A Full Guide to Writing a Perfect Poem Analysis Essay

01 October, 2020

14 minutes read

Author:  Elizabeth Brown

Poem analysis is one of the most complicated essay types. It requires the utmost creativity and dedication. Even those who regularly attend a literary class and have enough experience in poem analysis essay elaboration may face considerable difficulties while dealing with the particular poem. The given article aims to provide the detailed guidelines on how to write a poem analysis, elucidate the main principles of writing the essay of the given type, and share with you the handy tips that will help you get the highest score for your poetry analysis. In addition to developing analysis skills, you would be able to take advantage of the poetry analysis essay example to base your poetry analysis essay on, as well as learn how to find a way out in case you have no motivation and your creative assignment must be presented on time.

poem analysis

What Is a Poetry Analysis Essay?

A poetry analysis essay is a type of creative write-up that implies reviewing a poem from different perspectives by dealing with its structural, artistic, and functional pieces. Since the poetry expresses very complicated feelings that may have different meanings depending on the backgrounds of both author and reader, it would not be enough just to focus on the text of the poem you are going to analyze. Poetry has a lot more complex structure and cannot be considered without its special rhythm, images, as well as implied and obvious sense.

poetry analysis essay

While analyzing the poem, the students need to do in-depth research as to its content, taking into account the effect the poetry has or may have on the readers.

Preparing for the Poetry Analysis Writing

The process of preparation for the poem analysis essay writing is almost as important as writing itself. Without completing these stages, you may be at risk of failing your creative assignment. Learn them carefully to remember once and for good.

Thoroughly read the poem several times

The rereading of the poem assigned for analysis will help to catch its concepts and ideas. You will have a possibility to define the rhythm of the poem, its type, and list the techniques applied by the author.

While identifying the type of the poem, you need to define whether you are dealing with:

  • Lyric poem – the one that elucidates feelings, experiences, and the emotional state of the author. It is usually short and doesn’t contain any narration;
  • Limerick – consists of 5 lines, the first, second, and fifth of which rhyme with one another;
  • Sonnet – a poem consisting of 14 lines characterized by an iambic pentameter. William Shakespeare wrote sonnets which have made him famous;
  • Ode – 10-line poem aimed at praising someone or something;
  • Haiku – a short 3-line poem originated from Japan. It reflects the deep sense hidden behind the ordinary phenomena and events of the physical world;
  • Free-verse – poetry with no rhyme.

The type of the poem usually affects its structure and content, so it is important to be aware of all the recognized kinds to set a proper beginning to your poetry analysis.

Find out more about the poem background

Find as much information as possible about the author of the poem, the cultural background of the period it was written in, preludes to its creation, etc. All these data will help you get a better understanding of the poem’s sense and explain much to you in terms of the concepts the poem contains.

Define a subject matter of the poem

This is one of the most challenging tasks since as a rule, the subject matter of the poem isn’t clearly stated by the poets. They don’t want the readers to know immediately what their piece of writing is about and suggest everyone find something different between the lines.

What is the subject matter? In a nutshell, it is the main idea of the poem. Usually, a poem may have a couple of subjects, that is why it is important to list each of them.

In order to correctly identify the goals of a definite poem, you would need to dive into the in-depth research.

Check the historical background of the poetry. The author might have been inspired to write a poem based on some events that occurred in those times or people he met. The lines you analyze may be generated by his reaction to some epoch events. All this information can be easily found online.

Choose poem theories you will support

In the variety of ideas the poem may convey, it is important to stick to only several most important messages you think the author wanted to share with the readers. Each of the listed ideas must be supported by the corresponding evidence as proof of your opinion.

The poetry analysis essay format allows elaborating on several theses that have the most value and weight. Try to build your writing not only on the pure facts that are obvious from the context but also your emotions and feelings the analyzed lines provoke in you.

How to Choose a Poem to Analyze?

If you are free to choose the piece of writing you will base your poem analysis essay on, it is better to select the one you are already familiar with. This may be your favorite poem or one that you have read and analyzed before. In case you face difficulties choosing the subject area of a particular poem, then the best way will be to focus on the idea you feel most confident about. In such a way, you would be able to elaborate on the topic and describe it more precisely.

Now, when you are familiar with the notion of the poetry analysis essay, it’s high time to proceed to poem analysis essay outline. Follow the steps mentioned below to ensure a brilliant structure to your creative assignment.

Best Poem Analysis Essay Topics

  • Mother To Son Poem Analysis
  • We Real Cool Poem Analysis
  • Invictus Poem Analysis
  • Richard Cory Poem Analysis
  • Ozymandias Poem Analysis
  • Barbie Doll Poem Analysis
  • Caged Bird Poem Analysis
  • Ulysses Poem Analysis
  • Dover Beach Poem Analysis
  • Annabelle Lee Poem Analysis
  • Daddy Poem Analysis
  • The Raven Poem Analysis
  • The Second Coming Poem Analysis
  • Still I Rise Poem Analysis
  • If Poem Analysis
  • Fire And Ice Poem Analysis
  • My Papa’S Waltz Poem Analysis
  • Harlem Poem Analysis
  • Kubla Khan Poem Analysis
  • I Too Poem Analysis
  • The Juggler Poem Analysis
  • The Fish Poem Analysis
  • Jabberwocky Poem Analysis
  • Charge Of The Light Brigade Poem Analysis
  • The Road Not Taken Poem Analysis
  • Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus Poem Analysis
  • The History Teacher Poem Analysis
  • One Art Poem Analysis
  • The Wanderer Poem Analysis
  • We Wear The Mask Poem Analysis
  • There Will Come Soft Rains Poem Analysis
  • Digging Poem Analysis
  • The Highwayman Poem Analysis
  • The Tyger Poem Analysis
  • London Poem Analysis
  • Sympathy Poem Analysis
  • I Am Joaquin Poem Analysis
  • This Is Just To Say Poem Analysis
  • Sex Without Love Poem Analysis
  • Strange Fruit Poem Analysis
  • Dulce Et Decorum Est Poem Analysis
  • Emily Dickinson Poem Analysis
  • The Flea Poem Analysis
  • The Lamb Poem Analysis
  • Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night Poem Analysis
  • My Last Duchess Poetry Analysis

Poem Analysis Essay Outline

As has already been stated, a poetry analysis essay is considered one of the most challenging tasks for the students. Despite the difficulties you may face while dealing with it, the structure of the given type of essay is quite simple. It consists of the introduction, body paragraphs, and the conclusion. In order to get a better understanding of the poem analysis essay structure, check the brief guidelines below.


This will be the first section of your essay. The main purpose of the introductory paragraph is to give a reader an idea of what the essay is about and what theses it conveys. The introduction should start with the title of the essay and end with the thesis statement.

The main goal of the introduction is to make readers feel intrigued about the whole concept of the essay and serve as a hook to grab their attention. Include some interesting information about the author, the historical background of the poem, some poem trivia, etc. There is no need to make the introduction too extensive. On the contrary, it should be brief and logical.

Body Paragraphs

The body section should form the main part of poetry analysis. Make sure you have determined a clear focus for your analysis and are ready to elaborate on the main message and meaning of the poem. Mention the tone of the poetry, its speaker, try to describe the recipient of the poem’s idea. Don’t forget to identify the poetic devices and language the author uses to reach the main goals. Describe the imagery and symbolism of the poem, its sound and rhythm.

Try not to stick to too many ideas in your body section, since it may make your essay difficult to understand and too chaotic to perceive. Generalization, however, is also not welcomed. Try to be specific in the description of your perspective.

Make sure the transitions between your paragraphs are smooth and logical to make your essay flow coherent and easy to catch.

In a nutshell, the essay conclusion is a paraphrased thesis statement. Mention it again but in different words to remind the readers of the main purpose of your essay. Sum up the key claims and stress the most important information. The conclusion cannot contain any new ideas and should be used to create a strong impact on the reader. This is your last chance to share your opinion with the audience and convince them your essay is worth readers’ attention.

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Poem Analysis Essay Examples 

A good poem analysis essay example may serve as a real magic wand to your creative assignment. You may take a look at the structure the other essay authors have used, follow their tone, and get a great share of inspiration and motivation.

Check several poetry analysis essay examples that may be of great assistance:

  • https://study.com/academy/lesson/poetry-analysis-essay-example-for-english-literature.html
  • https://www.slideshare.net/mariefincher/poetry-analysis-essay

Writing Tips for a Poetry Analysis Essay

If you read carefully all the instructions on how to write a poetry analysis essay provided above, you have probably realized that this is not the easiest assignment on Earth. However, you cannot fail and should try your best to present a brilliant essay to get the highest score. To make your life even easier, check these handy tips on how to analysis poetry with a few little steps.

  • In case you have a chance to choose a poem for analysis by yourself, try to focus on one you are familiar with, you are interested in, or your favorite one. The writing process will be smooth and easy in case you are working on the task you truly enjoy.
  • Before you proceed to the analysis itself, read the poem out loud to your colleague or just to yourself. It will help you find out some hidden details and senses that may result in new ideas.
  • Always check the meaning of words you don’t know. Poetry is quite a tricky phenomenon where a single word or phrase can completely change the meaning of the whole piece. 
  • Bother to double check if the conclusion of your essay is based on a single idea and is logically linked to the main body. Such an approach will demonstrate your certain focus and clearly elucidate your views. 
  • Read between the lines. Poetry is about senses and emotions – it rarely contains one clearly stated subject matter. Describe the hidden meanings and mention the feelings this has provoked in you. Try to elaborate a full picture that would be based on what is said and what is meant.

poetry analysis essay

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Writing About Poetry

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This section covers the basics of how to write about poetry, including why it is done, what you should know, and what you can write about.

Writing about poetry can be one of the most demanding tasks that many students face in a literature class. Poetry, by its very nature, makes demands on a writer who attempts to analyze it that other forms of literature do not. So how can you write a clear, confident, well-supported essay about poetry? This handout offers answers to some common questions about writing about poetry.

What's the Point?

In order to write effectively about poetry, one needs a clear idea of what the point of writing about poetry is. When you are assigned an analytical essay about a poem in an English class, the goal of the assignment is usually to argue a specific thesis about the poem, using your analysis of specific elements in the poem and how those elements relate to each other to support your thesis.

