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TPCASTT Poetry Analysis: A Step-by-Step Guide

TPCASTT is a seven-step poetry analysis technique used to appreciate a poem in a holistic way. This method focuses on six major aspects of a poem where a single element is focused twice to connect the subject matter with the initial response to a piece of poetry. Teachers often employ this technique to encourage students to engage with the emotional, impressionist, and technical dimensions of a poem. In this article, the TPCASTT poetry analysis technique is explained with suitable examples. On top of that, there is an analysis of a poem using this method by the end and a graphic organizer specially prepared for our readers.

TPCASTT Poetry Analysis: A Step-by-Step Guide


Meaning

The acronym TPCASTT stands for:

  • T – Title (Initial Reaction)
  • P – Paraphrase
  • C – Connotation
  • A – Attitude/Tone
  • S – Shifts
  • T – Title (Conclusive Remark)
  • T – Theme

The third letter “C” is often substituted with “F”, which stands for figurative language. The acronym is read as “TPFASTT”.

Another variation of TPCASTT is “TOASTT”, where “P” or paraphrase is substituted with “O” or “own words”. It means to write the poem in your own words, similar to paraphrasing a poem. Alongside that, the third step finding the connotation (“C”) is excluded in “TOASTT” and rather students are encouraged to “Analyze” (“A”) the poetic devices only.

  • T – Title
  • O – Own words
  • A – Analyze (Poetic Devices)
  • S – Shifts
  • T – Title & Tone
  • T – Theme


Definition

TPCASTT is a step-by-step poetry analysis method that focuses on the title (initial and final reactions), content (literal meaning), connotation, speaker’s attitude, poetic shifts, and theme of a particular poem. This technique encourages readers to engage with a poem at seven different levels:

TPCASTT Poetry Analysis Graphic Representation
  1. Initial engagement with the poem’s title without diving into the text.
  2. Reading through the lines and understanding the content at a literal level.
  3. Finding the connotations tied to different words or phrases with particular emphasis on structure, form, figurative language, sensory devices, etc.
  4. Determining the attitude or tone of the speaker from the word choice, rhyme, meter, poetic devices, etc., at a personal level.
  5. Searching for poetic shifts in the text that shapes the final meaning.
  6. Referring to the title again in order to establish a connection between one’s personal conjectures and the poem’s subject.
  7. Drawing a conclusion by finding the main theme, topic, or subject matter of the poem.


TPCASTT Steps Explained

Step One: T – Title

The first step of TPCASTT is finding out the meaning of the title of a poem without referring to the text. Students have to only respond to the title. They must answer the following questions in this step:

  • What does the title mean?
  • Why does the poet use such a title?
  • What can be inferred from the title of the poem?

Poems without Titles

Some poems don’t have titles at all. In those cases, students are required to appreciate the first line as the title; for instance, Emily Dickinson’s poem number 640 does not have a title. In this case, we have to focus on the first line, “I cannot live with You” and appreciate it as its title.

This step can be skipped in case there is no title. However, we suggest that it is better not to skip this step. Students can note their personal responses to the following questions in this step:

  • Why does the poet not use a title?
  • If the first line is regarded as its title, what does it tell us about the overall poem?

It is important to note that there are two kinds of titles: interactive title and naming title. Let’s know more about these titles below:

Interactive Title

This kind of title is tied with the text. It helps readers to know what the poet is about to talk about in the poem. For example, the title of Maya Angelou’s poem “A Brave and Startling Truth” is an interactive title that interplays or affects the meaning. The title hints that the poet is going to speak about a “truth,” saying which is a brave task and it is, on the other hand, startling or astonishing.

Naming Title

This kind of title does not give enough information about the text. Poets use such titles for only naming purposes without giving out anything more about what they are going to say in the text. For instance, the title “The Centaur,” a poem by May Swenson, does not give enough insight into her subject. All readers can speculate that this poem is about the mythical centaurs having lower parts of a horse and upper parts of a human.

