How to Write a Poetry Analysis Essay
«The artist is the creator of beautiful things.” This is the starting statement of The Preface to Oscar Wilde’s celebrated novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Everyone who does anything creative automatically claims to be an artist to some extent. There are works of art that are widely acclaimed and considered exemplary. Whenever someone tries to create something, they – voluntarily or subconsciously, directly or indirectly – try to replicate an existing example toward which they gravitate. But we are human, so we see an artist’s work only from our standpoint, we process it and give it our own meanings. Therefore, when we replicate someone else’s work, what we have in the end will not be an identical replica, it will be an original work. In other words, it is virtually impossible to truly replicate something, – so, every piece of creative work is individual and, thus, bears the mark of its creator.
When, for example, a poem reaches many people with its style, imagery, ideas, etc., then we can say that it has an influence on the reader or listener. In such case, it deserves to be studied. Studying a poem means analyzing it from artistic, functional, and structural perspectives. This is done in the form of a poetry analysis essay. Here, we scrutinize the choices that the author has made, as well as their motives and their effect(s) on the reader or listener.
CHOICE OF TOPIC
If you get to choose the topic for your poetry analysis essay yourself, it is best not to try to bite more than you can chew and pick a topic that you are not a stranger to. It is a good idea to pick a poem by one of your favorite authors; ideally – a poem that you really like and have read a hundred times, so that you already know everything there is to know about, or at least feel like you do. You can also narrow your topic down to a specific subject area of the poetry analysis, the one that you feel particularly strong about. For example, it can be the imagery used in the poem, its historical and cultural background, or its general message and impact.
STEPS TO TAKE BEFORE WRITING A POETRY ANALYSIS ESSAY
Step 1. Read the poem several times.
Obviously, you are to know what you are writing about. Remember that when it comes to poetry, some small yet important details may omit your eye at first glance or even several first glances. Usually, poetry is a relatively small piece of writing. Hence, the poet has to condense a big amount of meaningful details. With such a high concentration of meaning, it is very easy to overlook something of importance. This is why, before writing your poetry analysis essay, you should carefully read the poem under analysis several times, in no rush and with all attention.
Step 2. Determine the type of poem.
There are set types of poems, and the poet makes a choice in which form to put their piece. Understanding this choice is critical to analyzing the poetic piece. The most common types of poetry are as follows:
- Limerick. This is a 5-line poem where the first, second, and fifth lines rhyme and have three feet of three syllables each. The remaining third and fourth lines are shorter with just two feet of three syllables each, and they also rhyme.
- Ode. Such poem will have 10 rhymed lines in iambic pentameter, except the 8th line which is in iambic trimeter.
- Sonnet. A sonnet has fourteen lines in iambic pentameter.
- Lyric. This poem can have any rhyming style. It will be short and non-narrative. The defining feature of a lyric is that it conveys emotions rather than telling a story.
- Haiku. This is a Japanese-style poem with only three lines. The first and the last lines have 5 syllables each, and the second one has 7. The lines do not necessarily have to rhyme.
- Free verse. As the name implies, a free verse can take basically any form, it does have to rhyme, and the metrics may vary at the author’s disposal.
Step 3. Find out the rhyme scheme and other poetic techniques.
As we have found out, rhyming is not essential to a poem. However, if it does have a rhyme, then it should be categorized.
You also often encounter additional poetic techniques in poetry. These are enjambment, meter, end-stopped lines, various stylistic devices, etc.
Step 4. Get familiar with the poem’s background.
Oftentimes, it is only possible to fully understand the poem when you know some additional information about it. This can be the information from the author’s biography, the circumstances under which the poem was written, the overall cultural context, etc. Obviously, knowing all this information will facilitate your poetry analysis.
Step 5. Formulate the poem’s subject-matter.
Next, you have to make sure that you fully understand what the poem is actually about. You can do it by simply answering this question and putting your answer into words: “This poem is about…”
This step may not be as simple as it seems. Often, a poetic piece can be understood differently from various standpoints. A essay writer needs to be aware of these possibilities, because you will need to reveal it in your essay. If you see the multiple possible understandings of the poem that you are analyzing, you also should make up your mind as to which one you favor and why. One of the primary goals of your poetry analysis is to reveal how you understand the poem and what you make out of it, so there is no reason to be afraid to state your personal opinion and to favor or dismiss particular theories. However, there is a difference between a favored opinion and a biased one, so be careful to stay just in your judgments. To do so, remember to prioritize the evidence that you find over any subjective assumptions.
OUTLINE FOR A POETRY ANALYSIS ESSAY
Same as with any other essay, a poetry analysis essay will comprise of the introduction, the main body, and the conclusion.
The introduction will include some background information on the poem, as well as to why you find it interesting and worth dedicating a poetry analysis essay to it. When done with this information, you finalize your essay introduction with your thesis statement – the main idea that you are going to prove in your essay.
Then you move on to the main body of your essay. This is the most informative section. Each paragraph of the main body should be dedicated to a particular sub-topic related to the poem under analysis. For example, you can have a paragraph for each of the preparation steps described above. You will describe what exactly you did and what you have found out in every step that you took. Here, it is important to put your paragraphs into such an order that your narration flows smoothly and is easy to follow.
Upon finishing the main body of your poetry analysis essay, you conclude it. The conclusion will include the paraphrased version of your thesis statement to summarize your opinion on the analyzed piece of poetry and your findings through the course of your work on the essay.