Essay #3: Poetry Analysis


For this essay, you must select a poem from our textbook that has not been discussed thoroughly in class. In addition to performing detailed analyses of your chosen poem, this essay assignment will require you to do some research and analysis outside of the poem—specifically on the poet’s life and poetics (influences, style, goals)—to inform your interpretation of the work. Your essay must have a clearly stated interpretation of the poem as its thesis, and detailed analyses of the text, its poet and his/her poetics as support. The final paper should be 3-4 pages long in MLA format (typed, double-spaced, with 1” margins, and a 12-point Arial, Times, or Times New Roman font). Any use of sources must be documented in impeccable MLA format—parenthetical citation (author’s last name & page number) and works cited page.

Recommended Procedure

The steps described below are a recommendation on how to proceed to prepare for and write your essay. Read them carefully and note that you won’t actually be writing your essay until part 3 of Step IV. Feel free to come see me at my office hours if you need any help.

Step I: Description—The first step one should always take when seriously exploring a poetic text is to carry out detailed observations of the text.
1. Paraphrase—What does the poem say? Summarize the poem in your own words, in detail. Formulate an initial idea of what you think the poem means, but allow
yourself the flexibility to change your mind.
2. Language— Identify, underline, circle, count, tabulate and examine the following aspects of the language of the poem.

  • Word choices, denotation, connotation, ambiguity
  • Repetition, types/categories of words, parts of speech
  • Key words in the poem, connotation, denotation, allusion
  • Variations in grammar and/or syntax
  • Figures of speech: metaphor, simile, allegory, symbol, etc.
  • Images, use of imagery

3. Use of Sound—Read the poem aloud; sing it; repeat lines; get a feel for how the words feel in your mouth; savor the poem. Identify the uses of the following:

  • Alliteration, Consonance, Assonance
  • Meter (if any), Cadence, Rhythm
  • Rhyme scheme (or lack of)

4. Poetic Form

  • Open and closed lines, enjambment
  • Line length (in syllables, accents, metrical feet, number of words or characters, and so on), line shape, etc.
  • Stanzas, Strophes, Stanza types.
  • Poetic Types: Sonnet, Villanelle, Haiku, Sestina, Ode, Elegy, etc.

5. Visual elements

  • Formatting: punctuation, spelling, capitalization, font sizes & variation, etc.
  • Use of space on the page, unusual spacing, etc.
  • Note any unusual graphical elements used in the poem.

6. Other elements

  • Speaker, Tone, Irony
  • Spatial and temporal setting
  • Internal structure (narration, fragmentation, perception, description)
  • Biographical, Historical and/or Cultural Contexts
  • Poetics, Poetic “School,” Traditions, etc.
  • Theoretical and Critical Contexts

Step II: Analysis—Once one has described the poem thoroughly, one should think about what these elements contribute to the poem.
1. What is the poet doing with each element described in Step I?
2. Which elements are significant to understanding the poem? Why or why not?
3. What patterns can you identify in the poem? Where is there variation? Do the patterns and/or variations signal something important in the poem?
4. Are there any convergences of elements? What do they highlight?
Step III: Research
1. Read other poems by that poet in the anthology. See if you can find more poetry by that poet online. Get a feel for that poet’s style, concerns, themes, personal symbols and overall poetics.
2. Do some research on the poet’s life in search for clues that may inform the poem and or his/her poetics (poetic theory put into practice).
3. Avoid researching other analyses and/or interpretations of the poem. Since it is the very same type of thing you are doing, you may find that you are convinced by their interpretation, and that you feel that you have nothing new to contribute. If you then start adopting the ideas, and support, you are no longer writing about your own ideas, so even if you document the use of ideas in the essay to avoid plagiarism, you may end up repeating someone else’s ideas, which is also bad. This kind of research is most useful after you have written at least a draft of your essay, so your ideas have already been formulated, then you can engage the other essays you find and/or use them to support your arguments.
4. Return to your chosen poem and analyze how the poem is typical (or atypical) of the poet. How does it embody this poet’s poetics?
Step IV: Interpretation—This last step is actually an ongoing process. As you read, describe and analyze the poem, your interpretation will be taking shape, solidifying with the evidence you observe in the text. Remember, that just because a poem can have multiple readings, doesn’t mean that all readings are supportable.
1. Go back over your analyses and descriptions and try to see what it all means. What does each element contribute to your understanding of the poem? What do you think the poem means?
2. Formulate your interpretation as a thesis statement, and select analytical elements that support your thesis.
3. Write your essay, in which you try to convince your readers of your interpretation of the poem. To be persuasive, you must provide details from Steps II and III that support your reading of the poem.

Don’t forget to enjoy the process of discovery!


This essay must be about 1000 words in length, typed, double-spaced, with 1” margins, and in a conservative font (about 4 pages). You must have a title page with the following information: Your Name, Date, Course and Section Number, the Assignment (Essay #3), and the Title of Your Essay. Underneath the final draft, include all the previous drafts and available prewriting. The final draft is due Friday, December 11.


Your essay will be evaluated in the following areas, with areas 1-3 carrying most of the weight of the grade:

  1. Assignment (fulfilling requirements, quality of thesis, and depth of analysis),
  2. Organization (clarity of thesis, thorough paragraphing, overall organization),
  3. Development (relevance of claims, adequacy of support, and textual evidence),
  4. Sentence Structure, Word Choice, and Grammar (weaknesses will be identified in these areas, but they will not affect grade significantly unless they get in the way of understanding the essay).

An essay that satisfies all the requirements of the assignment with a clear sense of organization and adequate development earns a “C” in this class. An essay that achieves the goals at an above average level of proficiency, with only minor problems in one or two areas earns a “B.”  The “A” is reserved for nearly flawless, elegant essays that excel in all the criteria described above. Essays that do not fulfill the minimum requirements for the assignment earn a “D.”  Only essays that are not turned in or are plagiarized earn an “F” in this class, and may result in a failing grade in the course.

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