How to Identify the Theme of a Poem

What is a Theme

Before learning how to identify the theme of a poem, let’s see what does a theme mean. Theme is the central message or perception that the writer wants to convey to the readers. A theme often teaches a moral lesson to the reader. It is a universal idea that can be applied to anyone.

However, text can have multiple themes as well. In most cases, there is a central recurring idea in a text that is taken as the central theme.

Theme can be categorized into two categories known as thematic concept and thematic statement. Thematic concept is what the readers think the text is about, whereas thematic statement is what the author says about the subject.

How to Analyze a Poem

  1. Read the poem slowly. Try reading out aloud if possible.
  1. Identify the narrator, characters, plot, and literary devices in the poem.
  1. Once you have read and understood the poem, try to put the poem into your own words. This will help you to further clarify the meaning of the poem.
  1. Now try to identify the main idea of the poem. The main idea tells us what the story is. This can be expressed in one or two sentences.

Now that you know how to read and understand a poem let’s move on to the theme of the poem. (Read How to Analyze a Poem for a lengthy description.)

How to Identify the Theme of a Poem -2

How to Identify the Theme of a Poem

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

Are there any words, phrases, or actions that are repeated?

What is the lesson the character learned at the end?

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?

Exercise to Identify the Theme of a Poem

Let’s look at some examples to practice this method.

Read this poem “The Man He Killed” written by Thomas Hardy.How to Identify the Theme of a Poem

What is the Main Idea of the poem?

A man kills another man on the battlefield. But, if they met in a bar, they could have been friends. So, what made that narrator kill the other?

What are the repeated elements in the poem?

Repeated words shot/shoot and foe

Pauses between some lines (“I shot him dead because –”) 

What is the lesson the character learned at the end?

The man he killed was no different from him.

How strange the war is

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

In this poem, the poet uses the two characters to point out of the destructiveness of war. The phrase “How quaint and curious war is” is a clear indication of poet’s attempt to criticize the war.

What does the poet teach his readers?

In this poem, the poet questions the purpose of war and condemns killing each other for the sake of war.

What is the Theme of the Poem?

The theme of the poem can be thus interpreted as the futility of war.

Image Courtesy:

“The Man He Killed, Hardy, 1910″ By Thomas Hardy – Time’s Laughingstocks and Other Verses, (Public Domain) via

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.


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