As a rule there's always a core of thought or idea to every printed page.
And to understand that is the reader's first assignment unavoidably.
From the beginning he must study carefully the selection to find its central idea.
Like, why did the author write the poem or novel or play or article?
What was he trying to achieve?
What particular insight(s) is he trying to convey?
What pleasure did he want you to perceive?
In no particular order, here're five suggested ways for breaking down for instance a poem or any selection to maximally get the meanings warehoused in it.
1. Find How The Author Develop His Ideas Step By-Step From The Start To Finish.
It's incumbent on you the reader to diligently study his work, word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, stanza by stanza.
To see how the author grows or amplifies his ideas and thoughts through his choice of words and the likes for herein lays the true meaning of his work.
It is most unlikely that a poet will plunge straight into the theme of his work without introduction.
Check out the introductory passage for clues into the idea he wishes to share.
He must prepare your mind with a prelude that is short and arresting.
Similarly, the writer of article uses the technique of topic sentence, transitional words or phrases, illustrations and examples to drive home his points for or against the standing argumentative proposition.
2. Look Up The Unfamiliar Words In The Dictionary.
It is a must and not maybe that you'll encounter unfamiliar words as you read or try to interpret works from different authors and different genres.
To be perfectly clear with their meanings it's highly recommended you use the dictionary for it offers dependable solutions in divers ways.
It tells you the reader what class of words used belong to, their oral and syllabic structures, spellings, and definition, etymology and usage examples.
It helps to bring the meanings of text sharply into focus by showing the fine lines of meanings a word has.
Every word we know has denoted, specific and somewhat restricted meanings.
For instance, the word house denotes a building; but, for most of us how much more meaning is conveyed by the word home.
The exact meaning of a word is what it denotes and what it left unsaid it connotes.
3. Study The Figures Of Speech; The Words And Phrases That Are Used Not In Their Literary Sense, But
In Less Obvious And Symbolic Ways.
Authors and poets especially have unlimited liberty with how they express themselves.
It is much for this reason that readers must be familiar or alert to figures of speech or any such devices and how they are used to heighten meanings in printed page.
For instance, when the Yorubas say that "may you not step on the eyes of the earth" they're in a less obvious way referring to the terrestrial powers which must not be offended for such carries weighty consequences.
4. Find The Meaning Of All Allusions; That's Words And Phrases Which Refer To Historical Or Legendary Events and Persons.
Most works of literature abound with addresses to historical or legendary events and characters for emphasize and to drive home more pungently the meaning of their narrative.
It might be because the writer wishes to pay homage or for the infamy such event or character represents.
Allusions are references which before then may mean very little to you but the moment you as a reader checks them up their true meanings immediately comes to the fore.
For example, if you find in some selections you're reading phrases like " stygian river, Augean stable or between Scylla and Charybdis".
Of course, like I said earlier on they would mean nothing to you until you check them up.
5. Generate Vividly In Your Mind, And Pen Down In Your Own Words, In One Or Two Sentences, The Central Idea In The Selection.
Like I said earlier, every printed page has a central idea or core of thought which you're hoping to understand.
As you go through the poem bring your own thought into sharp focus on the author's theme.
This helps to clarify your own interpretation.
For example as you read Wole Soyinka's "Mohammed Ali By The Ring Side, 1985." you feel the power, pace, prestige, and the royalty of perhaps the most enigmatic and idolized boxer ever to take to the ring through a catalogue of reverential metaphors the poet deploys at some stage in the poem.
You'll no doubt be filled with awe!