The Poetry Essay

Description: Please see the word document below and write at least 2 double-spaced pages (500 words), explaining a single poem’s meaning and how that meaning is conveyed.

Source: Any one of the poems we’ve read so far for class.

Audience: You should assume your audience is familiar with the poem, but not with our class discussions or with your interpretation. Therefore, you do not need to narrate the events of the poem or quote large chunks of text. You do, however, need to unpack and explain specific evidence from the poem.

Task: For this assignment you should choose one of the poems we’ve read and write an interpretation of its meaning or, in other words, an interpretation of what the poem has to say about its theme. Pay attention to both form (the way the poem is written) and content (what the poem says) in your essay and be sure to include explanations of specific language and/or patterns of language from the poem (quotes). The two primary questions your essay should answer are what and how: what meaning does the poem convey, and how does it do so?

Grading Criteria

There will be several key elements of good writing and critical thinking about literature that will be the criteria for grading this assignment:

  • Your essay needs to have as its opening sentence a clear organizing idea which you express in the form of a thesis (1-2 sentences), preparing your reader for the rest of your analysis.
    • The content of your interpretation should be dictated by your organizing idea (ie, thesis); your discussion should be organized into paragraphs, each with its own clear organizing logic. As I am most interested in your detailed explanations of the significance of individual words/poetic techniques, your essay should consist of only your initial claim and a couple of supporting paragraphs. No intro or conclusion is necessary.
  • Interpreting poetry involves looking at a short passage and making small claims that derive specifically from the individual words or phrases in that passage, which is what we have done in each of our class meetings so far. So, after stating your initial claim, you should focus on unpacking and explaining very specific, concrete evidence from the text—this should include brief quotations with explanations of the connotations of particular word choices, unpacking of metaphors and symbols, attention to speaker, audience, occasion, tone, irony, and/or other elements of language that might help you explain your interpretation of the poem’s meaning.
  • Your essay should be grammatically correct and error free.
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