Step Two: P – Paraphrase

In the second step of TPCASTT poetry analysis, students have to read the poem. To paraphrase means expressing the meaning of a poem using different words to achieve greater clarity. Students have to rephrase the text in their own words. They can do it by going line-by-line or stanza-by-stanza.

It is important to note that summarizing is different from paraphrasing a poem. A summary is a brief account of the main points in a poem. Whereas, paraphrasing is rewriting the poem in simplified prose format by replacing the critical words with their close synonyms.

Paraphrase vs. Summary

Let’s read these lines from Anne Sexton’s ekphrastic poem “The Starry Night”:

The town does not exist

except where one black-haired tree slips

up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.

The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.   

Oh starry starry night! This is how

I want to die.

A simple paraphrase of these lines is:

The town does not exist except a tree with black hair rises up like a woman drowned in the hot sky. The town is silent. The night sky shines with eleven stars. Oh, what a starry starry night it is! I want to die overwatching such a starry night sky.

Summarizing these lines is a bit different than the word-to-word paraphrase. The summary reads:

The speaker describes the nonexistent town from Vincent van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night. The leaves of the cypress tree appear like a woman’s hair drowned in the bright sky. All the people in that town are fast asleep. The night sky contains only eleven stars as depicted in the painting. Watching the sky, the speaker expresses her strongest desire to die.


Step Three: C – Connotation

In the third step, students have to find the deeper meaning of the poem. This step requires deeper knowledge of poetic forms, figurative language, sound devices, and other technical aspects. Connotation stands for an idea or a feeling a word invokes in readers in addition to its literal meaning. So, in this poem, readers have to note their personal response to the meaning of specific words, lines, the use of figurative devices, etc.

To be more specific, this step of TPCASTT poetry analysis deals with identifying and analyzing the following aspects of a poem:

  • Diction (word choice)
  • Poetic Devices & Figurative Language (including metaphors, similes, alliteration, assonance, consonance, symbolism, etc.)
  • Form
  • Rhyme Scheme
  • Meter
  • Punctuation

Let’s take these lines from Amy Lowell’s poem “The Wind”:

He shouts in the sails of the ships at sea,

He steals the down from the honeybee,

He makes the forest trees rustle and sing,

He twirls my kite till it breaks its string.

The connotation of these lines reveals some interesting ideas. Firstly, Lowell is addressing the wind as a human being. She personifies the wind as a boy or man who shouts in the sails, steals the nectar, makes the forest tree rustle, and twirls her kite’s string.

Readers can also find there is a sing-song-like rhyme scheme in these lines. Moreover, the use of anaphora (use of “He” to begin each line) portrays the speaker’s excitement (mood) and the use of consonance creates internal rhyming. After reading these lines, it seems the speaker is depicting the playful side of the wind, unlike its destructive portrayal in other poems.

Connotation vs. Denotation

Readers are required to be aware of the main difference between connotation and denotation in this step. To be specific, the second step, “Paraphrase” actually deals with the denotation of a poem. Denotation simply means the literal or primary meaning.

Whereas, the connotation the third step deals with stands for the meaning beyond the literal level. Readers are encouraged to associate their feelings or share their ideas that a word or phrase in a poem can suggest. Therefore, the third step is more engaging than the second one as it requires critical thinking, novel ideas, and personal opinions.

Annotation

There is another critical term sounding similar to connotation and denotation. It is annotation, which refers to the explanation or comment added to the lines or words in a poem. TPCASTT poetry analysis does not particularly include a step of annotating a poetic text. However, by using this method, students actually learn the art of annotating poetry. Therefore, TPCASTT is nothing other than a way of annotating a poem using a seven-step approach.

Step Four: A – Attitude

When students complete the third step, they acquire the deeper meaning and connotations of a poem. Thus, the fourth step and the following ones become easier. In this step, they are required to figure out the speaker’s attitude or tone.

There are broadly two kinds of attitudes: one is subjective (personal) and the other one is objective (not influenced by personal feelings).

