Finding the Theme of a Poem

We all love theme parties! Everything, right from the dresses, the cake, the decoration to the games, the gifts, etc. follows a pattern- the theme!

Poems have themes too!

Theme is the main truth of the poem that binds it together telling us the poet’s view of life.

It is the theme that helps us understand the main character’s conflicts, feelings, experiences, and discoveries.

Tennyson gave a lesson in nobility through the theme of war!

Theme is important but finding it is not always straightforward!

Let’s see how we can learn a few tricks to find the theme in a poem!

Ask yourself the questions which will help you to identify the theme/themes in a poem.

For example, “Are there any words, phrases, or actions that are repeated?”

“What does the poet teach his readers?”

“Why has the author chosen this particular subject?”

“What are the large issues or universal concepts the poet is talking about in this poem?”

Let’s try it with an example.

In the poem Annabel Lee, ‘Love’ is repeated and so the theme is love!

And in this one, a life lesson- to make time for friends- is the theme.

Wordsworth loved nature and natural beauty. His poems are often on this theme!

There’s another famous poet, Walt Whitman whose poems are much-loved!

Whitman's career coincided with the Civil War. That’s why, many of his poems address themes of war and the loss of humanity.

Major and minor themes can appear in literary works

Poets like to add layers to their works to keep us interested. There may be an overarching or major theme and several minor themes.

In Frost’s much-loved poem, “Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening,” the major theme is duty and responsibility.

The minor themes are beauty and return to nature.

The theme and the subject need not be the same.

Subject is a topic that acts as a foundation for the poem, while a theme is an opinion expressed on the subject.

We come across the topic of war in some of Whitman’s poems but his personal belief- ‘war defeats life, not the enemy’ was the theme.

Usually, it is up to the readers to explore the theme by asking analytical questions.

We can present themes in different ways

A writer may express a theme through the main character’s feelings about the subject.

Similarly, themes can be found through conversations and thoughts of the characters.

The experiences of the main character in the poem give us an idea about its theme.

Finally, the actions and events in the poem determine its theme.

Let’s revise!

Theme is the central message or perception that the poet wants to the readers to take.

Themes tell us about conflicts, feelings, experiences, and discoveries in the poem.

We can identify themes by asking a few questions (analyzing).

The End!