Poetry Explication


Poetry Explication Assignment Sheet



A poetry explication is an analysis that describes the possible meanings and relationships of the words, images, and other small units that make up a poem. It is a line-by-line unfolding or revealing of the meaning(s) of a poem as the poem develops that meaning from beginning to end. Writing an explication is an effective way for a reader to connect a poem’s conflicts with its structural and literary features.


Write an explication of a poem you choose from the selection of poems we have read and/or discussed in class. These poems should be no more than 60 or so lines. You pick from our textbook. Do not research or go to other sources to learn about your poem. It is just between you and the poem. Trust your own brain, and don’t let others think for you. Requirements: This Poetry Explication should be 1,000-2,000 words. You are expected to display “reflective thinking” in your explication, use the language of poetic analysis, and use quotes from the poem as you explicate it. It is due in MLA Manuscript Format and Documentation Style: See the tips below. Essays that show clear signs of the writer accessing outside research on their poem will receive a zero.

Due: to the D2L dropbox under “assignments” on Monday, 3/4, by the start of class time. Please be sure you submit the paper as a Word document, if not, the paper will receive a zero.

Preparing to Write

Read the poem silently, then read it aloud. Repeat as necessary. Read it closely, interactively, and critically, following strategies discussed in class. Look up words. Annotate.

Analyze the poem in two ways: First, begin your analysis by identifying and describing the speaking voice or voices (persona), the conflicts or ideas, and the language used in the poem. An example of a conflict we discussed in class: In Owen’s poem, there’s the conflict between the reality of war vs. beliefs on the homefront or propaganda. Then, examine the poem closely according to its poetic elements. Analyze the large issues. Determine the basic design of the poem by considering the who, what, when, where, and why of the situation:

What is being dramatized? What conflicts or themes does the poem present, address, or question?

Who is the speaker? Define and describe the speaker and his/her voice. What does the speaker say? Who is the audience? Are other characters involved?

What happens in the poem? Consider the basic design of the action. How is the conflicts or themes introduced, sustained, resolved, etc.?

When does the action occur? What is the date and/or time of day?

Where is the speaker? Describe the physical location of the dramatic moment.

Why does the speaker feel compelled to speak at this moment? What is his/her motivation?

Analyze your poem in terms of poetic devices/elements. Focus on the poem’s parts or elements, namely how the poem dramatizes conflicts or ideas in language. As you analyze the poem line by line, examine it closely in terms of each element of poetry, looking for certain patterns and connections to develop which provide insight into the overall meaning or interpretation of the poem.

Some of the Elements of Poetry include:


















Meter and rhyme

The Structure of the Paper

An explication is a line-by-line explanation of a poem from beginning to end. “Explain” is the key word. It differs from a thesis-support paper because it doesn’t follow a logical structure; instead, it has a chronological structure that unfolds or reveals the meaning(s) of a poem as it develops from beginning to end. The explication begins with the large issues and basic design of the poem and works through each line to the more specific details and patterns.

The First Paragraph

The explication does not require a formal introductory paragraph; the writer should simply present their interpretation of the poem’s overall meaning and start explicating immediately. The first line(s) of the explication should: describe the dramatic situation of the speaker and declare the central subject of the poem, identify the most significant conflict(s) or tension(s) surrounding this subject, and present your interpretation of the overall message or theme of the poem.

The Next Paragraphs

Should continue to explicate the poem’s central meaning line by line, expanding the discussion of the meaning and conflict central to the poem in terms of the elements of poetry: words/diction, imagery, speaker and tone, figures of speech, form, symbolism and allusion. That is, the writer should explain the overall meaning of the poem by focusing on how the poet has used these elements of poetry to construct this meaning. Each “section” of the poem (stanza or grouping of text) should be explicated in a separate paragraph in the essay. What constitutes a “section” is determined by you based upon meaning. One analogy to describe how an explication is organized is a thread. By expressing the overall meaning or theme, you are saying that the poem has this particular thread running through it. When you start your explication, you grab the beginning of that thread, and then you follow the thread as you interpret the poem line by line, stanza by stanza, part by part, from beginning to end.

Concluding Paragraph

The explication’s concluding paragraph does not simply restate the main points of the introduction. The end of the explication should discuss any or all of the following: the overall value of the poem in literature, or the value of experiencing the poem, or the reader’s personal connection to the poem

Using the Language of Poetic Analysis

The elements of poetry identify the ways poets use language to make meaning. As you are explicating or unfolding this meaning, you need to use the language of these elements of poetry in your discussion. Always discuss an element as it refers to meaning; avoid stating or identifying some element just to identify an element.

Some Tips:

Refer to the speaking voice in the poem as the “speaker”, “the poet”, or “the persona.”

Use the present tense when writing the explication. The poem, as a work of literature, continues to exist!

To avoid unnecessary repetition of “says” or “states” in your explications, the following list suggests some verbs you can use when writing: Dramatizes, emphasizes, presents, suggests, illustrates, asserts, characterizes, argues, underlines, stresses, asks, offers.

Don’t forget to follow MLA guidelines on quoting and citing lines of poetry in your text. a) Introduce your borrowed parts of the poem with an effective signal phrase. Like this: Heaney directly compares poetry writing to the digging his ancestors did: “Between my finger and my / The squat pen rests. / I’ll dig with it” (lines 29-31). b) Use a forward slash (/) between lines where they end in the poem when you are quoting 1-3 lines. c) Give the line numbers in the parenthetical reference at the end of your sentence. For your first borrowing, use the word lines before the numbers: (lines 29-31). Thereafter, use just the numbers: (12-13). No need to use page numbers. d) Set off 4 or more lines of poetry using a block indent format.

Do not use ellipses [. . . ] if you are starting a quote midline. Do not use ellipses if you end a quote midline.

If you remove words from the middle of a line, DO use ellipses to represent missing text: As a boy, the speaker visited his grandfather in the fields: “Once I carried him milk. [. . .] / He straightened up / To drink it” (Heaney 19-21).

Put line numbers after citing several single words: Roethke uses a variety of words in “My Papa’s Waltz” that indicate physical violence, words such as “death” (3), “battered” (9), “scraped” (12), “beat” (13), and “hard” (14).

For one word, put the line number at the end of your sentence: When Heaney uses a simile to compare his pen to a “gun,” he creates a startling image (2).


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