So why would your teacher give you such an assignment? What are the benefits of learning to write analytic essays about poetry? Several important reasons suggest themselves:

  • To help you learn to make a text-based argument. That is, to help you to defend ideas based on a text that is available to you and other readers. This sharpens your reasoning skills by forcing you to formulate an interpretation of something someone else has written and to support that interpretation by providing logically valid reasons why someone else who has read the poem should agree with your argument. This isn't a skill that is just important in academics, by the way. Lawyers, politicians, and journalists often find that they need to make use of similar skills.
  • To help you to understand what you are reading more fully. Nothing causes a person to make an extra effort to understand difficult material like the task of writing about it. Also, writing has a way of helping you to see things that you may have otherwise missed simply by causing you to think about how to frame your own analysis.
  • To help you enjoy poetry more! This may sound unlikely, but one of the real pleasures of poetry is the opportunity to wrestle with the text and co-create meaning with the author. When you put together a well-constructed analysis of the poem, you are not only showing that you understand what is there, you are also contributing to an ongoing conversation about the poem. If your reading is convincing enough, everyone who has read your essay will get a little more out of the poem because of your analysis.

What Should I Know about Writing about Poetry?

Most importantly, you should realize that a paper that you write about a poem or poems is an argument. Make sure that you have something specific that you want to say about the poem that you are discussing. This specific argument that you want to make about the poem will be your thesis. You will support this thesis by drawing examples and evidence from the poem itself. In order to make a credible argument about the poem, you will want to analyze how the poem works—what genre the poem fits into, what its themes are, and what poetic techniques and figures of speech are used.

What Can I Write About?

Theme: One place to start when writing about poetry is to look at any significant themes that emerge in the poetry. Does the poetry deal with themes related to love, death, war, or peace? What other themes show up in the poem? Are there particular historical events that are mentioned in the poem? What are the most important concepts that are addressed in the poem?

Genre: What kind of poem are you looking at? Is it an epic (a long poem on a heroic subject)? Is it a sonnet (a brief poem, usually consisting of fourteen lines)? Is it an ode? A satire? An elegy? A lyric? Does it fit into a specific literary movement such as Modernism, Romanticism, Neoclassicism, or Renaissance poetry? This is another place where you may need to do some research in an introductory poetry text or encyclopedia to find out what distinguishes specific genres and movements.

Versification: Look closely at the poem's rhyme and meter. Is there an identifiable rhyme scheme? Is there a set number of syllables in each line? The most common meter for poetry in English is iambic pentameter, which has five feet of two syllables each (thus the name "pentameter") in each of which the strongly stressed syllable follows the unstressed syllable. You can learn more about rhyme and meter by consulting our handout on sound and meter in poetry or the introduction to a standard textbook for poetry such as the Norton Anthology of Poetry . Also relevant to this category of concerns are techniques such as caesura (a pause in the middle of a line) and enjambment (continuing a grammatical sentence or clause from one line to the next). Is there anything that you can tell about the poem from the choices that the author has made in this area? For more information about important literary terms, see our handout on the subject.

Figures of speech: Are there literary devices being used that affect how you read the poem? Here are some examples of commonly discussed figures of speech:

  • metaphor: comparison between two unlike things
  • simile: comparison between two unlike things using "like" or "as"
  • metonymy: one thing stands for something else that is closely related to it (For example, using the phrase "the crown" to refer to the king would be an example of metonymy.)
  • synecdoche: a part stands in for a whole (For example, in the phrase "all hands on deck," "hands" stands in for the people in the ship's crew.)
  • personification: a non-human thing is endowed with human characteristics
  • litotes: a double negative is used for poetic effect (example: not unlike, not displeased)
  • irony: a difference between the surface meaning of the words and the implications that may be drawn from them

Cultural Context: How does the poem you are looking at relate to the historical context in which it was written? For example, what's the cultural significance of Walt Whitman's famous elegy for Lincoln "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed" in light of post-Civil War cultural trends in the U.S.A? How does John Donne's devotional poetry relate to the contentious religious climate in seventeenth-century England? These questions may take you out of the literature section of your library altogether and involve finding out about philosophy, history, religion, economics, music, or the visual arts.

What Style Should I Use?

It is useful to follow some standard conventions when writing about poetry. First, when you analyze a poem, it is best to use present tense rather than past tense for your verbs. Second, you will want to make use of numerous quotations from the poem and explain their meaning and their significance to your argument. After all, if you do not quote the poem itself when you are making an argument about it, you damage your credibility. If your teacher asks for outside criticism of the poem as well, you should also cite points made by other critics that are relevant to your argument. A third point to remember is that there are various citation formats for citing both the material you get from the poems themselves and the information you get from other critical sources. The most common citation format for writing about poetry is the Modern Language Association (MLA) format .


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The Poetry issue

The Shape of the Void: Toward a Definition of Poetry

“Poetry leaves something out,” our columnist Elisa Gabbert says. But that’s hardly the extent of it.

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By Elisa Gabbert

essay about poems

I once heard a student say poetry is language that’s “coherent enough.” I love a definition this ambiguous. It’s both helpful (there’s a limit to coherence, and the limit is aesthetic) and unhelpful (enough for what, or whom?). It reminds me of a dictionary entry for “detritus” that I copied down in a notebook: “the pieces that are left when something breaks, falls apart, is destroyed, etc.” That seemed so artfully vague to me, so uncharacteristically casual for a dictionary. It has a quality of distraction, of trailing off, of suggesting you already know what detritus means. Part of me resists the question of what poetry is, or resists the answer — you already know what it means.

But let’s answer it anyway, starting with the obvious: If the words have rhyme and meter, it’s poetry. Nonwords with rhyme and meter, as in “Jabberwocky,” also are poetry. And since words in aggregate have at least some rhyme and rhythm, which lines on the page accentuate, any words composed in lines are poetry. There’s something to be said for the obvious. Virginia Woolf wrote of E.M. Forster: “He says the simple things that clever people don’t say; I find him the best of critics for that reason. Suddenly out comes the obvious thing one has overlooked.”

Is there much else? I think so. I think poetry leaves something out. All texts leave something out, of course — otherwise they’d be infinite — but most of the time, more is left out of a poem. Verse, by forcing more white space on the page, is constantly reminding you of what’s not there. This absence of something, this hyper-present absence, is why prose poems take up less space than other prose forms; the longer they get, the less they feel like poems. It’s why fragments are automatically poetic: Erasure turns prose into poems. It’s why any text that’s alluringly cryptic or elusive — a road sign, assembly instructions — is described as poetic. The poetic is not merely beauty in language, but beauty in incoherence, in resistance to common sense. The missingness of poetry slows readers down, making them search for what can’t be found. The encounter is almost inherently frustrating, as though one could not possibly pay enough attention. This is useful: Frustration is erotic.

“What is poetry?” is not the same question, quite, as “What is a poem?” How many poems did Emily Dickinson write? It depends what you count. In “Writing in Time,” the scholar Marta Werner writes, of Dickinson’s so-called Master letters, “At their most fundamental, ontological level, we don’t know what they are.” Perhaps my favorite poem of Dickinson’s is not, perhaps, a poem — it’s an odd bit of verse in the form of a letter to her sister-in-law, ending with the loveliest, slantest of rhymes: “Be Sue, while/I am Emily —/Be next, what/you have ever/been, Infinity.” Are the “breaks” really breaks? The letter is written on a small, narrow card; the words go almost to the edge of the paper. I think, too, of Rilke’s letters, which often read like poems. In 1925, he wrote to his Polish translator: “We are the bees of the Invisible. We wildly gather the honey of the visible, in order to store it in the great golden hive of the Invisible.” In these letter-poems, poetry reveals itself as more a mode of writing, a mode of thinking, even a mode of being , than a genre. The poem is not the only unit of poetry; poetic lines in isolation are still poetry. The poem is a vessel; poetry is liquid.

From time to time I’m asked, with bewilderment or derision, if this or that poem isn’t just “prose chopped into lines.” This idea of the free verse poem as “chopped” prose comes from Ezra Pound via Marjorie Perloff, who quotes Pound in her influential essay “The Linear Fallacy,” published in 1981. The essay encourages an oddly suspicious, even paranoid reading of most free verse as phony poetry, as prose in costume. The line, in Perloff’s view, in these ersatz poems, is a “surface device,” a “gimmick.” She removes all the breaks from a C.K. Williams poem to make the case that a stanza without the intentional carriage returns is merely a paragraph.

I find this baffling — as if chopping up prose has no effect. It does have an effect, the way putting more panes in a window changes the view. The architect Christopher Alexander thought big plate glass windows were a mistake, because “they alienate us from the view”: “The smaller the windows are, and the smaller the panes are, the more intensely windows help connect us with what is on the other side. This is an important paradox.” To state the Forsterian obvious again, adding breaks to a paragraph is not always going to make an interesting poem — but most poets don’t write that way. They write in the line , in the company of the void. That changes how you write — and more profoundly, how you think, and even how you are, your mode of being. When you write in the line, there is always an awareness of the mystery, of what is left out. This is why, I suppose, poems can be so confounding. Empty space on the page, that absence of language, provides no clues. But it doesn’t communicate nothing — rather, it communicates nothing . It speaks void, it telegraphs mystery.

By “mystery” I don’t mean metaphor or disguise. Poetry doesn’t, or shouldn’t, achieve mystery only by hiding the known, or translating the known into other, less familiar language. The mystery is unknowing, the unknown — as in Jennifer Huang’s “Departure”: “The things I don’t know have stayed/In this home.” The mystery is the missing mountain in Shane McCrae’s “The Butterflies the Mountain and the Lake”:

the / Butterflies monarch butterflies huge swarms they Migrate and as they migrate south as they Cross Lake Superior instead of flying

South straight across they fly South over the water then fly east still over the water then fly south again / And now biologists believe they turn to avoid a mountain

That disappeared millennia ago.

The missing mountain is still there. As for what is on the page, the language that changes the shape of the void, I’m of the opinion it can be almost anything. One of my favorite books that no one has heard of is “Survey Says!,” by Nathan Austin. It’s just a list of guesses ventured by contestants on “Family Feud,” arranged, most ingeniously, in alphabetical order by their second letter, so you get sequences like this: “A bra. Abraham Lincoln. A building. Scaffolding. Scalpel. A car. A card game. A cat. A cat. Ice cream. Ice cream. Ice cream. Ice cream.” We get the answers; the questions are missing. “Get a manicure. Get a toupee. Get drunk. Retirement fund. Get out of bed. Get ready! Let’s go with manuals. Get sick in there. Let’s say a pet. Let’s say shoes. Bette Davis.” The poetry seems to perform hypnosis, the found rhymes and assonance and anaphora enacting an enchantment, a bewitchery; it seems to be giving subconscious advice. Get ready! You must change your life.

Elisa Gabbert is the author of five collections of poetry, essays and criticism, most recently “ The Unreality of Memory & Other Essays .” Her On Poetry columns appear four times a year.

