Poetry Analysis Essay

Poetry Analysis Essay

Writing about poetry can be difficult. I wanted each of you to write the poetry journal before writing your poetry essay so that you could simply respond to poetry on your own terms. With the poetry essay, you will still including your own personal response to the literature, but now you will need to also include commentary and analysis about the poetic techniques that reinforce your experience of the poem. In order to help with this sometimes-difficult assignment, I will be giving you some specific choices. 

Note:  I no longer allow students to write on the following poems for a variety of reasons: “The Road Less Traveled,” “The Magic of Love,” “If,” “ Footsteps,” and the poems in the “Poetry in Popular Forms” section of your textbook. While you could write about a song for the journal, that is not an option for the essay.

Online Help

Your textbook has a wonderful website that offers extensive description of the step-by-step process of reading and writing about poetry. Please be sure to go to this link and to explore the interactive support materials. Bedford LiterActive Page for Poetry (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. . If you are struggling in your attempts to use literary terms, this is an excellent place to get help. This site Poetry site at Chapel Hill (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. will also offer you helpful, specific information about the process of writing an explication. There are also sample poetry essays under the Study Tools link of our website.


Textbook Help

There are several sample essays in your textbook. This section gives you an overview. Please be sure to review these carefully as they will help you understand the format and style of a poetry essay. Many of the samples are annotated with comments to help you understand the function of each section. This should be very helpful when it comes time for you to develop your own ideas.

There are several short excerpts from essays that highlight specific elements of poetic analysis. All page numbers are for the 8th edition of The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature.


Metaphor “Catch” p. 557

Metaphor “How Poetry Comes to Me” p. 669

Poetic Devices “Manners” p. 596

Tone “Hazel Tells Laverne” p. 609

Irony “Richard Cory” p. 687

Sound “A Bird Came Down…” p. 712

Rhythm “ Waiting for the Storm” p. 741

Form “I will put Chaos” p. 764

Open Form “I Sing the Body Electric” p. 7989


Complete Sample Papers

Poem Comparison p. 647


 “Death Be Not Proud” p. 810

 “There is a certain slant of light” p. 1612

In-Depth Analysis of Author

Emily Dickinson p. 861

Choices for the Poetry Essay

Thematic Approach—In-Depth Analysis

You may choose to create a complex thesis that allows you to explore one poem in depth. With this choice, you should include both historical and/or biographical details about the poet’s life and times, technical discussion of the poem’s poetic devices and speculation about the theme(s) that you chose to focus on. 

For example, if you were interested in writing about Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” you could and should include a discussion of Marvell’s life as a cavalier poet, the period he lived in, the style of a carpe diem poem and finally how all of this information reinforces the overall argument made to the woman in the poem. While this might seem a bit overwhelming, a bit of research on your poet can make an in-depth approach to a poem engaging and enjoyable. 

Thematic Approach—Comparison

You may compare two poems by different authors that address similar topics or have similar themes. Some pairing from your textbook that might be interesting for this choice are:

John Donne “Death Be Not Proud” and Mark Jarman “Unholy Sonnet”

Thomas Hardy “Convergence of the Twain” and David Slavitt “ Titanic”

Randall Jarrell “Death of the Ball Turret Gunner and Wilfred Owen “Dulce et Decorum Est”

Linda Pastan “Marks” and Marge Piercy “The Secretary Chant”

W.  Wordsworth “The World Is Too Much With Us” & W.B. Yeats “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” 


Certainly you can also come up with your own pairings. If you make this choice, be sure to spend some time creating a clear outline to assist you with the comparison structure. This brief overview may help you. (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.  


Emphasis on one poet

You may choose to write about two or more short poems by the same author. For this choice, it is a good idea to do some research and reading about the poet. Be sure to choose shorter poems so that you are able to discuss each in some depth. You may want to choose poems that are seemingly contradictory as this can create opportunities for interesting speculation and commentary. Be sure to create an overall thematic approach rather than just listing the poems in random order. For example, you could chose a sequence of Yeats poems that seem to show his turning away from Celtic themes as he matured as a writer. (See p. 870 for sample).



You may choose to explicate a poem–examine it by analyzing it line-by-line.  For this choice, it is best to choose a poem in a particular form, such as a sonnet or a villanelle. You should discuss many poetic details and devices, such as meter, rhyme, line breaks, structure, diction, figurative language and tone. It is important when writing an explication to have clear, cohesive transitions and to avoid the dreaded opening sentence to a paragraph that begins: “In the next line of the poem…” An explication essay may be slightly shorter in length than the other options, but it should be a complex, dense and well-developed response to on the poem.




Regardless of which approach you decide to take the chapter, “ Reading and Writing” will give you all the information that you need.  Topics covered include:

 Reading the work closely

 Annotating the text

 Choosing a topic

 Developing a thesis

 Organizing a paper

 Writing a draft

 Writing the introduction and conclusion

 Using quotations

 Revising and editing

 Manuscript form


Your final draft should be 4 pages long and include MLA format for all quotes.


Now for some points I would like to emphasize.


1. Be sure to use direct quotes to support your commentary. Integrate them smoothly into your essay: Introduce, Quote, Analyze


2. Use proper MLA format for quoting poetry. See your textbook for models of this.


3. Write a focused opening paragraph that gives an overview of your thesis. 


4. Be sure to include a very brief overview of the poem. 


5. Do not include a detailed summary of the poem. With literary essays, you should assume that the reader of your essay is familiar with the literature.


6. Do not use the term “narrator” but rather use “poet” when referencing the individual who wrote the poem and “speaker” when referencing the voice that is telling” the poem. For example:


 “John Donne creates a speaker who is challenging death and specifically, physical mortality, in the sonnet “Death Be Not Proud.” The speaker’s attitude towards  death  mirrors Donne’s own spiritual beliefs, but perhaps with more conviction and  certainty than the poet himself was able to sustain through the most difficult times  of his life.”

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