Poetry Explication/Interpretation of Theme
1) Your analytical essay should argue--by way of (1) explication and (2) analysis of poetry elements/devices used by the poet--what you think is the message or theme of the poem.
- What’s an explication? “A poetry explication is an analysis which describes the possible meanings and relationships of the words, images, and other small units that make up a poem” (UNC Writing Center). See this link for a detailed explanation: http://twp.duke.edu/uploads/assets/poetry.pdf
- What are poetry elements/devices? These are the writing tools the poet uses to construct the poem and convey meaning. See a list of definitions at http://www.westernreservepublicmedia.org/poetry/vocabulary.htm
- What’s a theme? Theme in literature is the author’s observation about life. What is the author communicating about life in his/her writing? When you think about theme, think in terms of an entire sentence, not one or two words. Think about someone giving you advice about life—like your parents or grandparents. I like this definition of theme: “It is a truth that exhibits universality and stands true for people of all cultures” (LiteraryDevices Editors).
2) Your essay must include analysis of a minimum of two of the “Top Ten Poetic Devices” as discussed in the handouts, videos, and PowerPoint on Canvas. These devices are: metaphor, imagery (also called figurative language and involves the five senses), onomatopoeia, rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, simile, personification, repetition, metonymy.
- Other common poetic devices that you can use for your analysis: speaker, diction, tone, symbolism, assonance, end-stopped lines, enjambment, line length, stanza length, hyperbole, connotation. See the handout on poetry vocabulary for explanations.
3) You need to discuss how the poet’s use of these poetic devices helped you understand the message or theme of the poem.
4) You will need two outside resources in your essay. Use these sources to back up your assertions about the poetic devices or your interpretation of the poem’s theme. Some suggestions:
- A quotation at the beginning or end of your essay (or in both places) that perfectly summarizes one of the main points in your essay. Check out websites like Quote Garden or Brainy Quote.
- A definition of a term that you use in your essay.
- Additional information about the author or the poem.
- Quote a friend or family member or another student’s opinion about the poem
- Quote some of the materials you have read on Canvas
I don’t recommend quoting a different poem to prove your point about the poem you are analyzing. This rarely works well because it takes the focus off of the poem that you are supposed to be analyzing.
Let’s review the assignment: your thesis statement, then, will note the poem’s theme, and state the poetry devices that helped to emphasize that theme. Your topic sentences in your paragaphs will introduce the poetic devices that you analyze. So your thesis should look something like this: “In her poem ‘ABC,’ Minnie Mouse relies on imagery, rhythm, and repetition to communicate the theme that life is a bowl of cherries, and you should eat all of them.” This thesis identifies three poetic devices (imagery, rhythm, repetition) that support and communicate the theme “life is a bowl of cherries, and you should eat all of them.” Remember that theme is full sentence. Next, you will devote at least one paragraph to each poetic device that you named in your thesis. Your topic sentence will name the poetic device and state how it helped to communicate the theme. And your paragraph will give evidence from the poem showing how and where the device was used.
Keep in mind that you might not have recognized the theme and poetry devices while you were reading the poem for the first time, but you probably recognized these after a discussion of, or explication of, the poem. In your essay, you will be showing how the poet’s use of these poetic devices helps convey the theme or message and how a reader can recognize the devices and the theme after a close reading of the poem. Pretend that the person reading your essay has just read the poem for the first time, and you are explaining the poem to him or her.
Purpose: To get comfortable with explication, which is key to improving your own writing. To get comfortable with poetry; to perhaps even (gasp!) enjoy reading and understanding some poetry. To understand how poetic devices are intricately intertwined with, and illustrate, the theme. (You can also think of theme as the “So What?” of the poem.) To gain practice at incorporating evidence from outside sources to back up your assertions.
Poems to Analyze: See the last page of this assignment sheet. You can choose from “Fog” by Amy Clampitt; “Beach Sand” by Raymond A. Foss; “The Sea, The Sea, The Beautiful Sea” by Rachel Marlow.
Length: a minimum of 1400 words.
Remember! I won’t grade your essay unless you use correct MLA formatting.
