Poetry Explication

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For the second essay this semester, you will explicate one poem of your choosing from one of the
following chapters or sections:
? Chapter Ten: Tone
? Chapter Eleven: Musical Devices
? Chapter Sixteen: Evaluating Poetry 2: Poetic Excellence
? Poems for Further Reading (pp. 953-1034)
As our textbook explains, “An explication (literally, an ‘unfolding’) is a detailed elucidation of a work,
sometimes line by line or word by word, which is interested not only in what that work means but in
how it means what it means. It thus considers all relevant aspects of a work—speaker or point of view,
connotative words and double meanings, images, figurative language, allusions, form, structure, sound,
rhythm—and discusses, if not all of these, at least the most important” (5). Explication is a kind of close
reading, so it requires examining every word choice, phrase, and line in the poem and analyzing why
those words were chosen, placed in that order, and structured in that way. For example, if a writer
chooses to use the word “house” instead of “home” or “blouse” instead of “shirt,” ask yourself what the
denotative and connotative differences in those words are and how the differences affect the reading
and interpretation of the poem.
Explicating your chosen poem will require deep knowledge and understanding of the poem. Once you
have chosen a poem, go line by line and word by word through the poem, noting the structural
elements, figurative language, musical devices, and word choices being used. Although you will not be
able to write about every element the author employs, you should use your close reading to hone in on
the elements you believe are most important to the construction of the poem’s meaning.
Organizing the Explication
1) In the introduction to your essay, summarize the poem’s content and describe the poem in your
own words. Focus on objective characteristics rather than subjective ones. (“The poem is
composed of five rhyming couplets,” NOT “The poem is short and rhymes a lot.”) In the thesis
statement, argue both what you think the poem means and how it creates that meaning.
(What elements of poetry does the author use to create meaning?)
2) The body of the paper should contain 3-4 paragraphs. Each paragraph should argue a specific
point (written as a topic sentence) that supports your thesis. Each point should be supported
with evidence (quotations) from the poem itself, which you must then analyze and interpret.
You could choose to go line by line through the poem or group lines according to ideas, such as
lines in which double meanings are present, lines that share a common structure, lines that
exhibit a certain point of view, etc. You do not have to discuss every word and line, but you
should examine the poem fully to deduce what it means and how it is constructed.
3) In the conclusion, summarize your reading of the poem and the conclusions you have reached.
Leave the reader with a final thought regarding the poem, poet, or poetry in general.
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Some Questions to Get You Started
1) What is the title’s importance to the poem?
2) Who is the poem’s speaker? Who is the speaker addressing?
3) Does the poem have a particular setting (time and place)?
4) What difficult, interesting, unusual, or surprising words does the poem contain, and how do
those choices affect the poem’s tone and meaning?
5) What is the theme or meaning of the poem? How do you know what the meaning is? What
details led to your conclusion?
6) Does the poem rhyme? Repeat sounds? Use a regular meter? Does the rhyme/meter seem
forced or natural? Are the rhymes perfect rhymes, eye rhymes, imperfect rhymes, rhymes in
assonance or consonance, etc.?
7) Where do line breaks occur, and why? What is the significance of the final word in each line?
8) Does the poet use figurative language? If so, how and why?
9) Does the poem follow an established structural pattern or develop one of its own? How does
the structure affect how meaning is shaped?

Things to Remember
1) Your essay should have an original title. (Not “Poetry Explication.”)
2) Your thesis should appear in the first paragraph and should be concise, specific, and original.
3) A Work(s) Cited page should appear as the last page of the paper and follow MLA guidelines.
The paper should also include in-text citations whenever the poem is quoted, paraphrased, or
otherwise referenced. No resources other than our class texts should be used or consulted.
4) This essay is worth 150 points of your final grade.

Important Due Dates
M 3/17 In-class prewriting (bring selected poem)
W 3/19 In-class drafting (bring selected poem and any prewriting)
M 3/31 Peer Review (bring two copies of rough draft; should be at least two pages)
W 4/2 Final Essay Due (in hard copy and on Blackboard prior to the beginning of class

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