Be Careful What You Say

What follows is an article written by guest columnist and contributor, Owl.  

One of my hobbies as a writer, when I am looking for inspiration is analyzing poetry.   This particular task was given and explained to me in high school and later required in college.

Poetic analysis, is in laymen’s terms, the dissection of a poem to find underlying meanings.  Usually in poetry there are three or four layers of analysis.  The first is the immediate of what the words say, literally, what the words mean.  The second layer usually refers to the figurative language, what the metaphors, similes, hyperboles, etc. mean in regard to the poem’s theme.   The third and fourth layer are where the sarcasm, entendre and author’s intent usually lay.

Granted, not every poem can be analyzed down to the third and fourth layer because the author intentionally did not intend the poem for that purpose.

As a request, I was asked to analyze the poem “Be Careful What You Say.”

The poem is as follows:

In speaking of a person’s faults
Pray don’t forget your own
Remember those in houses glass
Should never throw a stone
If we have nothing else to do
But talk of those who sin,
‘Tis better we commence at home,
and from that point begin.
We have no right to judge a man
Until he’s fairly tried;
Should we not like his company,
We know the world is wide.
Some may have faults—and who has not?
The old as well as young;
We may perhaps for aught we know,
Have fifty to their one.
I’ll tell you of a better plan,
And find it works full well;
To try my own defects to cure,
Before of others tell;
And though I sometime hope to be
No worse than some I know,
My own shortcomings bid me let
The faults of others go.
Then let us all; when we commence
To slander friend or foe,
Think of the harm one word may do, to those we little know;
Remember curses sometimes like
Our chickens, “roost at home;”
Don’t speak of others’ faults until
We have none of our own. 

This is an example of a poem with only the top two layers of analysis available.  This poem focuses on the theme, as the title indicates, “watch what you say, because only perfection can judge imperfection fairly.”

The first stanza of this poem introduces the concept of the “perfection” theme in the introductory sentence:  “in speaking of…your own”.   The author informs the reader that before we look to judge one another, ensure that we ourselves are without thought.   The author goes on to use the idiom regarding people who live in glass house.  This idiom is used to also work the theme of those who are perfect are the only ones who are able to cast judgment.

The author introduces a novel concept in the next line: “if we have nothing else to do…from that point begin.”   In this line the author implies that if gossip is our only form of entertainment, and if judgment is our focus, focusing our high-powered judgment on ourselves is the best place to begin.  It can also be stated that only judging ourselves will create just as much entertainment as looking to others.

In the second stanza, the author broadens the audience by including the institution of law into the “perfection” theme.  “Until he’s fairly tried” refers to the trials and condemnations of our own justice system and how as members of society, we often pass a sentence before a hearing in our day-to-day world.

The next line is the use of a cliché’ that the author uses to relay the concept that if we choose to not like someone, we can simply choose another person, “we know the world is wide.”    The author continues his plight regarding the “perfection” theme for the next few lines and reminds the audience that as we continue to judge our peers, it is possible that our imperfections greatly outnumber those of our victims: “fifty to their one.”

In a persuasive argument that is found throughout this poem, the author offers a rebuttal and solution in the next stanza.  He states that we need to observe ourselves, work on our own imperfections and thus doing so will fix the current judgments we pass on others.  In doing so, we will learn to let other’s imperfections not affect us to the extent that they currently do.

The author concludes this poem by restating his “perfection” theme.  He writes that before we begin our judgment we should again admire ourselves, ensure that we, ourselves are perfect, and then decide whether or not we are in a position to cast rocks at our peers.


This is an example of a brief poetic analysis.   I do several forms of analysis, not only in poetry but in other medias as well.  One of my professor’s favorites was my analysis and comparison between Freddy Krueger and Jesus, proving that the character of Freddy Krueger was in fact the antithesis of Jesus Christ.

This is just one article that focuses on the subject, click to see more on Literature.

Thanks for reading!


241369_2105693240300_1184581526_32550997_2109043_oOwl is a columnist, winner of The Presidential Award For Academics Focused In Writing, and published author.  Her writings have also been featured in Who’s Who Among American Poets. Follow her musings at and @lsvgsowl on Twitter.  If you want to see more of the writings she has shared with us, click here

If YOU have anything to say, remember “The Team Needs You!”




  1. Angela

    Speechless…in all your writings I enjoy each read as I am intrigued by your style and yet every time I surprised at not only the width and depth of each piece. This is one of my favorites! Not just because I am a writer of poetry but the interpretation…well said…well analyzed! Beautiful…


    • YusefWateef

      Owl did a genuinely awesome job with this poem! She did it at my request; this poem was one that my grandmother, Mrs. Allene Thornton taught me when I was a child. My grandmother was an orator; she gave lots of speeches when she was a young woman. “Be Careful What You Say” won me several academic awards when I recited it in poetry competitions. I just can’t find the name of the original author!


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