How to write an essay about a poem: getting a handle on it


Writing an essay about poetry can seem a challenge. A lot of poems are metaphor-heavy and require a lot of interpretation. Stick to these tips and you’ll find you can use this to your advantage.

  • Back It Up
  • Overthink
  • Explore the Theme and Genre
  • Analyse Structure
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  • Back It Up
  • The most important thing when writing about poetry is to back up your points with examples from the poem. No matter what you’re saying, whether it’s common knowledge or something unique, always have a point from the poem to hark back to. If you don’t, you may as well just be making it up. Backing yourself up with examples proves your point.

  • Overthink
  • A lot of poetry is dense, though some of it is deliberately simplistic too. When you’re writing your essay, there’s no harm in overthinking exactly what the poet meant or what he or she was trying to convey. Look into a line or a word they used and question why. Why that word? Why place it there? Why say it like that? Poetry is a very specific artform, and often there is a reason for everything.

  • Explore the Theme and Genre
  • What is the poem about? Is it a World War One poem? Is it a Romantic poem? Is it a post-modern one? Depending on the theme you’ll be able to say an awful lot more about it. For example, if you’re doing some WWI poetry, you won’t be talking about the impact of the Cold War on the poet. The theme doesn’t have to be confined, either. Maybe it’s a love poem with hints of a cultural critique underlying it. Use the vagueness and the ambiguity to bolster your argument, and then discuss why the poet chose to do it in one theme over another.

  • Analyse Structure
  • Often, there’s a reason for every dot and dash in poetry. It’s easy to overlook, but the structure of a poem is vitally important. Does it rhyme? Is it traditional? Is it free verse? Maybe it mixes structures, jumping from one to another. Does it use capitalizations? Does the author create new words? Analyse everything from the first letter to the last full stop, and then go to town questioning why. Poetry is designed to be interpreted, so get interpreting and get writing.

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