Poetry Explication Assignment
Minimum Length: 4-5 pages (MLA)
Assignment: Write a research-based f explication of one poem from our readings or any canon poet. Cite properly and provide a Works Cited Page at the end of your essay.
What is explication? Explication is the unraveling of a poem (or story or play), basically explaining the poem word by word, line by line, or stanza by stanza. In unfolding the poem, you should address any literary devices you see: simile and metaphor, allusion, rhyme, rhythm, repetition, onomatopoeia, form (if applicable), and other techniques. How do these all contribute to the overall message of the poem?
An explication is a way for you to slow down and focus on the detail. Often, a poem that you find confusing will make sense once you take some time to examine it piece by piece. The first place to begin, always, is the title. What do you expect from the title? Does the poem deliver this? How? If it surprises you, why might the author have chosen this title? Or, is the title ironic, and if so, how does irony change the meaning of the poem? These are just a few questions you might ask yourself.
If you use any secondary sources, including biographical material, you must cite them according to MLA and include a Works Cited page. However, you will not use any secondary sources in this paper.
Introduction: Include title (in quotation marks), author, dates, brief background of the author if necessary and relevant, a brief summary of the plot (situation), or literal level of the poem, and your thesis, which probably will mention two or three techniques the poet uses to convey his/her argument (theme). The thesis will include what you believe to be that argument.
Body Paragraphs: Systematically go through the poem showing the techniques stated in your thesis and showing how they relate to the poet’s argument. Brief quotes should be incorporated into your sentences to clarify your point. Do not, under any circumstance, quote the entire poem within the paper. If you quote three or fewer lines, an inline quote, you should introduce the quote with a signal phrase, and then quote the section of the poem, indicating line breaks with a “/” and stanza breaks with a “//”. To quote more than three lines, use a block quote. In either case, follow the quote with a parenthetical reference of the line number(s). And then, make sure that you follow the quote with an analysis of the quote.
Conclusion: Here you pull the paper together and reaffirm your thesis. You could discuss how the poem relates to real life and/or use this paragraph to disagree with the poet’s argument if you wish. But in doing so Do not use first person to argue or agree! All analysis needs to be in third person, objective voice. Thus, instead of saying “I think that Frost ignores the religious aspect…” or “ Frost really relates to my going to the woods, myself…” you would instead say “Frost ignores the religious aspect…” or “Frost’s experience relates to the real experience of visiting the woods…”
Style: In addition to the usual style suggestions, you should also be very careful about using the word “I” or “me,” as in “I believe” or “It is my opinion.” These are useless phrases that serve only to cast doubt on your argument. Keep your sentences focused on your subject, the poem itself. In addition, as a college-level writing, be sure that your sentence structure is varied and that you take some care, if necessary, to combine short sentences to avoid repetition and make sure that one sentence builds upon the previous ones. Include transitions where appropriate to avoid jumping quickly from one topic to the next.
Additional Style Tips: While the explication tends to be a chronological progression, consider the organization of the paper. How can you group your observations? This, as any other formal paper, should be a multiple-draft project where your initial observations are organized into main points, and these main points are then focused with a thesis in the intro, with topic sentences in the body paragraphs, and finished with a conclusion.
Please see poetry readings for the material we covered in class to help you achieve a more comprehensive reading of the poem.