Prof. McMahand

English Composition

Poetic Explication and Comparison

For this essay, you will compose a three to four page explication and comparison of two poems that you find in the Poetry  Reader.  Below is a list of instructions to guide your writing.

I.   Prewriting Work

After you choose your poems, you should do all the necessary prewriting work in advance of your analysis.  For both poems, determine . . .

1. Literal Meaning.  Decide the literal meaning of both works.  In other words, determine what is literally happening in the poems.

            2. Clarification.  Look up any words or allusions you are not familiar with, and make sure you

            have selected the correct definition and usage. 

3. Context.  Research the author’s biography and see if there is anything in the poet’s life or belief system that might illuminate your reading of the poem.  Is there any useful information that you collected in your research? 

            4. Subject and Speaker.  Figure out what the poem is about in general.  This general idea

comprises the poem’s subject.   Next determine the speaker (not always the poet) and his or her

relationship to the subject. 

5. Devices.  List the poem’s use of poetic devices and techniques: tone, mood, simile,

metaphor, personification, apostrophe, end-rhyme, in-rhyme, alliteration, assonance, etc.       

            6. Theme.  You may arrive at the poem’s theme in several ways.  Here is one:  what is the

            speaker’s most specified attitude or feeling or argument about the subject?  Here is another:

            what specifically is the poem saying about the subject?  How can you tighten your connection

            between speaker and subject?  This specificity suggests theme.  For example, if a poem’s subject

            concerns a soldier’s return from the front, the theme might be the alienation s/he feels in

            coming home and readjusting to civilian life.  If a poem holds childhood innocence as its subject,

the theme could compare that innocence to religious faith and fervor. 

            7. Explication.  Argue how the poem’s poetic devices demonstrate and reinforce theme.  For

example, William Carlos Williams’s theme in “Spring and All” of the earth renewing itself in springtime comes to life via his use of Images and guttural word choices (including the alliterative c’s):  

 Now the grass, to-morrow

                                                             the stiff curl of wild-carrot leaf


One by one objects are defined—

It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf


II.   Thesis 

Finishing the prewriting work for both poems, you are now ready to devise a thesis and outline for your essay.  Your thesis must be argumentative, thematic, focused, and compare both poems.   Before drafting your thesis, consider the elements that make the poems similar: tone, subject, theme, other devices, etc. 


Example Thesis:  In “Quinnapoxet” and “Passing Through” Stanley Kunitz pairs personal crisis and ghostly revelation to show a change in the speaker’s awareness of himself and his loved ones. 


The images in these poems by Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams focus on rural spaces as forces of earthly renewal and wonder.


III.   Introductory Paragraph

In composing your opening paragraph, be sure to include the authors’ names, the titles of the poems, some background information about the poets or the poems, and your thesis. 


IV.   Body Paragraphs

You have at least two ways to approach writing the body paragraphs.  One, you can focus on one poem for the first body paragraph and then focus on the second poem for the next body paragraph, and so on.  Eventually, you need to spend considerable time in a paragraph comparing the two pieces.  Two, if you do not wish to alternate in your discussion/explication of the two poems, you can compare them—along lines of tone, subject, theme, imagery, etc.—in each body paragraph.


Whatever your approach, you need to remember at all times the “three-ID monster:”

Identify, Illustrate, Interpret.                                                   

·         Identify your claim (topic sentence). 

·         Illustrate with a quote. 

·         Interpret the quote.

V.  Conclusion

In your concluding paragraph, you need to repeat in different words the most salient points of your discussion.  Repeat your thesis in different words, and offer a fresh offing on the subject, some alternative point that adds depth and resonance to your argument.  For instance, a writer, using the thesis above, might comment on how “Quinnapoxet” and “Passing Through” draw from Kunitz’s specific sense of  place—New England—but also his sense of timelessness. 


VI.   Requirements

·         three to four pages

·         typed, Times New Roman, 12 pt.

·         MLA formatted

·         Works Cited

·         include ALL prewriting work

·         include ALL peer edit drafts

·         all work placed inside a ring-less binder or folder


VII.   Reminders

·         Refer to stanzas, not paragraphs.

·         Refer to lines, not sentences.

·         You should write, “The speaker states . . .” and not “The narrator states . . .”

·         Identify poetic devices as such—images, similes, metaphors, etc.

·         Introduce all quotes and include in parenthetical citation the line number: (lines 2-3), (2-3), (2), (3) (2, 3). 

·         Proofread your essay for grammar, mechanics, and formatting.  See your handbook and Grammar Checklist for guidance.