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How to Write About Poetry

Last Updated: October 11, 2022 References

This article was co-authored by Christopher Taylor, PhD . Christopher Taylor is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Austin Community College in Texas. He received his PhD in English Literature and Medieval Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 5,134 times.

Poetry analysis is a common essay assignment in high school and college English classes. This is because writing about poetry helps you to hone important close reading and analytical skills, which are useful for a wide range of professions. Read the poem carefully and closely, and then craft your argument about the poem! Take time to revise what you have written to ensure that your poetry analysis is complete and insightful.

Analyzing the Content of the Poem

Step 1 Read the poem carefully.

  • Depending on the difficulty of the poem, it may take several read-throughs to fully understand what the poem is about. Take your time and read the poem as many times as you need to understand it.
  • If you can, read the poem aloud so you can hear the rhythm and sounds in the poem. Sound is a very important part of poetry, so it's important to read it aloud.
  • If you come across any words or phrases you don’t understand, look them up before you continue reading the poem.

If you get to choose the poem that you write about, choose one that you love! It will be much more fun to write about a poem that you really enjoy than one that seems safe or easy. Your paper is also likely to be better if you choose a poem you love!

  • Syntax is the arrangement of the words in a sentence. For instance, you'd normally write, "Roses bloom all summer." However, a poet might write, "All summer roses bloom."

Step 3 Note any prominent themes in the poem.

  • A poem may have multiple themes. You may identify love, death, and sorrow all in 1 poem.
  • For example, Robert Frost’s “Asking for Roses” features themes of loss, love, and fertility. Frost presents the theme of fertility by making biblical allusions to Mary and through floral imagery. The themes of loss and love are shown through memories of a love the narrator once had.

Step 4 Identify the poem’s genre.

  • For example, a limerick is a humorous poem, while an elegy is a sad, mournful poem.

Step 5 Read the poem out loud to examine the rhyme and meter.

  • Understanding the poem's rhyme scheme can help you recognize words and phrases the poet wants to emphasize. Additionally, it will help you identify the form.
  • For example, you might notice when you read “Asking for Roses” that the first line rhymes with the third line and the second line rhymes with the fourth line. This rhyme scheme of odd lines rhyming with other odd lines and even lines rhyming with other even lines continues throughout the poem. You'll also notice that the placement of "roses" signals that it's an important image in the poem. [5] X Research source

Step 6 Check for figures of speech.

  • Metaphor, which is when 2 things that are not similar are compared, such as a house and grief.
  • Metonymy, which is when something stands in for something similar, such as “the crown” in place of the queen or king.
  • Simile, which is when the author makes a comparison between 2 unlike things using “like” or “as,” such as by saying “Life is like a merry-go-round.”
  • Personification, which is when something non-human gains human attributes, such as by saying “the tea kettle screamed” or “the painting mocked me.”
  • Irony, which is when the surface meaning of something is different from what you may draw from it, such as getting laid off on the 10 year anniversary of your hire date.

Step 7 Investigate the historical and cultural context of the poem.

  • For example, you might consider the potential implications of the term “old-fashioned” in Robert Frost’s “Asking for Roses” given that it was written in 1915. [8] X Research source
  • While historical and cultural context are important, don't base your entire analysis of the poem on it. Keep your focus on the words on the page.
  • Use secondary sources to support your interpretation of the meaning of the poem.

Drafting Your Essay

Step 1 Start your essay with information about the poet and a brief overview.

  • For example, if you have chosen to write about Robert Frost’s “Asking for Roses,” then you might open with something like: “Robert Frost’s 1915 poem ‘Asking for Roses’ follows a couple who walk together to a vacant house that is surrounded by rose bushes. The woman in the poem, called Mary, tells her cohort that, although the house appears to be empty, they must ask the owners of the house if they want any roses. The pair seem to be lovers since they are described as holding hands.”

Make sure that you avoid attributing the poem’s sentiments to the author of the poem. Instead, refer to the “speaker” or “narrator” of the poem.

Step 2 Provide your thesis at the end of the introduction.

  • For example, if you are making an argument about Robert Frost’s “Asking for Roses,” your thesis might read: “The roses in Frost’s ‘Asking for Roses’ symbolize the children that a couple hope to have despite the risks, which is evidenced in the text by allusions to loss and fertility.”

Step 3 Give reasons that support your thesis in the following paragraphs.

  • For example, if you want argue that the roses in Robert Frost’s “Asking for Roses” symbolize the children that the couple hope to have despite the potential for loss, you might start a paragraph by stating that “Frost opens his poem with a symbol for loss: ‘A house that lacks’ and ‘all littered with glass and plaster’ (1 & 3). [12] X Research source Then, follow this up by explaining why you see these as symbols of loss.
  • Use additional paragraphs to build on your argument and strengthen it. Move through the poem chronologically or jump around depending on what works best for your argument.

Step 4 Conclude with a summary of your argument or by raising questions.

  • For example, if you are writing about Robert Frost’s “Asking for Roses,” then you might point to the ending of the poem, which indicates that the pair were finally given the roses they sought. This may help readers to see the symbols of loss more clearly.

Step 5 Cite any sources you use with in-text citations and a works cited page.

  • “A house that lacks, seemingly, mistress and master, / With doors that none but the wind ever closes,” (Frost 1-2). [15] X Research source
  • So we must join hands in the dew coming coldly
  • There in the hush of the wood that reposes,
  • And turn and go up to the open door boldly,
  • And knock to the echoes as beggars for roses. (Frost 9-12)
  • The entry for the poem on your works cited page should include the following information: Poet’s Name. “Title of the Poem.” Title of Book or Anthology Publisher. Editor’s name (if included). Year. Page number(s).

Revising the Essay

Step 1 Put the essay aside for at least a few hours.

  • For example, after you finish drafting your essay, wait to look at it again until the next morning. Then, make notes on any additions, changes, or deletions you want to make.

Step 2 Ask a friend to read your essay for additional feedback.

  • For example, if your reader does not fully understand the point you are making about the empty house in Frost’s “Asking for Roses,” then you might want to add more detail to clarify this section of your essay.

Step 3 Read the essay out loud to check for errors.

  • Ask someone to listen to you read for additional feedback on how the essay sounds.
  • Make sure to read any quoted passages out loud as well and double check them against the original to ensure accuracy. Accurate quotations and citations are essential to any academic essay. [18] X Research source

Revision is a crucial part of the writing process , but lots of people skip it or don't spend much time on it. Set your poetry essay apart by giving yourself at least a few days to revise your completed draft!

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  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/poetry-explications/
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/writing_in_literature/writing_about_poetry.html
  • ↑ https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/asking-roses
  • ↑ https://www.hamilton.edu/academics/centers/writing/writing-resources/poetry
  • ↑ https://www.bartleby.com/117/13.html
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_formatting_quotations.html
  • ↑ https://www.monmouth.edu/resources-for-writers/documents/mla-citing-poetry.pdf/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/revising-draft

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Writing Studio

Writing about poetry: questions and answers, frequently asked questions on writing about poetry.

In an effort to make our handouts more accessible, we have begun converting our PDF handouts to web pages. Download this page as a PDF: Writing about Poetry Q&A Return to Writing Studio Handouts

Question 1: So what is a poetry paper, and how is it different from summary papers or compare-and-contrast essays?

Answer: A poetry paper is actually called an explication , or a close reading of a poem. It is a line-by-line commentary about what is happening there.

However, when writing an explication, is it important to remember that it is more than just a long summary. Although you may have to summarize the poem in certain parts of your paper (like in the introduction or conclusion), or you may choose to paraphrase a few lines that don’t contain things related to the focus of your paper, an explication is far more complex.

It is, in fact, a close reading of a poem based on a claim that you have made about it. Generally, good explications go line by line, picking out every detail in the poem that supports your argument .

Question 2: Whoa, you just said “argument.” Do poetry papers have those?

Answer: Yes, they do. Poetry explications should have a central argument or thesis that guides your analysis. And remember, thesis statements often start by asking general questions like:

  • What does this poem “mean”? What is the author (or speaker) trying to say in it?
  • What is the major “theme” of the poem: loneliness, love, racism, or what?
  • How will my explication help my readers understand the poem in a fresh, interesting way?

Once you have chosen a theme, try to shape your observation into a more developed statement.

For example, John Donne’s sonnet “Death Be Not Proud” is certainly about death, but it is also doing something else: the speaker is arguing that, because Death is only the end of a life on earth, it is not something to be afraid of, since, according to the Christian beliefs of the speaker, it is only temporary, and will no longer exist when God returns to earth.

Be sure to ask the big questions , but always allow them to lead you to a specific argument about the poem.

Question 3: Okay, I have an argument and I think I’m ready to write. So how do I prove it?

Answer: The key thing to remember about explications is to analyze . Pick apart the language of the poem. Look for things such as symbolism, imagery, metaphor, tone, syntax, irony, allusion , etc. Show how the language of the poem is connected to its content and/or theme.

For example, don’t just stop at the observation that Hughes uses a metaphor—make an argument about how that metaphor helps him do what he does in his poem.

Also, if applicable, attend to the form of the poem ( identify the type of poem, line-breaks, rhythm, stanza breaks, rhyme scheme, etc.). Again, connect your observations about form to your interpretations of the content or theme.

Question 4: Cool. Thanks for your help. Is there anything else I should keep in mind?

Answer: Sure. Here are some general tips for about writing about poetry:

General Tips for Writing About Poetry

Let’s start with the “don’ts” (or “avoids”):.

  • AVOID talking about the poem in terms of “today’s society.” If you feel that the social, cultural, and/or historical context discussions are important, or that the author is trying to say something really cool to or about society, then meet the poem on its own turf: Ask yourself: What was happening in society the country, or in a specific community when the poem was written? Why are those facts important to my explication of the poem? Also, avoid using words like “timeless” or “universal” —every poem has its own context, and words like that often make your reader wonder if you’re trying to avoid the work of discussing that poem on its own terms.
  • AVOID saying things that are meaningless or obviously true : “Countee Cullen’s poem makes use of diction and syntax.” Of course—a lot of poems do. Instead, ask yourself if there is something distinctive or unusual about his use of diction. If so, then what purpose does it serve in this poem?
  • AVOID evaluating the poem in simple terms like “good” and “bad.” This also includes statements like “Brooks’ poem is a realistic example of a guilty mother.” Lots of poets might like to do that, but why is that “realism” important? Try to find something unique or interesting about her portrayal of the mother that makes the poem different from other poems about mothers.