Subjective Attitude

This kind of attitude can be seen when a speaker narrates their deeply personal events. In this case, poets use emotive language, intense mood, and first-person perspective. Read these lines from “I wish I could remember that first day” by Christina Rossetti and identify the speaker’s tone or attitude:

I wish I could remember that first day, 

First hour, first moment of your meeting me, 

If bright or dim the season, it might be 

Summer or Winter for aught I can say;

In these lines, the speaker’s attitude toward the subject is emotional, nostalgic, and sad.

Objective Attitude

Poems dealing with broader issues or topics, other than one’s personal events, contain an objective attitude. The speaker’s tone reveals a sense of practicality, depth, and detachment. Let’s explore these lines of Gwendolyn Bennett’s poem “To a Dark Girl”:

I love you for your brownness,

And the rounded darkness of your breast,

I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice

And shadows where your wayward eyelids rest.

These lines are more descriptive than emotional. The tone or attitude of the speaker is filled with appreciation, love, and empathy. If the speaker was the dark girl herself, she would have used more emotive language than the present speaker. However, readers can find a sense of subjectivity in these lines as well.

Step Five: S – Shifts

In the fifth step, students have to find the shifts or transitions in the text. The shift means a sudden change in the attitude (tone and mood), including the variation of rhythm and meter. Readers have to identify where the shift occurs and then they have to justify how it affects the meaning. Furthermore, they have to discuss how the poet shows the transition by tweaking the rhythm.

Let’s read James Weldon Johnson’s “The Awakening” and figure out where and how the shift occurs:

I dreamed that I was a rose
That grew beside a lonely way,
Close by a path none ever chose,
And there I lingered day by day.
Beneath the sunshine and the show’r
I grew and waited there apart,
Gathering perfume hour by hour,
And storing it within my heart,
        Yet, never knew,
Just why I waited there and grew.

I dreamed that you were a bee
That one day gaily flew along,
You came across the hedge to me,
And sang a soft, love-burdened song.
You brushed my petals with a kiss,
I woke to gladness with a start,
And yielded up to you in bliss
The treasured fragrance of my heart;
        And then I knew
That I had waited there for you.

Broadly, the shift in the speaker’s attitude occurs in the second stanza. The first stanza reveals the speaker’s ignorance of his existence. When the second stanza begins, his tone suddenly changes, which is reflected in the use of words “gaily,” “sang,” “brushed,” “gladness,” etc. After having a dream, he has clarity over his existence. So, the shift or transition in the poem occurs in the second stanza. There are some minute shifts, which can be found in the last four lines of the first stanza.

Step Six: T – Title

In the sixth step, we have to look at the title again. Why is it important to revisit the title? After analyzing the text, technical aspects, and understanding the nuances, it becomes crucial to compare our primary reaction to the title (before reading and understanding the text) and the final assessment.

In this way, readers can avoid misinterpreting the poem. Besides, it also helps students to think critically about why the poet chose that specific title instead of choosing something else.

With regards to a poem without a title, readers can opt for a different method. They can justify why they think the first line is appropriate as its title or they can try to think about a title that seems fit as per their interpretations.

Step Seven: T – Theme

Last but not least, it is important to point out the main idea or topic of the poem around which the poet’s ideas orbit. In the last step, readers have to figure out the most important theme or themes (in case they find more) in the poem. They have to justify how the theme interplays with the subject matter of the poem.

Let’s read these lines from “Fear” by Kahlil Gibran and point out the major theme:

It is said that before entering the sea 
A river trembles with fear.

…

But there is no other way.
The river can not go back.

Nobody can go back. 
To go back is impossible in existence.

The river needs to take the risk 
of entering the ocean
because only then will fear disappear
because that’s where the river will know
it’s not about disappearing into the ocean,
but of becoming the ocean.

The main theme of the poem is overcoming fear. Gibran presents this theme through the image of a river waiting to enter the sea. According to him, one must take risks in order to overcome their greatest fear. Besides, readers can also find the theme of spiritual assimilation into the vastness of the creation by the image of the river becoming part of the ocean.

