Mr. McMahand


English 1101


Writing an Analysis of Poetry



For your poetry analysis essay, which you will compose in class, you need to compile all of your prewriting work and textual annotations, using all of this material as a reference point for your composition.  You should build beforehand a strong, argumentative thesis as well as key points of support, using lines and images from the selected poem as your guideposts.  Save time in class for proofreading and content editing: you may use during this timed session a thesaurus, dictionary, laptop, and other reference materials.  Your essay should run three to five hand-written pages, use double spacing, include a heading, title, and appropriate in-text and end citations for all quotes. 


Key points to remember when composing a thesis statement


·         Start with open-ended questions about the text, and don’t pose questions you can close with a fact.  Make your thesis argumentative. And, by all means, do not write on what is most obvious about images or literal events.  Example of a poor thesis:  William Carlos Williams explores Brueghel’s pictorial of a rustic dance in the poem “The Dance.”  (No duh!)


·         Center your thesis statement(s) on theme, metaphor, voice of the speaker (tone and mood), conceit, simile, imagery, or structure.  Choose any one of or a combination of these elements, noting specifically how the poet constructs or deconstructs them.  You may also link intertextual ideas and images, connecting multiple texts through similarities in theme, voice, structure, etc.


·         Choose themes that are not too obvious or too broad.  Bad examples: power, subjugation, the eroticism of Empire, resistance, etc.  Alone, these issues are too massive: strive for a more structured, developed focus.  (See, for example, the Heaney-based thesis statements on the next page). 


·         Phrase your statements forcefully, academically, and with powerful action verbs.

Good examples:  The poem complicates the notion of …   These metaphors

      reveal…    These images suggest … 


Good Thesis Statements


While a few scenes in Demme’s adaptation exaggerate the novel’s supernatural element, the film remains overall faithful to Morrison’s muted evocation of necromancy. 


Kafka’s use of changing perspectives in the story disrupts the reader’s expectation of a reliable narrative “truth.”


Evoking a ravished landscape and population, “Act of Union” captures the sexual trauma of Irish subjugation and the long, bloody fight for self-rule.   


The two sonnets that comprise “Act of Union” contain symbols and images, which, apropos to the poem’s title and erotic conceit, reveal a fluid and recursive struggle for power between the conquering British and the defiant Irish.


Example of a Not So Good Thesis    (and why it does not work)


Sharon Olds’ “Saturn” deals with a parent’s alcoholism and evil.


Whereas the first three statements promise a rich and highly focused examination of text, this thesis about “Saturn” is ultimately too broad for a four page paper.  You could write about evil all year, every year, until the super volcano erupts.   Better that you finesse your interest in evil into a more pared down, controllable concept and application.


Try this revision on for size:  The speaker in “Saturn” invokes mythology and astrology to paint a pornographic fantasy about an otherwise mundane life with an alcoholic father.    


Guidelines in Writing about Poetry




1.  Follow our class rules to reading poetry.

2.  Determine what is literally happening in your chosen poem(s).  You should have

     already looked up information about the poet(s) as well as unfamiliar words and


3.  Fix on a theme you wish to pursue, and using supporting “evidence” from the poem,

     give an interpretation. 

4.  Try to understand how the images, metaphors, conceits, etc construct or inform main

     and secondary themes.

5.  Get started.  Compile on paper all of your ideas; link passages, and consider just how

     you will tie your ideas and textual passages together.  Look back through your notes,

     especially your textual annotations.  Class talk can only touch the tip of the proverbial

     iceberg: dig deeper.  Your prewriting work is due alongside your rough and final  





1.   Remember, you do not have to begin by writing your introduction first.  You can

      compose other paragraphs initially, if that helps you get started.

2.   Your introduction must include: poem title, author, background/general remarks,

      and thesis.

3a. Your central paragraphs explain in as few sentences as possible what is literally

      happening in the poem.  Take care not to over-summarize the work. Next,

      explicate the poem, looking critically and analytically at images, metaphors, etc.

      Your analysis will only hold meaning as it gestures back to your thesis.  Lastly,

      integrate throughout this section any contextual remarks that draw further meaning

      out of the poem. 

3b. Each paragraph following your introduction begins with a topic sentence that is part

      and parcel of your thesis.  These topic sentences, or minor claims, break the thesis

      down into manageable pieces and lend focus to your individual paragraphs,

      allowing you further space to explore your ideas, one paragraph at a time. 

3c. Your body paragraphs should utilize direct quotes and references to important

      imagery, metaphors, similes, and any other pertinent poetic devices. Let the text

      guide you in your use of context from start to finish.

4.   In the conclusion, restate your thesis but in different words.  Also, a sophisticated

      writer is able to mention an alternative, albeit simpatico, reading of the poem and

      can suggest new ways to apply a theoretical focus on the work.





1.  Follows the MLA stylebook rules.

2.  Check to see that you have introduced all quotes and cited and documented each

     one properly.

3.  Remember to use line numbers, not page numbers, when citing poems.  

4.  General Advice: in all of your writing, not just in your thesis statement(s), drive your

     ideas forward with action verbs, not weak being verbs.  Exercise word economy by

     using as few puffy adjectives, vague pronouns, and adverbs as possible.  Stay in

     present tense and compose in active rather than passive voice.


The Final Product


You must turn in the following: the final draft and all pre-writing work.