Building Poetry Analysis
Below is a set of guidelines and stipulations you must follow in building your poetry analysis essay.
Your heading should follow MLA rules (check your WR handbook).
Your title must contain a brief, condensed description of your thesis idea, the author’s name, and the poem’s title. Since the poem is a short work, put the title in quotation marks.
An example: The Challenge to Patriarchy in Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”
Constructing the Introductory (Opening) Paragraph
Begin with general remarks about the subject, the operative persona, speaker, and/or author. Mention the author’s full name, the title of the poem, and provide any contextual comments that might lend clarity to the position of the poem in the writer’s canon or the poem’s relatability to other texts, especially poetry, concerning your selected subject and theme. You may also comment on the selected poem’s devices—its use of imagery, metaphor, simile, personification, etc. Lastly, posit your thesis, which must link theme and poetic device, explaining how the device conveys the theme. (See Poetry Analysis Worksheet).
With the force of a cannonball, Sylvia Plath’s poetry explodes onto the page, shattering her usual selection of a mundane scene with the speaker’s volatile emotions, a mix of anger, sorrow, self-doubt, or unspecified fear. First appearing in print in the late 1950s, Plath’s poetry confessed her frustration with male dominance in the household, in society, and in reified institutions of power like banks, art galleries, and places of worship. Along with fellow poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, Plath signaled a new female voice in the 1950s and 60s—feminist and sexually independent—imparting a break from patriarchal constructs of the good mother, the dutiful wife, and the obedient daughter. The last of these subversions reach a crisis point in “Daddy,” a work that brilliantly matches nursery rhyme rhythms, simple, potent imagery, and an irate tone, all done in an effort to smash against the lasting effects of patriarchal control.
Constructing Body Paragraphs
The first body paragraph should clearly and thoughtfully explain what is literally, or actually, happening in the poem. Sometimes you can write this explanation in a sentence or two, in which case you simply need to add these sentences to the first body paragraph that then moves swiftly into the analysis.
The poem’s speaker describes the effects of living with the memory of an authoritative father who never allowed her to develop a strong sense of herself due to his need for control, order, and obedience.
All body paragraphs must then conform to the following pattern: The Three Is: Identify, Illustrate, and Interpret.
Identify the claim: Begin with an argumentative statement (a smaller claim) that refers back to a part of the thesis.
In the opening stanza, Plath uses the image of a black shoe to evoke an authoritative father who controls and limits the female speaker’s path throughout her life, even after his death.
Illustrate: Provide examples (textual evidence from the poem) to support the claim you have just made.
By noting that the father’s influence becomes like a “black shoe / In which [she has] lived like a foot” (lines 2-3), Plath suggests that rather than provide a foundation for how to live her own life, the father leaves the speaker with only a sense of blind obedience; she can only be in the shoe, following the path her father set.
A note on integrating lines of poetry into your own sentences:
Refer to the following link (or your handbook) for guidelines for citing poetry in your text:
Interpret: Offer an interpretation of the evidence you have given. In this case, that would mean explaining how this image both evokes an authoritative father and a space of limitation for the speaker. This process may mean drawing upon a discussion of other poetic devices in the poem.
Like an ill-fitting “shoe” that leaves its mark on a foot long after it has been removed, so too has the speaker’s father left his mark on her long after his death. For thirty years then, the speaker attempts to live within the original imprint of this limited and confined space, “barely daring to breathe or Achoo” (6). Now wiser, however, the speaker finally acknowledges that the shoe, this life of being controlled by the father, will “not do” (1) for her anymore.
The Paragraph in Full
In the opening stanza, Plath uses the image of a black shoe to evoke an authoritative father who controls and limits the speaker’s path throughout her life, even after his death. By noting that the father’s influence has become like a “black shoe / In which [she has] lived like a foot” (lines 2-3), Plath suggests that rather than provide a foundation for directing the speaker’s own life, the father leaves her with only a sense of blind obedience; she can only be in the shoe, following in the path her father set. Like an ill-fitting “shoe” that leaves its mark on a foot long after it has been removed, so too has the speaker’s father left his mark on her. For thirty years the speaker attempts to live within the original imprint of this limited and confined space, “barely daring to breathe or Achoo” (6). Now older, wiser, the speaker acknowledges that the shoe, that her life of being controlled by her father, simply will “not do” for her anymore (1).
Constructing a Concluding Paragraph
Your conclusion needs to begin smoothly without the perfunctory “In summary” or “In summation” phrases. Begin the paragraph as you would any other body paragraphs. Recapitulate in different words your thesis and major points, and, if time permits, add a new path of interpretation or discussion.
An example of the “new path of discussion:”
Some readers may raise objection to Plath’s invocation of the Holocaust as comparable to the speaker’s painful relationship with her father. Opposition to the genocidal imagery likely arises out of the unlikely parity of one daughter’s anguish with the extermination of millions of Jews, Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals, Slavs, German dissidents, and other “undesirables” in the Nazi regime. However valid these objections may be, Plath’s comparison points out the gross and prevalent expanse of patriarchal power, suggesting the colossal extent of its damage as a predicament that proves analogous to the size and scope of the Nazi’s Final Solution.
Be sure to read and reread your work before turning it in. Look for your usual errors in grammar, mechanics, and citations.