Analyzing poetry is a challenging task – more challenging, perhaps, than analyzing any other piece of text. Poetry, by its nature, is very condensed. Several lines, or even one word, put in the context of a poem, could be very charged with meaning, connotations, and emotions. To unpack all these, you will have to read and re-read a poem many times. However, and that's good news, when you are reading good poetry, every re-read gives you more nuanced appreciation and sources of enjoyment.
As much as deep reading is vital for the appreciation, to write a literary analysis of a poem, one needs to learn about specific tools and techniques. In this post, we will outline those techniques and look at poetry analysis as a step-by-step process.
Why Write an Essay About Poetry?
Let's get this question out of the way before we start. All students in the Literature classes all over the world must have asked themselves, "Why?"
It hones your analytic skills
The text-based argument is something you will need, whatever your profession might be in the future. In the info-culture we live in, it's an essential skill. When you are writing an essay analysis of a poem, you are arguing a point. This point must be proven based on the evidence you find in the text – not on your intuition, feelings, or mood, despite the widespread misconception about poetry.
It deepens your appreciation of the piece
Some critics compare analyzing poetry to post-mortem dissection. They say that, although it gives you a good understanding of how it was done, it kills all the pleasure of reading it. This is simply not true! The more you understand about the text, its structure, patterns, rhetoric figures, etc., the more levels you can appreciate it on. As Wordsworth insisted, poetry requires "the exertion of a co-operating power in the mind of the Reader."
It makes you a better reader
When you make deep reading a habit, you start appreciating everything you read more fully. You find details that could have escaped your notice should you only scan the text to get the gist of it. The skill of poetry analysis enriches your reading experience of all literature.
How to Write an Essay on a Poem Analysis
The first thing to do is to read the poem. Twice at the very least, before you even put pen to paper. Read it silently and then aloud. Poetry was born from music and then had centuries of oral history – how it sounds matters.
Then, jot down some notes with your immediate response. What emotion(s) does the poem evoke? What feels odd about it? Are there any words that seem out of place?
Then re-read the poem once again (or several times, as needed), looking for specific poetic techniques you can recognize and seeking answers to the following question:
- Can you see rhythmic patterns? Are they regular or broken? What type of poem is it? (free verse, prose poem, formal verse?)
- What is the main focus/subject of the poem?
- Who is the speaker in the poem?
- When and where it happens?
- Why was the poem written? (to convey what?)
Poem analysis essay outline
Poem analysis is an argumentative piece. To write it effectively, you must argue some point about its theme, structure, or poetic technique. Once you have decided what your central argument will be, you should develop a thesis statement.
Your thesis should be something disputable – a statement you will defend with the help of evidence from the text. For example, "Straightforward language used by William Shakespeare in his Sonnet 18, demonstrates the stability and truthfulness of a deep feeling as opposed to whorled rhetoric of flirt and seduction."
When you have this touchstone, you can proceed to outline your main arguments and your conclusion. A working outline will have a topic sentence for every intended paragraph. For a classic 5-paragraph essay, that would look like this:
- Introduction: your thesis statement.
- Argument 1
- Argument 2
- Argument 3
- Conclusion: revisit your thesis.
Poem analysis essay introduction
You already have your thesis statement, which is an essential building block for your introduction. As a rule, you should put it at the end of the introduction paragraph, making a smooth transition to the argument. However, how to start a poem analysis essay to make it a more engaging reading? For that, you will need a hook sentence. The right hook grabs your reader's attention with strong contrast, a bold statement, an interesting piece of information, or a controversial remark.
For example, "Forever tinted with the ambiguity of gender and sexuality, flirtatious, romantic, and passionate Sonnets occupy a singular place in Shakespeare's legacy."
This is a good hook for a shorter essay since it also provides some background information on the topic at hand.
Poem analysis essay body
In the body of your essay, you develop your argument. The classic essay composition dictates three main points explored in the three body paragraphs. For example, for our thesis about the straightforwardness of language, we can explore three main manifestations of language in Sonnet 18: straightforward syntax, transparent meanings, and neutral wording.
You can further break down each of the three main arguments into three minor points. For example:
- Straightforward syntax (relatively short sentences, almost no inversion, grammatical parallelism)
- Transparent meanings (minimum metaphors, personifications, or abstract concepts)
- Words are mostly neutral (no emotionally charged words, dramatic expressions, antitheses)
Don't forget that of the points you develop, you must also tie back to your thesis statement and support with the evidence from the text.
Poem analysis essay conclusion
In the conclusion, restate your thesis in light of the evidence provided. Your conclusion should leave a reader with the satisfying feeling of closure – your point proven and well-explained. After that, you can put your argument into a wider context. For example, "In the great scheme of Shakespeare's Sonnets, 18 marks the transition to a true, deep feeling, as the narrator seems to fall in love with his addressee, and realize that for the first time."
Quick Tips on Writing a Poem Analysis
- Consider a poem in a historical and cultural context. How does it fit into the conventions of its time? Is it typical? Is it innovative? Does it represent a particular literary movement (e.g., Renaissance, Classicism, Romanticism)?
- Cite your critical sources and the quotes you lift straight from the analyzed text. The most often-used citation style for poem analysis is MLA.
- Use present tense ("Author shows/reveals/compares" as opposed to "showed/revealed/compared.")
- If you don't know where to start your analysis, look for any sudden changes in the tone or style (turns or voltas). They usually occur at the critically important parts of the text. Even the lack of any changes is meaningful, as in our example with Sonnet 18.
Need More Detailed Poem Analysis Essay Example?
The poem analysis essay examples listed above should give you some idea of approaching such a task. However, suppose you need a full-fledged, detailed sample dealing with a poem of a specific genre, penned by a particular author, or done from a singular perspective. In that case, you'll do better by turning to our writing service for personalized help. Sometimes one example is worth a thousand words of explanation!