A step by Step guide to writing essays on poems.

Essay by hanyserryCollege, UndergraduateA+, September 2003

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In all poetry essays, you will be expected to explain your understanding of an aspects of a poem or poems and discuss the ways the poet's choices of language and structure create and shape meaning. Marks are awarded according to your ability in three key areas:




Understanding the various layers of meaning in a poem

Understanding how language creates and shapes meaning

Understanding how meaning is developed across a whole poem

How to tackle the essay question...

Read it slowly and with care.

Highlight its key words.

If not obvious, decide which poem(s) would best help you answer the question.

Read the poem(s) carefully but in a natural, lively or dramatic way - not dull and flat!

This will help you find the correct tone of voice that will let you discover poet's attitude towards his or her subject matter.

Notice any changes in tone of voice that occur during the poem; work out why this happens - it suggests a change in attitude.

Look out especially for the use of an ironic tone of voice, when one thing is said but altogether another is hinted at.

Read through the whole poem once again and work out its big picture: that is what it is about and why it was written, along with the circumstances that surrounded its creation.

Many poems can be understood more easily if you recognise that the meaning they contain often relies on the use of oppositions or contrasts (these are also called binaries or binary oppositions).

If you do think that meaning is being created or ideas reinforced by contrasts or oppositions, work out how and why this is being done. Often metaphors and similes can suggest an image or idea and deepen our understanding the message the poet is trying to...