Historical context: consider the time in which the poem was written.


Write an essay [on any of the recent poems] in which you discuss some element[s] of the poem: [see poetic elements from handout], compare two poems, or write a comparison of the poem to a short story. In order to write effectively about poetry, one needs a clear idea of what the point of writing about poetry is. The goal is to create a specific “thesis” about the poem/poems [what you believe is true], and quote from lines of the poem to support your thesis.

Remember, one of the best ways to write about poetry is to write a stanza-by-stanza analysis [part by part]. Write a body paragraph for each stanza in the poem—analyze it. Things to write about:

Theme: One place to start when writing about poetry is to look at any significant themes that emerge in the poetry. Does the poetry deal with themes related to love, death, sickness, inspiration, beauty? Any other concepts? What other themes show up in the poem? Are there particular historical events that are mentioned in the poem? Or ”alluded” to [allusion]? What are the most important concepts that are addressed in the poem? Consider Whitman and Victor Hugo in this regard.

Setting and Situation: poems are often set somewhere, in a certain context, and the speaker of the poem is undergoing some kind of dramatic “situation.” Discuss any one or more of the poems we’ve studied in relation to situation/setting. Why is it important to consider the situation? Does it have anything to do with the larger idea behind the poem?

Classical versus Romantic in poems. Is the poem written more in a “classical” style or is it more in the “romantic” style? See “poetry elements” handout on e-companion for more info on this.

Denotation/Connotation: What is the poem literally about [denotation] and what does it seem to symbolize? [connotation]. The denotative reading of a poem looks at the actual events of the poem [a man crosses a bridge]. A connotative look at a poem looks for the symbolism [crossing the bridge represents his movement out of his past and into his future, for example].

Versification: See handout (Links to an external site.) on the subject [“Patterns of Rhythm”]. Write about the rhythms, meter, verse.

Figures of speech: Are there literary devices being used that affect how you read the poem? Here are some examples of commonly discussed figures of speech [see handout]: Symbols: where are the symbols and what do they represent, specifically?

Symbol: an object or event that suggests something beyond its literal meaning.

Metaphor: comparison between two unlike things—using a vehicle to represent a concept.

Simile: comparison between two unlike things using “like” or “as”

Metonymy: one thing stands for something else that is closely related to it (For example, using the phrase “the crown” to refer to the king would be an example of metonymy, or “White House” for government.)

Synechdoche: a part stands in for a whole (For example, in the phrase “all hands on deck,” “hands” stands in for the people in the ship’s crew; or new “set of wheels” to refer to a car.)

Personification: a non-human thing is endowed with human characteristics.

Irony: a difference between surface meaning of the words and implications that may be drawn from them.

Allusion: reference to historical or literary events

Alliteration: the repeated use of consonant sounds [see handout]

Assonance: the repeated use of vowel sounds [see handout]

Cultural Context: How does the poem you are looking at relate to the historical context in which it was written? These questions may take you out of the literature section of your library altogether and involve finding out about philosophy, history, religion, economics, music, or the visual arts.

Historical context: Consider the time in which the poem was written. Does this have any affect on the content [meaning] of the poem?

Biographical context: Consider using biography as a starting point and write a paper in which you discuss the poem in relation to the author’s life. What was the author like? Does the poem represent his/her life?

The paper is 3 pages, typed, double spaced. Good luck!

in addition to the poems attached, you may also write about Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Sonnet 18, Sonnet 73 or Sonnet 15)

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