And Now for the “DO”:

Organize the essay in a purposeful manner. You don’t have to write a standard five-paragraph essay, but you do need to give your reader a sense that your paper is headed somewhere. Here are a couple of conventional ways to organize poetry explications:

  • The poem begins….
  • In the next/following line…
  • The speaker immediately adds….
  • She then introduces….
  • The next stanza begins by saying….
  • By formal/stylistic device. For instance, you might have one paragraph on syntax, one on meter, and so on. Again, the key is to show how these different devices illuminate different aspects of the argument. Don’t just repeat, “Cullen’s use of diction [insert thesis here]”; “Cullen’s use of imagery [insert thesis here]”; “Cullen’s use of meter [insert thesis here again].” Show how each of them proves your argument in different ways , or how they illuminate certain complexities in your argument.
  • By thematic element. A poem will have several thematic elements going on (sometimes even seemingly contradictory ones), with each contributing to the meaning in a different way, and you can definitely write about them in the same paper. Just remember, be specific . Even two poems written by the same author on the same theme probably present that theme in different ways each time.

Last revised: 8/2008 | Adapted for web delivery: 12/2021 

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Writing About Poetry

By seth ducharme ’92, get to know the poem, describe the poem.

Before you begin to organize your essay, read the poem aloud several times, noting its structure, meter, recurring images or themes, rhyme scheme-­anything and everything which creates an effect.

Paraphrase the poem

Again, before you begin to organize your essay, make sure you understand the language of the poem. Poetry, particularly from other time periods, often contains confusing syntax or vocabulary. Put into your own words those lines or phrases which are especially difficult. Resist the temptation to brush over the lines or phrases which seem unintelligible; these can be the most crucial parts of the poem. The Oxford English Dictionary is a good resource for defining difficult vocabulary.

How the Poem Works

Analyze the poem.

Since your analysis should make up the bulk of your essay, approach it with care. Knowing that you will not be able to address every aspect of the poem, select the elements which work together to create special effects. Look beyond the surface meaning of the words and start to think about how the techniques used in the poem add depth to its meaning. How do the elements work together? Do they complement each other, do they create tension, or both? Think in terms of cause and effect and look for relationships within the poem itself. For example, if you see a pattern of imagery which suggests something about the speaker, look at other areas of the poem for more evidence along the same lines. In poetry, form and content are inseparable, so you must not overlook the relationship between what the speaker says and how he or she says it.

Interpret the poem

Using your analysis of how the poem works as your evidence, interpret the poem--answer the question, “So what is this poem all about?” In the interpretation, you bring together your analysis of the elements in the poem and show what they mean to the poem as a whole. You may suggest an interpretation of the speaker's state of mind, the poem’s subject, or the nature of the experience which the poem creates. For example, does Poe’s “The Raven” describe a dream? A drug-induced hallucination? A recollection? Why do you think so? What evidence, from your analysis, supports your idea? The main argument of your paper should begin to take form as you struggle with this process. You have great freedom in interpreting a poem, provided that your assertions are solidly linked to your evidence. Interpretation that does not align with your analysis will be invalid. In the words of M. H. Abrams, editor of the Norton Anthology of Poetry , “There is no one, right interpretation of a poem—but there is one which is more right than any of the others.” The multi-faceted nature of poetry demands that you know where you are going before you begin to construct your written argument, which is why the description and paraphrase stages are so important. Your selective analysis emerges from them in the form of an argument that is limited to a manageable set of ideas. After you have thought through these stages and taken good notes, you should be ready to begin writing your essay.

Constructing Your Paper

Review your notes. Look for patterns and themes. Formulate a thesis statement that will allow you to explain the relationships and the effects of elements in the poem. If you can, indicate in the thesis the areas or features of the poem important to your argument (a pattern of imagery, for instance, or a series of crucial lines). Remember, your thesis statement must argue a point; instead of simply saying that a poet uses certain poetic devices, you must give some indication in your thesis as to how those devices work and what they do to the poem’s meaning. You do not need to go into elaborate detail in your thesis, but do show the relationship between the poem and your argument.


Your first paragraph should make your reader comfortable with the poem by identifying the poet, offering a brief, general description of the poem and, most importantly, leading into the thesis and development of the argument by narrowing and limiting the subject. It may be helpful to imagine the introduction as a funnel, initially appealing to your reader from a wide perspective and then swiftly directing him or her into the body of your essay. Avoid sweeping, abstract statements or statements which you cannot concretely link to your thesis. The more quickly you get away from the general and focus on the specific, the sooner you will engage your reader.

The Development of Your Argument

The approach you undertake in your thesis determines the organization of the rest of the essay. Some arguments lend themselves to a linear presentation. For example, if you choose to trace the development of the speaker according to the recurrence of an image throughout the poem, you might want to go through the poem chronologically to show how that image changes in significance from line to line or stanza to stanza. You need not limit yourself to such a presentation, however. Many poems are difficult to explain chronologically; some poems are better suited to a non-linear argument which reflects cycles or other patterns in the poem. If you organize your argument according to the patterns you choose to address, your argument might move through the poem several times, according to the instances of the images and their contextual significance. For example, one word may have a formal relationship to numerous other words in the poem. The word “snow” has a relationship to the word “flow” in that they rhyme, and to the word “ice” in that they are both associated with winter. To discuss the significance of these relationships, you may find yourself jumping around the poem. That’s fine, as long as you make your argument clear and keep your thesis in sight.

Each paragraph should consist of a point which is credible, relevant to your thesis, and analytical. Remember that you are arguing for a certain position and need to convince your reader of that position. At the beginning of each paragraph, tell your reader the focus of your argument in that paragraph by starting with a topic sentence. The rest of the paragraph should address the assertion with convincing evidence. The effectiveness of your argument depends heavily on how well you incorporate evidence into your paragraphs.

Using Evidence

You cannot create a compelling argument without evidence to back it up, but you must present that evidence in the context of your own argument. Merely including a line or a passage in your paper without linking it to your argument will not be convincing. Try incorporating your evidence into a “sandwich” of information which will allow your reader to receive the full impact of the lines. Before the quotation, describe the evidence in terms of the poem. Where is it located in the poem? Is it part of a pattern? Let your reader know what he or she should be looking for. After the quotation, if the passage is particularly difficult to understand, you should explain problematic syntax or vocabulary. Then, you must analyze the quote and show how that quote supports the claims you are making in your thesis. This is the most important part of your paper; it is where you make your interpretation clear to the reader and where you prove your thesis. Don't assume that the quotation will speak for itself—it is your job to explain it.

Be sure to cite your evidence properly. Citing from a poem is different from citing from a prose text. Because the line form of poetry is so important, you must indicate where lines end by separating them with a slash mark “/”. If you are quoting more than three lines, single space the passage, indent, and present the passage as it appears in the poem. Follow the quotation with the appropriate line numbers enclosed in parentheses (see English Department handout on use of quotations and citations, available from the Department office and the Writing Center).

The Conclusion

Conclusions take many forms. In your conclusion you can emphasize crucial ideas, raise questions about the poem, or connect the poem to other literary works or experiences. This is where you can offer your interpretation of the poem, which by now should be convincing to your reader since you have presented your evidence in the body of the paper. You may raise new ideas in a conclusion, provided that they are solidly linked to the development of your argument. Remember, you have flexibility, but your conclusion should flow naturally from the body of your paper.

Final Thoughts

  • If you have the choice of which poem to write about, pick one you like.
  • Read the poem aloud. Your ear will notice things your eyes miss.
  • Notice the way the poem looks on the page. The form of the poem may reveal something about the way it works.
  • Be careful to make a clear distinction between the poet and the speaker. Even in poems that are written in the first person, you should be careful not to assume anything about the speaker that the poem itself does not suggest.
  • Let your interpretation follow your analysis—avoid making unsupported assertions.
  • Be selective with your evidence. Limit the length of your quotations to a workable size. Passages longer than a few lines will be impossible to explain in a single paragraph.  

Enjoy the Poem!

Poems are artistic expressions that demand that you appreciate them before you begin to reduce them to something explainable. Often, the most brilliant elements in a poem are very subtle and will be felt before they are understood. Remember, you are not just explaining what a poem does, you are explaining what it does to you. You are the medium in which the poem comes to life. Writing about poetry offers you a special opportunity to interact with a work of art.

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poem analysis essaay

Poem Analysis Essay Guide: Outline, Template, Structure

essay about poems

Poetry analysis, which is similar to poetry review, involves analyzing the language and figures of speech used by a poet. It also entails sharing personal views regarding the poem and breaking down the poetic instruments utilized by the said poet. However, it’s not just about the words used (Headrick, 2014). It entails reading between the lines and understanding what made the poet come up with a particular poem. So it may require some background research on the author and history behind the creation of the poem.

Do not worry, we can take care of your academic needs! If you feel that you do not have enough time to complete the assignment then order a custom essay online from us. Our essay writers service have vast experience with this type of work. We have a wide range of free guides and blogs to help you so that you will have more time for the important things. If you still have doubts, you can easily check essayservice review on sitejabber.

What Is A Poetry Analysis?

Poetry analysis may define as a critical review given on a poem, a reflection on the depth and gravity of a poem. It revolves around multiple aspects of a poem starting from the subject of a poem, its theme (meaning), tone, literary devices or speech figures, form to the feeling of the poet to how a reader feels about the poem. It is not only the analysis of techniques used in a poem, but poetry analysis provides a broader and wider picture of the poem, its reality, its hidden meanings between the lines, a study of poet’s mind, feeling and intention behind a poem. Different techniques used in poetry analysis are helpful tools in investigating and reviewing the poem. Behind every review or analysis vital research on poet (author), era (time frame), possible reasons, the background behind the conceptualization poem is vital.

One should read, understand and develop a thesis. Writing services also recommend researching more on the poet and his past works to understand the root of this particular idea.

If you have been asked to write a poem analysis essay, then it means to examine the piece and further dissect it into key elements including its form, techniques used and historical value. Then further appreciating the poem and highlighting to others these points, and gaining a better understanding.

It is also important to show as many ideas as possible that relate to the poem and then create conclusions on this.

To start writing a poetry analysis essay let's look at the prewriting stage.

How to Choose a Topic for a Poetry Analysis Essay?

  • In the subject of the poem we mainly focus on the reasons such as why is the poem written or what is it all about?
  • What is the context, the central content of the poem?
  • Who wrote the poem and why?
  • When and where the poet did write the poem, what or who has influenced the poet and what are the key features of the poem?

A topic should be chosen based on the theme you want to write. The theme is the message that the poem is trying to convey. You need to look therefore for concepts and notions that pop up in the poem and come up with an appropriate theme based on those perceptions or "feelings". If you can’t still figure out what topic you should choose for your analysis, it is recommended that you go through other poems similar poems and get a suitable topic for your analysis. Don’t also forget to cite your poem well. And also use in-text citations while quoting from the poem.


essay about poems

Poem Analysis Essay Outline

To create a good essay, it is needed to plan out the structure of a poem analysis essay so the writing stage will be easier and faster.

poem essay outline

Here is an outline of a poem analysis essay to use:

Opening paragraph - Introduce the Poem, title, author and background.

