Writing About Poetry

When writing an essay about poetry, try to choose something to which you respondor something for which you have strong feelings.

Okay, you've got your poem. From there, read the poem again and again. Read it aloud to see what the author does with the music of rhyme, meter, alliteration, etc. Also, a dictionary is your best friend — keep one nearby to look up every word you're not sure about or that you don't know.

Try then to summarize each line of the poem in your own words. Jot down what you think the author is trying to say and then find what the author is saying figuratively in the work beneath the surface. Write down the main idea of the poem.

Next, brainstorm. If you are allowed, talk to others about the poem. Free-write about it. You might draw a line down the middle of the paper: on one side, write down any passages or lines you think are relevant or striking; on the other side, list your reactions/ critical responses to each part of the poem.

Once you have an idea of your topic, any free-writing, such as listing or clustering, might help you come up with a thesis. Try to formulate a thesis for your paper that interests you and that you think you can support to persuade your reader.

For some, detailed outlines are a huge help. Others prefer a casual list. Either way,laying out what you will say can help organize what you plan to prove about your poem. Think about how to convince your audience.

When writing, always include direct quotations from the poem, but try to blend them into your own analysis. Be sure to teach the reader how to interpret the passages by calling our attention to what you think is important or noteworthy. Make sure all of your quoted passages serve your thesis as well as support it.

As always, revise, revise, revise. Read your paper through several times, and aloud if possible, to ensure that all of your ideas are well-illustrated and the connections to your quotes from the poem are well-explained. Your paper should be concise with every word and example from the poem chosen with deliberation.

Common Poetic Terms

Alliteration

Repetition of consonant sounds, especially at the beginning of words. 
“A sable, silent, solemn forest stood.” (James Thomson)

Assonance

Repetition of similar vowel sounds within a sentence or line of poetry.
“Whales in the wake like capes and Alps / Quaked the sick sea and snouted deep.” (Dylan Thomas)

Consonance

Repetition of similar consonant sounds within words and after vowel sounds.

Imagery

Words or phrases that combine to appeal to any of the senses.

Metaphor

Implicit comparison of two completely different objects, which suggests that they have something in common. 
“The fog comes / on little cat feet. / It sits looking / over the harbor and city / on silent haunches / and then moves on.” (Carl Sandburg)

Meter

Repetition of a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables used to measure poetry.

Onomatopoeia

Use of a word to echo a sound, such as “click” or “clack.”

Personification

A figure of speech in which objects, animals, or ideas possess human traits or abilities.

Rhyme

Association of words in a poem by the way they sound, usually occurring at but not restricted to the end of a line of poetry. A rhyme scheme is the sequence in which rhyme occurs.

Simile

Explicit comparison of two completely different objects, distinguished from metaphor because it uses “like” or “as.” 
“Like a piece of ice on a hot stove, the poem must ride on its own melting.” (Robert Frost)

Stanza

Grouping of two or more lines of a poem according to length, metrical form, or rhyme scheme.

Revised May, 2006