TPCASTT Poetry Analysis Flow Chart


TPCASTT Poetry Analysis Example

Using the seven-step TPCASTT method, we are going to analyze William Shakespeare’s sonnet 116, also known as “Let me not to the marriage of true minds.” Without further ado, let’s TPCASTT the poem, which you can read below:

Sonnet 116: "Let me not to the marriage of true minds"
by William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov'd,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.

TPCASTT of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116

TTitle (Primary Reaction)The first line “Let me not to the marriage of true minds” of Shakespeare’s sonnet is regarded as its title. Through the title (before reading the poem), the poet seems to present a situation where nothing can hinder him from believing in the “marriage” or true union of minds. This sonnet seems to be about the definition of true love resulting in the unification of minds.
PParaphraseI’m not with the marriage of true minds that admit obstacles. The love is not love, which alters when alterations are available or forced with the remover to remove.
O no! It’s an ever-fixed mark that never changes its position during tempests. It’s like the pole star to every wandering ship, whose worth is unknown, although its height can be measured.
Love is not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks of women come under his bending sickle’s range. Love doesn’t alter not with Time’s brief hours and weeks, but it remains fixed even to the edge of doom.
If my arguments are proved wrong, I never wrote poems, nor any man ever loved.
CConnotationThis Shakespearean sonnet contains three quatrains and a rhyming couplet, following the rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. It is composed in iambic pentameter with a few variations. Shakespeare uses the metaphor of the pole star to compare love to an unalterable feeling that guides lovers as the star shows the way to the sailors. Besides, he personifies “Time” and portrays it as a reaper who reaps physical beauty.
AAttitudeThe speaker’s attitude or tone is wise, straightforward, rational, and ironic.
SShiftsThe first shift occurs at the beginning of the second quatrain where the speaker describes love as an “ever-fixed mark.” There is another shift in the third quatrain. The speaker shifts from the nautical imagery to the abstract idea of time. He presents the idea as an opponent of anything physical that is bound to fade away. The final shift occurs in the final couplet where the speaker presents his resolution about eternal love or true unification of lovers’ minds.
TTitle (Concluding Remark)After reading the poem, the title seems to be appropriate as it reveals the speaker’s stand regarding true love. From the very beginning, he makes clear that he is against the definition of love or unification that alters according to changing circumstances.
TThemeThis sonnet deals with the theme of eternal love. Shakespeare presents his arguments regarding the nature of true love that is unalterable, priceless, and eternal. To make his arguments strong, he uses nautical imagery of the pole star guiding sailors during tempests and contrasts the idea with the purview of time.


TPCASTT Template

Here’s a TPCASTT template to help our readers organize their thoughts in one place while analyzing a poem. Students can fill this TPCASTT graphic organizer chart and refer to it while writing a poetry analysis essay.

If you want to analyze a poem using this strategy, head to our Poem Guides page. Then, choose any poet and explore their poem guides. To TPCASTT the poem, you can take help from our thoughts on that particular poem. But, always make sure to draw up the interpretation in your own words.

TPCASTT Pros & Cons

ProsCons
The TPCASTT poetry analysis method is useful to organize thoughts in one place.The first step, analyzing the title before reading the poem, seems difficult for naming titles.
This method focuses on the major elements of a poem, including meaning, structure, form, tone, mood, figurative language, etc.Poems without titles are part of a literary tradition or movement. Therefore it is better not to focus on the title for such modernist poems, respecting the poet’s intention. In that case, readers can address why the poet refrained from using the title.
It guides students from going astray from the poem’s main idea.The third step (Connotation) is broad in scope, thus difficult for beginners. It demands extensive knowledge of poetic devices, form, meter, etc. The simplified version TPFASTT (“F” for figurative language) is best for beginners.
The scope of misinterpretation is reduced if the TPCASTT steps are followed correctly.This method does not focus much on the historical context or the poet’s intention verified by literary scholars.
This poetry analysis technique helps students to connect their own ideas with that of the poet and encourages them to think critically.TPCASTT is best for answering specific aspects of a poem. It helps, but not comprehensively to attempt a proper line-by-line or stanza-by-stanza critical analysis.