Body of text - Make most of the analysis, linking ideas and referencing to the poem.

Conclusion - State one main idea, feelings and meanings.

Poem Analysis Essay Introduction

To start an introduction to a poem analysis essay, include the name of the poem and the author . Other details like the date of when it was published can also be stated. Then some background information and interesting facts or trivia regarding the poem or author can also be included here.

Poem Analysis Essay Body

When writing the main body of text keep in mind you have to reference all ideas to the poem so include a quotation to back up the sentence, otherwise, it will be a wasted comparison and not count. Be clear with your statements.

Poem Analysis Essay Conclusion

Now, this is where you should take a step back from analyzing the individual elements of the poem and work out its meaning as a whole. Combine the different elements of the analysis and put forward one main idea.

What is the poet trying to say, and how is it enforced and with what feeling? Then look at the meaning and what timeframe does this evolve over?

For example, is it obvious from the start, or does it gradually change towards the end? The last few lines can be very significant within a poem and so should be included in the poem analysis essay conclusion and commented on the impact on the piece.

Remember that you can always send us a " write an essay for me " text and have your assignment done for you.

How to Analyze a Poem?

Before even thinking about your first draft, read the poem as much as possible. If it's possible, listen to it in the original form. This depends on many factors which include if the poet is still alive?

Also reading aloud can help identify other characteristics that could be missed and even to a friend or colleague will give a chance to more insight. It is important to remember that poetry is a form of art painted with only words, this said it could take time to fully appreciate the piece. So take note of any first thoughts you have about the poem, even if they are negative.

Your opinions can change over time but still mark these first thoughts down.

So that to analyze a poem properly, you have to pay attention to the following aspects:

Title of the Poem

So let's go deeper into the poem analysis essay and look at the title. The poet may have spent a lot of time thinking about naming the piece so what can be observed from this and what further questions can be asked?

  • What are your expectations? For example, the poem could be titled “Alone” written by Edgar Allan Poe and from this it is natural to assume it will be sad. After reading further does the reality turn out to be different?
  • What is the literature style used? So for example, the work could be called “His last sonnet” by John Keats. From appearance, it is possible to deduce that it could be in sonnet form and if not why did the poet choose to mislead the audience?
  • What is the poem about? In the poem, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” by Elizabeth Barrett, it already states what could be included and what to expect but if it differs from the title what would this suggest?

Literal Meaning of the Poetry

According to our  to fully appreciate a piece, it is needed to understand all the words used. So, for example, get a good dictionary and look up all the unknown words. Then go through partly known words and phrases and check these too. Also, maybe check the meaning of words that are used a lot, but remember some text may have had a different meaning a century ago, so use the internet to look up anything that is not clear. Furthermore, people and places and any cultural relevance of the time should be researched too to get a deeper look at the poet's attitude towards the piece. Patterns might become visible at this point and maybe the theme of the poem.

Structure of the Poem

When looking at the structure of the piece this will reveal more information so pay close attention to this. Look at the organization and sections, this will unlock more questions:

  • What does each part discuss?
  • How do the parts relate to each other?
  • Can you see formal separations?
  • What logical sense does it have?
  • Is there emotional sense that can be evaluated?
  • Does having a strict format say anything about the poet?
  • Also failing to have a strict structure does this reveal something?

Once you have observed the structure, it is possible to go deeper into the poem analysis essay and investigate how the speaker communicates the poem to the reader.

Tone and Intonation of the Poetry

So now it is possible to look at the poet and see what details can be obtained from them. Is it possible to see the gender or age of the speaker? Is there some race or religious references to pick up on? Then can we see if the speaker is directly communicating their thoughts and ideas to the reader? If not, what is the character the poet has created to convey the ideas or messages? Does the poet's persona differ to the character created and what can be analyzed from this? Also the mood of the speaker could be available now, are they happy or sad, and how can you find out this from the poem?

Once the poet is understood it is possible to move onto who or what the poem is designed for. Then you can see the purpose of the poetry, what does the poet want from the reader? It is also possible that the poet does not desire a response from the audience and is simply making a statement or expressing themselves.

For example, a poem about spring could just be a happy statement that winter has ended. Looking from the other side, this could be an attempt to attract someone's attention or maybe just an instruction to plow the field.

Purpose of the Poem

The subject of the poem can help identify the purpose, as this usually will be what the poet is describing. Then the theme can be identified also, and what does it say about the work? Are there any links between the theme and the subject and what can analyzed from that? The timeframe is also an important factor to consider, for example, the poet's goal back when it was written, may have changed and why? Furthermore, has the original purpose survived the test of time and can it be said to be the best indicator of success?

Language and Imagery of the Poetry

Until this point it was only possible to analyze the literal information available which is the denotative meaning.’ Now let's look at the imagery, symbolism and figures of speech, this is the connotative meaning.

This is where you should look for pictures described within the text and analyze why they have been depicted? So for example, if the poet thas decided to describe the moon this could set the time in the work or maybe the mood of the poem. Also look for groups of images described and patterns within this, what can be deducted from that?

So when looking for symbolism within the text this could be an event or physical object, including people and places that represent non-physical entities like an emotion or concept. For example, a bird flying through the air can be seen as freedom and escaping usual conforms.

Poetic devices

In your analysis you will look at techniques like metaphors, similes, personification and alliteration to include just a few. It's important to identify the actual device used and why it was chosen. For example, when comparing something within the text using a metaphor then look at how they are connected and in what way they are expressed? Try to use all available clues to gain better insight into the mind of the poet.

Music of the Poem

Poetry and music have deep connections and can be compared together due to the history and uses throughout the ages.

Here are some things to look out for to help with those comparisons:

  • Meter - This can be available to investigate in different ways, for example, iambic pentameter has a strict five beats per line just like a musical score if used what does it say?
  • Rhythm - Just like with music, poem can have a rhythm but if there is no given meter, it is needed to look closer and observe what this does to the work. For example, a particular beat that is fast could make the poem happy.
  • Special effects - Looking for not so obvious signs where the poet has written in a way so you take longer to pronounce words. Also it is possible to grab your attention in other ways, for what reason has the writer done that?
  • Rhyme - There are many different types of rhyming techniques used within poetry, once identified look at how it impacts on the work like make it humorous for example? Be careful to look for unusual patterns for example rhymes within the lines and not just at the end of the sentences, even reading out aloud might help find these and then what does it this say about the poem?
  • Sound effects - The depiction of different sounds can be powerful and also using different voices, look at what impact this has on the piece and why?
  • Breaking Rules - Rhyme and meter for example can have very specific rules but what if the poet decided to break these conventional techniques and make something new, what does this add to the work and why

How to Write a Poem Analysis Essay?

Below you will find a compelling guide on how to analyze poetry with handy writing tips:

poem analysis

  • Choose a suitable poem - If possible, before you start, pick the main subject of your essay, a poem that you would like to analyze. The more you find it interesting, the easier it will be to handle the task.
  • Read it fully - If you are wondering how to analyse poetry, the first step you can’t go without is carefully reading the chosen poem multiple times and, preferably, out loud.
  • Always double-check the meanings - When reading a poem, don’t forget to check for the meanings of unknown (and known as well) words and phrases.
  • Collect all the details you need - To write a compelling essay, you need to study the poem’s structure, contents, main ideas, as well as other background details.
  • Explore hidden meanings - When analyzing poem, be sure to look beyond the words. Instead, focus on finding broader, hidden ideas that the author wanted to share through his piece.
  • Make an outline - Once you have analyzed poem, outline your essay and write it following the plan.
  • Proofread and edit - Finally, once your essay is ready, take your time to revise and polish it carefully.

Poetry Analysis Template

To write a winning poem analysis essay, use the template below or order an essay from our professionals.


  • Name of Poem
  • Name of Poet
  • Date of Publication
  • Background or any relevant information

Form of poem

  • Structure of poem
  • Rhyme of poem

Meaning of poem

  • Overall meaning
  • How can we relate the poem to our life

Poetic Techniques

  • Literary devices

Form of the Poem

Poems are written in some ways, here one need to identify which structure the poet has used for the poem. The forms of poems broadly are stanzas, rhythm, punctuation and rhymes. Carefully analyze the length and number of stanzas , does the rhythm impacts the meaning of the poem, is there many punctuations or little, either the rhyme is consistent, or it’s breaking and what is the rhyme contributing to the meaning of the poem or is it random.

Theme, Meaning or Message of the Poem

In this part, we focus on the topic, main issue or idea of the poem. There are layers of meaning hidden in a poem.

  • Meaning: surface meaning that what is actually or physically happening in the poem which a reader can sense.
  • Deeper Meaning: the central idea of the poem or what is it actually about.
  • Theme: in poetry, there is always a hidden meaning in every line, which depicts the message about life.

Numerous topics can be covered in poems such as love, life, death, birth, nature, memory, war, age, sexuality, experience, religion, race, faith, creator and many others.

Tone of the Poem

The tone of the poem shows attitude or mood of the language used by the poet. Analyze the different shades of the language used in the poem for example; is it formal, judgmental, informal, critical, positive, bitter, reflective, solemn, frustrated, optimistic, ironic, scornful, regretful or morbid.

Literary Device used in the Poem

Find out what the different literary devices are or what sort of figures of speech is used by the poet . Analyze these techniques and suggest their use in the poem by the poet. The poem can contain a symbol, similes, metaphor, alliteration, allegories, oxymoron, assonances, dissonances, repetition, hyperbole, irony.

Conclusion or Feel of the Poem

Lastly, analyze the emotions and feelings linked with the poem; of the poet and what do you feel when you read the poem. This is the very critical part of reviewing a poem because we analyze the inner depth of the poem, the intention & feelings of the poet, the targeted audience, does the poem reflect the poet’s persona, perspective or it does not match with the poet.

Poetry Analysis Essay Example

Analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s Poem “Annabel Lee”

Written in 1849 and first published after the author’s death, Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe is a beautiful story of true love that goes beyond life. In the poem, the author is commemorating the girl named Annabel Lee, whom he knew since childhood. Despite the young age, the love between the narrator and Annabel was so deep and true that even angels were jealous, and, according to Edgar Allan Poe, their jealousy was so severe that they killed the love of his life. The poem ends with young Annabel Lee being buried in a tomb, leaving the readers with a feeling that the author kept holding on to his love for her for many years after her death.

