Choose one of the poems included in the list of “Poetry Selections” in “Unit 3
You will closely read your chosen poem, considering its logic, organization, patterns of figurative language, and other literary elements.
Read and reread the poem; by paying attention to the varied features of a poem, you will build an interpretation of the poem’s meaning.
Your essay is not a traditional 5 paragraph essay, but rather will be divided into two parts. These parts do not have to be of equal
Part 1: Scansion and Analysis
In the first part, which should be labeled with the heading “Part I: Scansion and Analysis,” you should make a brief, relevant
introduction and then begin discussing the structural elements of the poem—its meter, its rhyme scheme, the punctuation, capitalization,
and whatever else adds to the structural aspect of the poem.
In this section, you might consider what is significant among the following:
Stanzas (how many, what shapes, appearances, what breaks, rhyme scheme, are they all the same?)
Lines (lengths, line breaks, enjambment or end-stopped?)
Syntax/Diction (Is the poem grammatical? Does it follow English conventions? Why?)
Meter/Rhyme (free verse or metrical? How many feet? Is it consistent?)
Punctuation (anything unusual? Is it excessive, conventional, or omitted?)
Organization (how does the poem progress in time and space? What does it look like on the page?)
Form/Mode (is it a special type of poem: ode, dramatic, narrative, sonnet, elegy, or a mixture?)
Part 2: Explication
In the second part, titled “Part II: Explication,” begin explicating the poem. Move through the poem slowly in a logical manner, pointing
out any literary devices or elements of interest. In this second part of the essay, you are helping your reader gain an understanding of
the poem in terms of its narrative—what’s going on in the poem—and in terms of the poet’s use of poetic devices to convey meaning.
NOTE: Do not fall into the paraphrase trap; that is, do not take your reader line by line just to fill your essay with words. The point of
explication is not to retell the poem; instead, you are explicating to point out in the poem those elements that need interpreting or
those places within the poem where you find something interesting. Although the goal of explicating is to explain as much about a poem as
is necessary, you should explicate reservedly and intelligently.
Here are some questions to consider in this section:
What is the poem’s main idea?
What larger themes or issues are addressed– religious, philosophical, political, etc.?
What patterns can you find (recurring imagery, repetition, formal and stylistic features)?
Are there allusions present to other poetic works, myths, historical/religious figures, etc.?
What is the lyric situation? (Why was it written? Who is the speaker/addressee? What is the occasion?)
What poetic devices and figurative language does it use? (metaphor, simile, metonymy, synecdoche, symbol, personification, etc.)
Why does it use the specific words it does? (consider etymologies, denotations, connotations, and homonyms. Use a dictionary/thesaurus to
reinterpret or rethink even common words.)
What is its tone? What type of language does it use? (formal informal? Slang? Euphony/cacophony?)
At the end of Part II you should mention the theme(s) of the work as well as what you believe the overall meaning or central message of
the poem is.
You do not need to use any outside sources for this essay, although you might consider using a dictionary, etymologies online, or a
You should plan to include direct quotes from the text and properly cite them in-text using MLA format (for poetry, this will mean line
numbers). Here is one example of how to cite a line of poetry in MLA format:
By concluding the poem with the lines “Of all the things that happened there / That’s all that I remember,” Cullen reinforces the tragic
and transformative nature of the incident (11-12).
Note that there are spaces before and after the slash that indicates a line break, and the parenthetical citation appears at the end of
the full sentence. Punctuation goes inside the quotation marks, and the period goes after the end parenthesis. If you are quoting four or
more lines of poetry at once, you will have to reproduce them as a block quote, indented one inch from the left.
Plagiarism in any form is unacceptable. Please ask if you have questions about what constitutes plagiarism. Your words and your ideas must
be your own.
Formatting and Style
Be sure to maintain an appropriate academic tone (no slang, second-person, contractions, etc.)
Your essay should be typed, double-spaced, in 12-point Times New Roman font, with one-inch margins, and numbered pages.