In-text citations for poetry: When you quote lines or words from a poem in your essay, MLA format stipulates that you refer to the line number of the poem (rather than a page number). Also, to indicate where one line of poetry ends and another begins, you use the forward slash: /
In addition to the above requirements, your essay should contain:
- An original title that signals the thesis of your essay. Extremely important. See this link on how to write a good title: http://www.ehow.com/how_7931583_write-good-essay-title.html
- An engaging introduction that leads into your thesis statement.
- A fully-developed thesis statement that provides the focus and outline for the rest of your essay.
- Clear, full topic sentences as the first sentence of each body paragraph. The topic sentence must relate to the thesis: the theme and the poetry elements.
- Fully-developed paragraphs that stay on topic.
- Logical flow of thought from one idea to the next.
- When quoting the poem, include signal phrases (e.g., Chopin’s narrator emphasizes “the new life of spring” (15). In Hawthorne’s story “men walk backwards” (98)). In other words, don’t drop the quote in your paper without properly introducing it.
- An effective conclusion that answers the “So What?” of your essay.
- A Work Cited list. See the handouts on Canvas and the MLA section in A Writer’s Reference.
See our class schedule for due dates. Note that your second and third rough drafts must be substantially revised in order for you to receive full credit.
The following excerpt is from our syllabus:
Please note: All drafts for essays are required in order to earn any credit for the essay assignments; final essays will not be evaluated for credit if you do not satisfactorily complete all of the required drafts. In short, I will not accept or evaluate a final essay from you unless I have previously read satisfactory drafts of your essay. In addition, drafts that are submitted late will negatively impact the final essay grade. Please make time allowances for potential computer/printer mishaps, possible sudden illnesses etc. If you are having problems completing a draft by the due date, contact me as soon as possible so that I can assist you.
Guidelines for Revision
- Clarify your main idea or interpretation. Your thesis—the main point of your interpretation—should be stated early in your essay. The thesis is often the last sentence in the first paragraph.
- Support each claim with specific examples and evidence. Do not be satisfied with one piece of evidence. Find as many bits of evidence as possible. The case for your interpretation grows stronger with each additional piece of evidence.
- Explain how each piece of evidence supports your interpretation. Do not just cite several pieces of evidence and go on to your next point. Explain for your readers how the evidence supports your interpretation. Go into detail!
- Signal the major parts of your interpretation. Let your readers know when you shift to a new point. Connect one paragraph to the next by using transition words to indicate sequence (such as first, second, next, another, last, finally, and so forth) and by repeating key words and ideas. Other useful transitions in a comparsion and contrast essay are on the other hand, also, both, yet, although, unlike.
- Revise your essay for sentence clarity and conciseness. Read your essay aloud or have someone else read it aloud to you. Eliminate unnecessary repetition. Use active verbs. Rework awkward or confusing sentences.
- Edit your essay. Check your essay for correct spelling, word choice, punctuation, and grammar.
The poems to choose from:
Beach Sand by Raymond A. Foss
Maybe it is the memories
the change of pace that brings us there
the sense of vacation
maybe the smell of the place
the sights of the gulls, the dunes, the grasses
but oh it is the feel of it,
the crunch and slide of it
the feeling of beach sand
so different from dirt, soil, loam
no, not earthy, moist, rich,
but oh so granular and gritty
even when wet,
moveable paper spreading under toes
sliding beneath the soles
smoothing my skin
clearing my mind
unburdening me of the rest
drawing me to the tactile, the feel
of beach sand
Names Professor Subject Date Beach sand Thesis It is a poem by Raymond A. Foss. The author concentrates on a sandy beach that he occasionally visits as a way of relieving stress. The poet utilizes the combination of some poetic devices to clearly deliver his point. He relies on imagery, suspense, hyperbole, rhythm and point of view to clearly define the beach and give reasons for people visiting it. He goes on to describe how he feels the sand on the beach on his feet. The sand and the soothing feeling it provides are significant to many people as the author argues that from year to year people cannot stop visiting the place. He explains the beach in a clear and concise way that interacts with the audience in a special way. The primary objective of this essay is to analyze the poem and look at the different poetic styles that the poet uses to convey the message to the audience. Poetic styles are essential to ensure clear communication of messages between the poet and the reader. Introduction The author uses imagery whereby he tries to give descriptive definitions about the beach and the sand hence creating an image in