The two evident topics in the poem are love and loss. The entire narration revolves around the author’s agonizing memory, at the same time demonstrating to the readers the purity and power of true love that makes him cherish the memory of his beloved one even after she is gone. Apart from that, Edgar Allan Poe also discusses such issues of love as jealousy and envy. The author states that the love of the two teens was so strong that even angels in heaven were not half as happy as Annabel and Edgar, which caused them to invade the teens’ romantic “kingdom by the sea” and kill the girl.

The topics discussed in the poem, as well as the style of narration itself, give the poem a very romantic atmosphere. It follows the main principles of the romantic era in poetry in the 18th and 19th centuries, which Edgar Allan Poe was representing. At the same time, the author also gives his poem a sense of musicality and rhythm. The poem’s rhyme scheme puts emphasis on the words “Lee”, “me”, and “sea”. The repetition of these words gives the poem a song-like sound.

A significant role in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem is played by imagery, which emphasizes the author’s unique style. The main imagery used by Allan Poe in Annabel Lee is the Kingdom. The author uses this imagery to set the right tone for his poem and give it a sort of a fairytale feel. At the same time, this imagery is used to take the reader to a different place, though not specifying what exactly this place is. To confirm this - the author uses the phrase “the kingdom by the sea” multiple times in his piece, never specifying its meaning. This trick enables the readers to leave this to their own imagination.

Apart from the Kingdom, the author also operates with the imagery of angels and demons. The narrator blames them for their envy for their deep love, which resulted in the death of Annable Lee. Thus, the author gives a negative attitude towards this imagery. This brings us to another big topic of good and evil discussed in the poem.

Nevertheless, even though the angels’ intervention seems to be clear to the reader from what the author says, Poe’s choice of words doesn’t directly implicate their responsibility for the girl’s death. The narrator blames everybody for his loss. However, he does this in a very tactical and covert way.

In conclusion, it becomes clear that the narrator in Annabel Lee did not only pursue a goal to share his pain and loss. He also emphasizes that true love is everlasting by stating that his love for the gone girl lives with him after all these years. With all its deep topics, imagery, and musicality, Annabel Lee is now considered one of the best works by Edgar Allan Poe.

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Top 20 Famous Poems: Inspiring Poems For Your Next Essay

Are you looking for famous poems to study for your next essay? Then, check out these top 20 poems to inspire your next writing project.

Poetry has a way of capturing human emotion and conveying it in the written word through rhyme and meter. Many famous poets have made their mark on literature worldwide, writing everything from love poems to nonsense poems that explore the way words can work together to create verse.

Taking a closer look at famous poems can help to truly understand the impact that poetry has had. Here are 20 works of famous poetry that have impacted the world of literature.

1.“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

2. “stopping by woods on a snowy evening” by robert frost, 3. “the road not taken” by robert frost, 4. sonnet 18 by william shakespeare, 5. “do not go gentle into that good night” by dylan thomas, 6. “i wandered lonely as a cloud” by william wordsworth, 7. “how do i love thee” by elizabeth barrett browning, 8. “she walks in beauty” by lord byron, 9. “the waste land” by t.s. eliot, 10. “the raven” by edgar allan poe, 11. “jabberwocky” by lewis carroll, 12. “o captain my captain” by walt whitman, 13. “invictus” by william ernest henley, 14. “the love song of j. alfred prufrock” by t.s. eliot, 15. “fire and ice” by robert frost, 16. “every day you play” by pablo neruda, 17. “because i could not stop for death” by emily dickinson, 18. “if-” by rudyard kipling, 19. “paul revere’s ride” by henry wadsworth longfellow, 20. “ozymandias” by percy bysshe shelley.

Maya Angelou

“ Still I Rise ” is in the third poetry collection by American poet Maya Angelou. This poem pays homage to the human spirit even as it overcomes discrimination and hardship. To write, Angelou tapped into her experiences as a black American woman.

In the poem, Angelou talks bout how others have downplayed her , her accomplishment, and her people, trying to break her spirit. And yet, she rises above these problems to find success.

“You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

Written in 1922, “ Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening ” uses imagery, personification, and repetition to create a memorable poem. It displays iambic tetrameter and appears on the surface to have a simple meaning. This poem is distinctive in how simple it appears, yet how well it holds to the meter and rhyme scheme. Simplicity and accuracy are not easy to attain.

“Whose woods these are I think I know.  His house is in the village, though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow.“

Perhaps one of the most commonly-studied poems in American literature, “ The Road Not Taken ,” talks about a young man traveling through the forest when he comes to a fork in the road. He chooses the “one less traveled by” and states it has made all the difference. The final lines of this poem have become part of modern society, showing up in movies, commercials, and graduation speeches every year.

Many people know the final lines of this poem, even if they do not know that they came from a famous American poet. The poem’s lines are now part of over 400 book titles or subtitles, and that fact alone, combined with its general popularity, earns it a spot on this list.

“I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

Perhaps one of his most famous love poems, Sonnet 18 , starts with one of Shakespeare’s most iconic lines. As he compares his lady love to a summer’s day, hearts swoon, and romantics take note.

Sonnet 18 follows the 14-line structure of most English sonnets. It has three quatrains and a couplet and follows iambic pentameter. The poem’s romantic lines make it a favorite to quote to an object of affection.

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

This famous poem by Dylan Thomas is read at two out of every three funerals . It captures the feelings brought on by death and highlights how people who love someone want them to fight against the reality of the end of life.

“ Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night ” is particularly popular because it sounds so beautiful when read aloud. Thomas got much of his income from working on the radio, and as such, he learned the power of the spoken human voice. This understanding is reflected in the cadence of his verses.

“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Also known as “Daffodils,” this famous poem from William Wordsworth was written in the early 1800s. It took its inspiration from a walk Wordsworth took with his sister around Glencoyne Bay, where the two came upon a large field of daffodils.

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud ” is popular due to its rich imagery. When someone reads it, they can picture the daffodils dancing on the hill. However, unlike other famous poems, it does not necessarily have a double meaning but is simply a tribute to something beautiful in nature.

“I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How Do I Love Thee” is the title of Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This romantic poem indicates that the different ways the speaker loves the object of her affections simply cannot be counted.

Throughout the poem, Browning exudes her passionate love for her husband . She even indicates that her love fills the quiet moments that happen in a home when two people live together. It follows the traditional abba, abba, cd, cd, cd sonnet rhyme scheme.

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of being and ideal grace.”

This short, lyrical poem follows the iambic tetrameter pattern. It was written in 1814 by Lord Byron, who was inspired by Anne Beatrix Wilmont, his first cousin’s wife when he saw her at a party. “ She Walks in Beauty ” was put to music by Isaac Nation and is considered an excellent example of Romanticism in poetry.

This poem is on the list of famous poetry because of how many times it has been quoted. It has references in The Philadelphian, television shows like M.A.S.H. , Bridgerton, and White Collar, among others.

“She walks in beauty, like the night Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that’s best of dark and bright Meet in her aspect and her eyes; Thus mellowed to that tender light Which heaven to gaudy day denies.”

Considered one of the most influential poems of the 20th century, this poem has dissonance that mirrors what Eliot felt was the fracture of his time. Even though it was written for the 20th century, it still holds value in modern society when society still feels quite disjointed.

Throughout the lines of this poem, Eliot explores his disgust at the state of society following World War I. “ The Waste Land ” explores the thought of spiritual emptiness, which is what Eliot believed he saw in the world around him.

“April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain.”

Considered one of the first poems written in America , “The Raven” holds a special place in literature. This poem is considered one about grief, showing several examples of onomatopoeia with the raven tapping and rapping on the chamber door.

The repetition in “ The Raven ” drives the reader towards the end of the poem, where the author quotes the final “nevermore.” The death of his wife, Virginia, in the event that likely triggered the poem because of Poe’s grief over the loss of his wife.

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—     While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. ’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door—             Only this and nothing more.’”

Lewis Carroll was a novelist, but he often used poetry in his novels. “ Jabberwocky ” is a nonsense poem that was part of Carroll’s 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass . It tells the story of killing a mythical creature named “the Jabberwock.” In the book, Alice finds the poem in a book when she visits the Red Queen.

With so many unknown words, “ Jabberwocky ” confuses even Alice in the book. The poem is in ballad style, an exciting way to study the style with nonsensical words. Yet it leaves many unanswered questions, which fits the world of Wonderland that Carroll is trying to create.

“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.”

“O Captain, My Captain ” is a poem that shows an extended metaphor style. Whitman wrote it in 1865 after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The poem is a tribute to Lincoln and his impact on the country during such a pivotal time in history.

In the three-stanza poem, Whitman compares Lincoln to a ship’s captain. Whitman also uses the literary device of juxtaposition to show the difference between the victory the country was experiencing and the death of its leader, who could not enjoy the victory. In the final stanza, he uses personification when talking about the shores, potentially representing the masses of people welcoming the ship, not knowing that the captain is slain.

“O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting, While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;        But O heart! heart! heart!          O the bleeding drops of red,            Where on the deck my Captain lies,              Fallen cold and dead.”

“ Invictus ” is an important poem in British literature written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley. Its final quatrain is the most famous of the piece, indicating that each master the fate of their soul.

Henley battled tubercular arthritis throughout his life, diagnosed at just 12 years of age. This painful disease was challenging to live with, and he was in the hospital for the amputation of his knee when he wrote “Invictus .” Knowing the personal trials, the author was dealing with makes the poem even more inspiring to the reader.

“It matters not how strait the gate,      How charged with punishments the scroll,    I am the master of my fate:   I am the captain of my soul.”

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is another famous piece by T.S. Eliot. It was his first professionally-published poem , and literary critics believe it marked the initiation of the shift between Romantic verse and Modernism.

The poem looks at the psyche of a modern man, who is simultaneously eloquent but emotionally stilted. In the poem, the speaker indicates he wants to reach out to his love interest, only to feel he cannot do so. What follows is a monologue that laments the lack of emotional connection that the author can create. Looking for more famous poems, check out our list of Mary Oliver poems .

“Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherized upon a table; Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent To lead you to an overwhelming question… Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” Let us go and make our visit.”

Poet laureate Robert Frost has another short poem that is among the most famous in literature. “ Fire and Ice ” discusses the end of the world using an untraditional rhyme scheme. It asks whether the world will end in an inferno or an ice storm.

Some literary scholars believe “ Fire and Ice” were inspired by Dante’s Inferno , while others claim a conversation with astronomer Harlow Shapley was the basis. In the end, Frost wrote a poem that did not draw any conclusion about how the world will end but instead left the idea up to the reader.

“Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice.”

