Don't sell yourself short by thinking that a poem is beyond you. The poet had a message, so use the acronym for "Title, Paraphrase, Connotation, Attitude, Shifts, Title, and Theme" to guide you as you figure it out.
Step 1: React to the title
Determine what you understand of the poem's title without referring to the actual poem. Don't intellectualize it, either -- make a wild guess at first.
Step 2: Paraphrase the poem
Paraphrase the poem, finding a way to simplify and relate to what's going on. Rely on your gut instinct and your own words.
Step 3: Contemplate symbolic content
Consider the connotation of the poem, studying the poet's deeper intentions through symbolism, allusions, imagery, metaphors, and more.
Poets use words like conductors use music -- to lead the reader to feel and think a certain way. Investigate like a detective, logically figuring out the author's intent.
Step 4: Observe the tone
Observe the poem's speaker's attitude and intent through the poem. Like anyone convincing you of their viewpoint, poets will intentionally influence with a tone -- at times friendly, conspiratorial, or adversarial.
Step 5: Note shifts
Pay attention to shifts in the speaker's tone or new directions and cadences signaled by punctuation, transitions, stanza length, or even structural changes often meant to draw your attention. Ask yourself what these might mean.
Step 6: Turn to the title again
Turn to the title again, this time re-evaluating your first impression in light of the new information you have gleaned.
Keep in mind that most great poems are not jotted down in one impressionistic draft, but revised many times over months of work.
Step 7: Identify the theme
Identify the theme and how it relates to the poem or what it says about the human condition rather than just what it subjectively means to you.
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