Let’s Practice TPCASTT

Readers can easily implement the TPCASTT technique to analyze a poem efficiently. It is better to start with the poems written prior to the 20th-century. Then, one can dive into the wide array of modernist poetry of the past century and the contemporary period. Here is a list of a few poems that readers can TPCASTT with the help of our guides:

You can share your TPCASTT analysis of any poem with us in order to know whether you employed the technique correctly or not. Do use our graphic organizer to write your response and feel free to send it to us at support@poemotopia.com.

We’ll get back to you with our thoughts as soon as we can.

Questions & Answers

What is TPCASTT poetry analysis?

TPCASTT is a seven-step poetry analysis technique. It is a step-by-step approach to analyzing or annotating a particular poem. In the acronym, “T” stands for “Title”, “P” stands for “Paraphrase”, “C” stands for “Connotation, “A” stands for “Attitude”, “S” stands for “Shifts”, “T” stands for “Title”, and the last “T” means “Theme”.

How do you analyze a poem using TPCASTT?

We can easily analyze a poem by using the seven-step TPCASTT strategy. In the first step, readers have to note their initial response to the title (T) before reading the poem. Secondly, they have to paraphrase (P) the poem word-by-word. Thirdly, the connotations of the lines are noted down. Fourthly, they have to figure out the attitude (A) of the speaker. Then, they are required to find out the shifts (S) in tone and mood. Thereafter, they have to evaluate the title (T) again. Lastly, they are required to identify and justify the theme (T) of the poem.

What is the purpose of examining the title of a poem for the first time in TPCASTT?

In TPCASTT, examining the title of a poem for the first time helps us know what the poet is going to say or what the poem is about. It helps us to compare our initial response with the reevaluation of the title at the later stage of the analysis.

What do you do during the first title step of TPCASTT?

In TPCASTT, examining the title of a poem for the first time helps us know what the poet is going to say or what the poem is about. It helps us to compare our initial response with the reevaluation of the title at the later stage of the analysis.

What does the second “T” in TPCASTT stand for?

The second “T” in TPCASTT stands for the title. It is the sixth step of this poetry analysis method, where readers are encouraged to reevaluate the title of a poem after understanding the meaning.

How do you paraphrase in TPCASTT?

In this poetry analysis technique, students are required to write the poem in their own words, by substituting the critical words with easily understandable words. They have to simplify the poet’s language line-by-line or stanza-by-stanza in order to have a better understanding of the poem.

What does the connotation mean in TPCASTT?

Connotation means the meaning that a word invokes in addition to the literary or primary meaning. In this step, readers have to figure out the connotation of a particular line or word, with particular emphasis on form, figurative language, punctuation, sound devices, etc.

What is the attitude of a poem?

Attitude means how the speaker of a poem presents the subject matter, as interpreted by readers. It deals with the tone and mood of the speaker that is created using diction, meter, rhyme, figurative language, and syntax.

What does shift mean in TPCASTT?

In TPCASTT, the shift means to identify the transition or change in the speaker’s tone and mood, rhythm, meter, etc.

How do you find the shift in a poem?

In order to find a shift in a poem, readers have to note the change in meter, rhyme, or in the speaker’s attitude reflected in the word choice, syntax, and figurative language.

What techniques can we use to analyze poetry?

There are several techniques to analyze poetry. One of the easiest and most effective methods is TPCASTT where readers analyze a poem using a seven-step strategy. Some other techniques include SMILE, TPFASTT, TOASTT, etc.

What does TPFASTT mean?

TPFASTT is similar to the TPCASTT poetry analysis technique. In this poetry analysis technique, readers focus on the “Title” (T), “Paraphrase” (P), “Figurative Language” (F), “Attitude” (A), “Shifts” (S), “Title” (T), and “Theme” (T).

What does TOASTT stand for in literature?

In TOASTT, “T” stands for “Title”, “O” stands for “Own Words” (similar to paraphrase), “A” stands for “Analyze” (the poetic devices), “S” stands for “Shifts”, “T” stands for “Tone” and “Title”, and the last “T” means “Theme”.


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