Not all of the poets on this list come from American or English literature. For example, Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda was from Chile and won the Prize for his contributions to literature. He was known for his ability to produce poems full of deep passion, even when talking about everyday things.

“ Every Day You Play ” is a romantic poem that implies sensuality and references flowers while talking about the love interest. It contains one of Neruda’s most famous literary lines, “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”

“My words rained over you, stroking you. A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body. Until I even believe that you own the universe. I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells, dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses. I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”

“Because I Could Not Stop for Death” is an elegy poem by Emily Dickinson. The six-stanza poem is written as a personal encounter with Death , a male character who drives a carriage. It indicates the speaker is not afraid of Death, which is a kind companion on this final journey.

This poem is divided into quatrains with an abcb rhyming pattern. The drive-in in the story symbolizes Dickinson’s life, and eventually, Death takes her into the afterlife. The final stanza, in which the speaker is now dead, is more abstract than the rest of the poem. If you are interested in learning about poems, learn the answer to the question is Dr. Seuss poetry .

“Because I could not stop for Death— He kindly stopped for me— The Carriage held but just Ourselves—  And Immortality.”

Though he is more famous for his novels, including The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling was also a skilled poet named English Nobel laureate for his work. “ If- ” is, perhaps, his most famous poem. The work is written to serve as parental advice to Kipling’s son, John, advocating for him to look beyond what other people think of him and to make the most out of life’s difficult situations.

Each couplet in the poem starts with the word “if.” it expresses its meaning clearly, serving as a mantra to live by, which may have been Kipling’s goal. Throughout the lines, Kipling gives practical advice for dreaming and planning  while keeping one’s head grounded in realistic goals.

“If you can keep your head when all about you    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,    But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,    Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longfellow is often revered as one of the most influential American poets , and “Paul Revere’s Ride” is one of his most famous pieces. While this poem does not have much literary analysis because it tells the tale of Revere’s famous ride, its regular rhyme and measure give the impression of a horse galloping through the towns.

Through this poem, Longfellow memorialized Paul Revere’s famous ride. He received inspiration from a tour of Boston he took, giving him the chance to see many of the sights of the famous day for himself. He did take some poetic license in his work, but his line “one, if by land, and two, if by sea” immortalized the signal lanterns that were part of the historic event.

“Listen, my children, and you shall hear Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five: Hardly a man is now alive Who remembers that famous day and year.”

“ Ozymandias ” is a sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley, a 19th-century English Romantic poet. The poem received its inspiration from the Rameses II statue on display at the British Museum during Shelley’s time. It warns against hubris and arrogance, which are common in great leaders.

The sonnet uses iambic pentameter. It showcases the sad image of a fallen statue that once stood to head the greatness of the Pharaoh. Where once a mighty king ruled the land, nothing is left but a decaying, wrecked statute. To learn more, check out our round-up of the best 10 concrete poems !

“And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

essay about poems

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Humanities LibreTexts

6.1: What is Poetry?

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  • Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap
  • City College of San Francisco via ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative

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What is Poetry?

Poetry is a condensed form of writing. As an art, it can effectively invoke a range of emotions in the reader. It can be presented in a number of forms — ranging from traditional rhymed poems such as sonnets to contemporary free verse. Poetry has always been intrinsically tied to music and many poems work with rhythm. It often brings awareness of current issues such as the state of the environment, but can also be read just for the sheer pleasure.

A poet makes the invisible visible. The invisible includes our deepest feelings and angsts, and also our joys, sorrows, and unanswered questions of being human. How is a poet able to do this? A poet uses fresh and original language , and is more interested in how the arrangement of words affects the reader rather than solely grammatical construction. The poet thinks about how words sound , the musicality within each word and also how the words come together.

Like fiction writers, poets mostly show rather than tell . They describe the scene vividly using as few words as possible and prefer to describe rather than analyze, leaving the latter to the people who read and write about poetry as you are doing in this class.

The Purpose of Poetry

If you’ve taken a composition or freshman writing course, you might recognize some familiar terms used above — summarizes, sources, persuades, ethos. These are all words you will rarely, if ever, use in reference to writing poetry. And why is that? Well, what’s the purpose of poetry? Perhaps this is not an easy question to answer. In fact, the answer might depend on time and culture. Epics such as Gilgamesh aided in memorization and preserved stories meant to be passed down orally. The British Romantics valued the pleasure derived from hearing and reading poetry. In some cultures poetry is important in ritual and religious practice. In contemporary times, many describe poetry as being a tool for self-expression.

In the excellent glossary in his book How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry , poet Edward Hirsch provides the following definition for a poem:

Poem: A made thing, a verbal construct, an event in language. The word poesis means “making;” and the oldest term for the poet means “maker.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics points out that the medieval and Renaissance poets used the word makers , as in “courtly makers,” as a precise equivalent for poets. (Hence William Dunbar’s “Lament for the Makers.”) The word poem came into English in the sixteenth century and has been with us ever since to denote a form of fabrication, a verbal composition, a made thing.

William Carlos Williams defined the poem as “a small (or large) machine made of words.” (He added that there is nothing redundant about a machine.) Wallace Stevens characterized poetry as “a revelation of words by means of the words.” In his helpful essay “What is Poetry?” linguist Roman Jakobson declared:

“Poeticity is present when the word is felt as a word and not a mere representation of the object being named or an outburst of emotion, when words and their composition, their meaning, their external and internal form, acquire a weight and value of their own instead of referring indifferently to reality.”

Ben Johnson referred to the art of poetry as “the craft of making.” The old Irish word cerd, meaning “people of the craft,” was a designation for artisans, including poets. It is cognate with the Greek kerdos , meaning “craft, craftiness.” Two basic metaphors for the art of poetry in the classical world were carpentry and weaving. “Whatsoever else it may be,” W. H. Auden said, “a poem is a verbal artifact which must be as skillfully and solidly constructed as a table or a motorcycle.”

The true poem has been crafted into a living entity. It has magical potency, ineffable spirit. There is always something mysterious and inexplicable in a poem. It is an act—an action—beyond paraphrase because what is said is always inseparable from the way it is being said. A poem creates an experience in the reader that cannot be reduced to anything else. Perhaps it exists in order to create that aesthetic experience. Octavio Paz maintained that the poet and the reader are two moments of a single reality.

Of the many ideas provided here in this definition, perhaps the one to emphasize most is that the poem is “an event in language.” It is also one of the harder to understand concepts. “A poem creates an experience in the reader that cannot be reduced to anything else,” writes Hirsch. Especially not through paraphrase. This means that in order to “experience” a poem, a reader needs to read it as it is. The poem is itself a type of virtual reality.

Jeremy Arnold, a professor of philosophy at the University of Woolamaloo in Canada, likens the poem to the “pensieve” device in the Harry Potter series: “A poem allows someone to preserve a mental experience so that an outsider can access it as if it were their own.” When coming to poetry, there may be nothing more important to understand because nothing can shape your perspective more on how to write and for what purpose. Poetry requires a reader, an audience; therefore, the poet must learn how to best engage an audience. And this engagement doesn’t happen by sharing ideas, feelings, or experiences, by telling the reader about your experiences — it happens by creating them on the page with words that evoke the senses. With images . These, then, are how the literary genres speak. Images are their muscles. Their heart. Images are poetry’s body and soul.

Choose a poem from the Poetry Foundation’s featured poems and look again at Edward Hirsh’s definition of poem. How does this poem typify his explanation? Are there any ways in which it does not? Write a short response (300 words or less) explaining how you see your selected poem in relation to Hirsch’s definition.

Video: Billy Collins, A Poet, Speaks Out

Watch Billy Collins’ audio/visual poem:

Video 6.1.1 : Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

After watching the video above, read the poem here , and click on the link below to listen to a lecture by Billy Collins on his craft and how it relates to the reader.

Contributors and Attributions

Adapted from Naming the Unnameable: An Approach to Poetry for New Generations by Michelle Bonczek Evory, sourced from SUNY, CC-BY-NC-SA

Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Poetry — Poetry Is Important In The English Language


Poetry is Important in The English Language

  • Categories: English Language Poetry Seamus Heaney

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Words: 2023 |

11 min read

Published: Jan 28, 2021

Words: 2023 | Pages: 4 | 11 min read

Works Cited:

  • Emerson, R. W. (1836). Nature. The Atlantic Monthly, 1(1), 1-12.
  • Gura, P. F. (2017). American transcendentalism: A history. Hill and Wang.
  • Hankins, B. (2004). The American soul: Rediscovering the wisdom of the founders. Regnery Publishing.
  • Martin, R. L. (1993). The gambler's search for a self: Ralph Waldo Emerson's philosophy of creativity. The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 7(2), 105-118.
  • Packer, B. (2015). The varieties of transcendence: Pragmatism and the theory of religion. Harvard University Press.
  • Porte, J. (1997). Emerson and Thoreau: Transcendentalists in conflict. University of Georgia Press.
  • Richardson, R. D. (1995). Emerson: The mind on fire: A biography. University of California Press.
  • Robinson, D. M. (2015). The spiritual Emerson: Essential works by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Beacon Press.
  • Schneewind, J. B. (1998). The invention of autonomy. Cambridge University Press.
  • Urbanski, M. (2002). Nature and the poetry of Wallace Stevens. University Press of Florida.

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essay about poems

University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

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The Philosophy of Poetry

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John Gibson (ed.), The Philosophy of Poetry , Oxford University Press, 2015, 253pp., $65.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780199603671

Reviewed by Ole Martin Skilleås, University of Bergen

We all know that according to Plato's Socrates, there has been a long quarrel between philosophy and poetry. However, in recent years philosophers have embraced literature in ways unimaginable just a generation ago. Moral philosophers have mined the grand and not so grand narratives of the masters for what they have to say about matters moral and ethical, and philosophers of language and logic have shown a preference for illustrating their arguments with fictional works. Among the genres of literature, however, some have been more in favour than others, and poetry is not among them. Most of the work in the philosophy of literature, and the use of literature in other areas of philosophy, has been done with reference to works of fiction -- mostly novels. A turn to poetry may well force the generalisations about literature to be reconsidered, perhaps modified, or in some cases abandoned. There are therefore plenty of reasons for philosophy to take a closer look at poetry. John Gibson claims that poetry is the last frontier of analytic aesthetics, and his collection of eleven original articles aims to explore and claim this new territory. He is, however, not the first explorer of it.

