be hesitant to express the feelings clearly. This step is the most interesting one as it deals only with the speaker’s subjective understanding of a poem. There is no need to read any technical terms for this step.


Pros and Cons of SMILE

The following difference chart shows what are the pros and cons of the SMILE approach.


  1. The SMILE technique helps one to structure an analysis efficiently.
  2. This is a simple mnemonic to retain in mind. There is no need to grasp ideas in the examination hall. If one simply calls up “SMILE”, the ideas keep rolling.
  3. SMILE technique welcomes a reader’s subjective understanding of a poem open-heartedly.
  4. By practicing this approach, one can build a great grasp over figurative devices, structure, main idea, imagery, and an impressionistic overview of a literary work.



  1. Some other approaches are also there that are also effective to structure a poem more easily and appreciate the text without leaving the summary, the meaning of lines, historical context, comparative analysis, etc. untouched.
  2. This approach restricts a reader in a specific manner. Moreover, if a student wants to analyze a poem differently in the examination hall, he or she has to practice it beforehand. Only relying on the SMILE won’t work in that case.
  3. While subjective understanding is of great importance while analyzing a poem. The historical context behind a poem is also not of lesser significance than the former one.
  4. The SMILE limits one to the respective elements of a poem. If a question asks one to identify the use of symbolism, then one has to struggle for finding the answer.


Analyzing a Poem with SMILE Example

Here is a step-by-step guide for analyzing a poem with SMILE. The following analysis deals with ‘Love’s Dog’ by Jen Hadfield.



Hadfield’s ‘Love’s Dog’ has an interesting structure. It is composed of sixteen rhyming couplets. The poet uses the conventional couplet form in this poem. As an example, in the first stanza, “diagnosis” rhymes with “prognosis”. Apart from that, the overall poem is composed in a mixed iambic-trochaic meter.



The meaning of the poem is that love encompasses several features. The speaker of the poem, like any other humans, is in support of the goods in it. While she hates the bad bits about love or relationship. Whatsoever, she never undermines the value of love or its significance at any point of this poem.



Jen Hadfield makes use of imagery to visually depict the essence of love, in her poem, ‘Love’ Dog’. In each stanza, the poet either uses contrasting images or complementary images for projecting her idea. For instance, in the third couplet, there is a visual image of a zoo along with a zookeeper. The former image symbolizes love. While the latter stands for the lover.


Literary Devices

As one can see, each line of the poem begins with the same word, “What”. This prominent device used in the poem is called anaphora. Besides, the repetition of words or phrases in this poem contains the use of palilogy. Thereafter, one can find the use of metaphor in the line, “love it its truth serum.” Here, the poet compares love to a “truth serum.” The poet also uses metonymy in this poem. As an example, the “sick parrot” is a metonym for disappointment. Likewise, one can find several other devices in this work.



The first and foremost impression that the poem evokes in a reader’s mind is that of love. However, it is not a romantic poem, dealing with only one’s loved one. Rather it is a thoughtful meditation upon relationships. Through this poem, the poet evokes the idea that love is by no means perfect. The love between mortal beings, not the divine love, always has imperfections. These imperfections are at times disturbing, yet the imperfections help lovers to stay motivated in their journey of making their love a perfect one!


Try SMILE Yourself

After reading this article on poem analysis with SMILE, one can try to analyze the following poems. If one struggles while analyzing these poems, they can refer to their analysis on our site.

You can also refer to these easiest poems to analyze and the process of analyzing unseen poetry.

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William Green Poetry Expert
Will created Poem Analysis back in 2015 and has a team of the best poetry experts helping him analyze poems from the past and present. Although he has a background in Automotive Engineering, having worked for McLaren testing supercars, Will has a keen eye for poetry and literature.
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