Commentary: still puzzling?

There are certainly a lot of different approaches to producing a commentary on an unseen poem or passage in Paper 1.  The same framework doesn’t necessarily work for everyone;all of you are individuals with different histories, skills, kinds of intelligence.

What follows is yet another guide to help you on your way,

thanks to Hayat Shehab from
an IB school in Beirut.

One of the great strengths of participating in the IB program

is the way you get to see how people around the globe take on a task.

Annotation Uncovered
For some students, annotation comes naturally. For others, it’s a painful and thankless task. So here’s a guide to help you annotate any poem—though this can be adapted for story annotation. You could use it as a Three step guide or just as a reminder to make sure everything’s been covered.
1. First Impressions Matter
Title: Consider your initial impressions of the title. How does it set the tone? What does it suggest about the subject of the poem and its situation or setting (is there a setting at all? What does that tell you?) Paraphrase:
Translate the poem into your own words– drain the descriptive and figurative language from the poem to reduce it to its core (literal) meaning. (For a story: write a very brief summary of what happens in the story in 1-2 lines).
Identify any motifs (recurrent objects, ideas or images).

2. Break it Apart:
Identify a speaker in the poem and speculate as to the speaker’s purpose/ aim. Consider the occasion/setting/situation of the poem.
Focus on one sentence or clause at a time.
Locate the verbs-these will show the central action of the poem. Analyzing verb choice should also be key to your understanding of diction.
Locate the adjective to help you deduce the feelings being expressed.
Locate the tension. All poetry presents or implies some kind of conflict, problem, question, unsettled feeling, twinge of regret, etc. If you can identify this tension, your analysis will become much easier. Diction Analysis
Denotations: Look up and define any words you do not recognize or fully understand. Allusion: Research any historical/literary/mythological references you do not know.
Connotations: Explore the implied meanings and associations of key words (adjectives, adverbs and verbs, in particular). Note any patterns of diction:
What are the suggestions, implications, or hints in these word choices?
Tone/Mood: Based on diction, images and sound devices, identify the speaker’s attitude toward his or her subject (tone) and the impression the poem communicates to the reader (mood).

Figurative language (metaphor, hyperbole, personification, etc.), symbolism, allegory Allusion [referencing something else-usually another poem or the bible or mythology].
Consider the imagery created though the diction and figurative language.
Sound, Style and Structure
Sound devices (alliteration, assonance, consonance, onomatopoeia, rhyme, sibilance, euphony [intentional use of words that sound good together], cacophony[intentionally using harsh/bad sounding words together that may trip the reader up], etc.)
Aspects of pacing: enjambment (The continuation of a sentence or phrase across a line break – as opposed to an end-stopped line), end stop (when the linguistic unit ends at the end of the line), caesura (the linguistic unit that ends mid-line), line breaks, stanza breaks, etc.
Syntax– Sentence style, sentence types, length, punctuation ( dashes, periods, colons, question marks ellipses), capitalization.
Repetition, parallel structure, etc.
Rhythm/meter—structured (closed) or free verse (open) form?
Notice  Shifts (sudden or gradual changes)
Transitional words/phrases: but, yet, now, however, still, although, etc. Stanza breaks/line breaks
Changes in point of view, diction, focus, direction, pacing, etc.

3. Make Connections, Find Patterns and See the Big Picture
Look through the annotations and observations from your close reading. Do you see any patterns? Connect your initial observations about what the poem was saying (the content of the paraphrase, the title, the diction) to how it was said (the formal elements). What are the effects of the metaphors, the repetition, the pacing, etc? Find relationships between literary devices (or the absence of these) and their effects. To make meaning out of the poem, you have to put all of these things together and get a deeper  understanding of theme.
Finally, aim your annotations and note-takings toward a specific thesis statement. Before you even begin writing, make sure you have identified as many relevant literary devices and features and you can say something intelligent about the effect(s) of these. First impressions are important, but your final impression is what really counts!

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