Richard Eldridge has done much to bring poetry back within the purview of philosophical aesthetics, but he is seen by Gibson as perhaps not fully analytic and so the generalisation above can still stand. Other important aestheticians in the analytic tradition have also published on poetry since the millennium, such as Peter Kivy and Peter Lamarque, Mark Rowe and Anna Christina Soy Ribeiro. Special editions of the journals Ratio (on literature in general, but with important work on poetry) and Midwest Studies in Philosophy in 2009 (on poetry exclusively) may well have been the watershed moment in this narrative about the late arrival of poetry on the scene. Ernest Lepore's guest editorship of the latter is particularly praiseworthy since it brought out work on poetry from philosophers who, like Lepore, have been largely working outside aesthetics. This, one would think, could help bring poetry closer to concerns outside the arts and aesthetics.

Poetry being 'the last great unexplored frontier' in philosophy would have been inexplicable to ancients, who saw poetry as the mother of all the arts. Since the coming of modernism, however, poetry has turned into something of a special interest. Naïve reading, in the sense of being able to read without special skills, has become almost impossible. But Gibson is not perturbed by this. Frequently encountered characterisations of modern poetry as dense, abstract and opaque could just as well be applied to philosophy, and Gibson thinks this brings poetry closer to its essence, comparing modernist poetry to absolute music.

Let the general picture be what it may, the main question for any collection of articles is whether any of the contributors have anything interesting to say. These contributors include some of the people mentioned above as well as others. Out of the eleven articles only two are close readings of poetry and poems. Let us start with them.

Tzachi Zamir uses a close reading of Milton's Paradise Lost to show that poetry, at least in this case, can provide a uniquely literary or aesthetic route to insight. Poetry articulates knowledge, he argues, and is not subservient to supposedly more elevated modes of insight like philosophy. Nor is the relationship necessarily compensatory. It is difficult to reconstruct Zamir's argument, interwoven as it is with Milton's poetry, but suffice it to say that it shows how an engagement with poetry can uniquely structure an argument that cannot easily be prised apart from the poetry. Philosophy can only host the poem, he says, but cannot use it or narrowly pursue philosophy's own concerns through the poem. He ends on a rather fiery note in appealing for a renewed battle between philosophy and poetry.

Eldridge, in the last essay, explores lyric poetry and its distinctive powers of expression. Using Ingeborg Bachmann's poem 'Böhmen liegt am Meer', he claims that the full expressive power of lyric poetry aims at getting the sense of things and not just an understanding of them. Eldridge shows how this modernist poem, written in 1964 but published in 1968, addresses the nature, function and value of poetry itself, in relation to what it can achieve beyond its own expression. Eldrige is learned, engaged and perceptive, but his prose sometimes tries to do too much at once. Comparing academic prose and poetry is, of course, unfair, but Eldridge's sentences often grow too long and convoluted. The contrast with the poem and its powerful, clear and melodic lines reproduced both in their native German and in English is, however, very striking.

The other articles are more concerned with traditional philosophy and do not go quite so deeply into poems as Eldridge and Zamir. Simon Blackburn asks, tongue in cheek, 'Can an Analytic Philosopher Read Poetry?' His theme is 'the relationship of poetry to language, and thence to analytic philosophy'. His suspicion is that philosophers (and here he no doubt means analytic philosophers) only read poetry by leaving some of their philosophy behind, but he feels the need to clear up a misunderstanding about analytic philosophy.

This misunderstanding turns out to be that analytic philosophers are preoccupied with definition and precision -- an activity and a quality far from the concerns of most poets. However, much of our professional activity as philosophers turns out to be exegesis, and therefore most philosophers should be well equipped to turn to poetry. But why should analytic philosophers do so? Much philosophy of language is conducted within what Blackburn calls 'the Fregean paradigm' -- single sentences conveying propositions from one mind to another. Poetry, however, can challenge the all too prevalent simplifications in the philosophy of language. Blackburn fails to say anything of interest about poetry, but could perhaps be read as proposing a new direction in the philosophy of language when he writes that 'a poetic sensitivity . . . is unquestionably our best guide to who we are, and even to where we ought to be heading'. Then again, it could be that 'we' in this sentence is just humanity as such, and if so, an opportunity to say something interesting and new has been missed.

In Roger Scruton's contribution the relation or opposition between poetry and truth comes in for renewed discussion. Scruton here aims to show that 'the essence of poetry is the founding of truth' -- a view he takes from Heidegger in The Origin of the Work of Art . Heidegger's concept of truth, of course, is somewhat different from the concepts we know from logic or the philosophy of language. Scruton sees Heidegger's aletheia as a secular version of religious conceptions of truth -- that the truth is that seen by God when things are at rest in their essences. By attributing this process to poetry, Heidegger advocates revelation without God.

Scruton sets about his defense with a laudable aim to first define poetry, and it is the poetic use of language that is the key. Crucial to this use is that connections are left to be made in the mind of the reader, and Scruton is well aware that this makes many works of prose examples of the poetic use of language. The converse is also true since many works of poetry do not employ the poetic use of language. While the crucial feature of prose is its aboutness, the poetic utterance is to be understood non-intentionally. The effect of poetry depends on its way of showing what is told.

Scruton backs up his assertions with examples and arguments, but it would take too much space to summarise them here. What strikes me is the way he manages to exemplify and make Heidegger's semi-messianic assertions credible and important, but more than a little of Heidegger's spirit is left in passages such as: 'Poetry transfigures what it touches, so that it is revealed in another way . . . the unconcealing of what is . . . hidden from us' (154).

There is no space to go into detail for the remaining papers, but they all deserve a mention. Ronald de Sousa explores the similarities and dissimilarities between poet and philosopher. However, he emphasises the similarities and finds that both have a problematic relationship with language and both are concerned with truth and in providing new perspectives. For Jesse Prinz and Eric Mandelbaum opacity is the central concern, and they thoroughly explore the various aspects of opacity involved in poetry.

Angela Leighton's 'Poetry's Knowing: So What Do We Know?' puts particular emphasis on the poet's tentative approach to knowledge and understanding. Comparing poetry and philosophy, the upshot is that the ways of each preclude some ways of knowing at the same time as others are opened up. Alison Denham's article deals with the epistemic and moral significance of the kind of imaginative experience poetry offers; she particularly scrutinses Paul Celan's Psalm .

Sherri Irvin's concern is unreadable poems, which turn out not to be so unreadable after all. Her article presents several techniques for how the apparently senseless can speak to us, and this in a way that is intersubjectively available. The case for poetry being meaningless here gets a good drubbing.

Ribeiro is one of very few philosophers who have worked almost exclusively on poetry. Her 'The Spoken and the Written: An Ontology of Poems' shows how poetry presents particular problems for the ontology of literary works. Working within modern metaphysics, she emphasises in particular that poetry is not only a written art but a spoken art as well. Her emphasis on cultural and historical practices makes it evident that a generic ontology of literary works cannot be provided.

Practice is also a key concept in Lamarque's 'Semantic Finegrainedness and Poetic Value'. It's the last article I will mention but the first in the collection. We have seen that some of the other contributions address, and even praise, compression, complexity and opacity. But why should this kind of writing, while shunned in most other areas, be valuable in a genre of literature? This is the principal question Lamarque addresses, and to focus the discussion he invokes four commonplaces about poetry. These can be briefly mentioned without further explanation as the heresy of paraphrase, semantic density, the unity of form and content, and the unique experience of poetry. They are all related, according to Lamarque, and mutually supportive. They all add up to our expectation of poetry as art and are thus not something we somehow discover in poetry but rather something we demand of it.

Readers familiar with the work of Lamarque and Stein Haugom Olsen will know that they advocate a convention-governed institutional theory of literature, and Lamarque firmly and cogently advocates that theory here. By switching the perspective from what poetry is to how poetry is, Lamarque can argue that 'metaphor' and 'poetic language' are inadequate and misunderstood indications of 'the poetic'. The four commonplaces about poetry capture some of the shared rules and norms constitutive of poetry as a practice. We value qualities in poetry that we would bemoan elsewhere because they are part of the shared conception of poetry and because -- at the end of the day -- we have come to value the experiences to be had through the extra effort.

All in all, this is a useful and stimulating collection of some of the best current work on poetry from a mostly philosophical perspective.

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Reading Sanskrit

Michael Ondaatje’s “Definition,” a poem about reading a Sanskrit dictionary, took me back to the five years that I spent studying the language at the University of Chicago (Poems, February 12th & 19th). I still have my Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English dictionary (which I assume is the one that Ondaatje is referring to), and I flip through it from time to time because its entries are like poems unto themselves.

Studying this ancient language has kept me curious for more than thirty years. Some Sanskrit poems use a literary device of intended secondary meanings, and that makes reading them a fun and reflective experience. When Ondaatje writes, “Wherever you turn / definitions push open a door,” he evokes the variegated ways that people communicate; his poem reminds us that, if we work to decipher and embrace multiple meanings, we can enter new worlds.

Anna Hammond New York City

High Supply

As a longtime California cannabis cultivator, both before and after decriminalization, I found the comments by New Yorkers in Jia Tolentino’s piece about legalization strikingly similar to those that Californians have made over the years (“In the Weeds,” February 26th). Eli Northrup, a public defender who held the first meeting of the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary program, said that New York is not basing its program “on any existing model.” Yet choosing not to study the successes and failures of other states is to risk repeating the latter.

On both coasts, candidates for licenses have faced far too much red tape; at the same time, the legalization of weed, which added taxes and jacked up the price per ounce, gave a shot in the arm to the illicit economy, which offers lower prices. Albany and Sacramento would have done well to turn to experts in the underground market for help navigating the specifics of marijuana cultivation, distribution, and sales. State and local leaders seem to have greatly underestimated the time, energy, and creativity necessary to bring a formerly prohibited activity to Main Street and to Wall Street.

Jonah Raskin San Francisco, Calif.

Tolentino, in her otherwise informative article about the chaotic opening of New York’s market for legal marijuana, risks perpetuating reefer madness when she writes, “Several products advertised a truly terrifying potency: one bag of peach gummy rings from the California brand Smashed supposedly contained two hundred and fifty milligrams of THC per gummy, enough to send a devoted stoner like myself to the emergency room.” I also found two hundred and fifty milligrams to be too much for one gummy. So I cut it in half.

William deJong-Lambert New York City

Burned and Banned

Claudia Roth Pierpont, in her article about the role of books during wartime, mentions a U.S. Office of War Information poster showing a photograph of a book burning with the caption “ THE NAZIS BURNED THESE BOOKS  . . . but free Americans CAN STILL READ THEM ” (Books, February 26th). That photograph appears to depict books looted from Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science, known for its pioneering research on sexuality and its advocacy for homosexuals, transgender people, and women. Today, in many states, fewer and fewer “free Americans” have unrestricted access to similar books.

Michael Ward Costa Mesa, Calif.

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