Essay II: Poetry
Assignment: Choose from any of the poetry we have read in class. Analyze the poem in depth
for your essay, being sure to include an argumentative thesis statement and textual evidence. You
will use your own close reading of the text to construct this essay — no outside research is to be
Please do the following:
● Create a question about the text in relation to your topic and use your analysis to answer
that question. (Question need not be stated in the actual essay; use it as a starting point)
● Develop an argumentative thesis statement that clearly establishes your essay topic and
● Organize the essay around your argument in order to enhance a reader’s understanding of
the text.
● Use literary terminology and in your analysis when applicable.
You are free to develop your own topic on this essay, so please feel free to follow whatever topic
has interested you most in class. Here are some questions to consider as you explore and develop
your topic:
● What is the meaning of the poem?
○ Remember to go beyond the obvious. Saying that Emily Dickinson’s poem “Title
Divine is Mine” is about marriage is obvious and is not an argument.
■ Instead, think about what the poem is saying about that topic, or what
attitude it has toward the topic, and how it’s delivered for a more focused
● How is the meaning of this poem conveyed?
○ How does the poet deliver the meaning of the poem? What devices and
techniques are employed? To what ends?
● What’s the weirdest, strangest, most confusing or mysterious part of the poem?
○ Sit in this moment. Just pointing out a confusing moment in a poem is not an
argumentative analysis, but providing clarity or making an argument for how the
poem should be interpreted is an argument.
● Do you notice any repetitions or emphases of concept or image, any pairings and
contrasts? What is the effect?
● What symbols or images are used in the poem? To what ends? What is significant about
the poem’s symbolism/imagery?
● How should the poem be interpreted?
Purpose: Produce an interesting and detailed analysis of a poem. Pose an interesting, complex,
significant reading of your chosen poem using textual evidence to support your argumentative
Format: Standard MLA Style (8 th Edition). Double-spaced, 12 pt. Times New Roman Font, 1”
margins, MLA works cited page.
Research: None. Please do not use any research for this assignment. Rely on your own critical
thinking and interpretive skills.
Length: 3-4 pages double-spaced, not including Works Cited page; roughly 750-1000 words.
Due Date: The essay is due in the Canvas “Essay I” submission box at 8:00 am on Monday,
November 11th. You must also turn in a print copy. I will accept papers during my office hours
of 9:30-12:00 on Wednesday, November 13th with no late penalty. If your paper is not both
submitted to Canvas and turned in in print to me by the end of my office hours, it may be
subject to a late submission penalty.
You will receive a grade and written feedback on the paper copy of your essay you submit to me.
These comments will be useful in your future writing in this class, especially if you choose to
revise this essay later in the semester for your Revised Essay assignment. See Grading Rubric for
more information on evaluative criteria.
Additional Guidelines:
● Develop a clear, focused thesis that explicitly indicates your proposed interpretation of
the poem.
● You may need to provide a very brief summary to support your point, but you are not
writing a summary. Focus on analysis.
● For poetry, cite line numbers instead of page numbers. If you reference a word/phrase in
the third line, for example, cite it with “quotation” (Author 3).
○ (Exception: for Whitman, use both section and line number. For example, the
third line of section five would be 5.3; the fifteenth through seventeenth lines of
section 39 would be 39.15-17. Use page numbers for Citizen ).
● Use / to show line breaks when including quotations in your essay. For example: “You do
not do, you do not do / Any more, black shoe / In which I have lived like a foot” (Plath
● Use present tense when discussing literature.
● Be sure to include the poem and the author you are using in the introduction of your
essay in addition to your thesis statement.
● Always be sure to “unpack” your quotations and to provide proper documentation. All
quotes used as support must be adequately explained, developed, and cited. A quote
cannot stand alone in an essay.
● Do not use first- or second-person pronouns. When it comes to a personal interpretation
of fiction, you are the authority; however, phrases that begin with “I believe” and “I
think” detract from your authority and familiarity with the text and make your
interpretation look like simple personal opinion rather than informed, supported analysis.
● A works cited page in 8 th Edition MLA is required.
Developing a topic / questions to consider as you interpret your poem:
● What poem are you writing about?
○ Which details or aspects of this poem will you be focusing on? (Ex: Symbols,
word choice, etc.)
■ Can you easily point out these details?
■ Can you explain their significance? What do they mean?
■ What are these details doing ? What is their purpose in the poem?
● How do these details contribute to the poem’s larger meaning?
○ What is the poem’s larger meaning?
○ Why are these details and the poem’s larger meaning so
important for a reader to understand? What is at stake?
● As you study poetry, any time you think “________ might be saying/mean _______”
you’ve already developed a hypothesis — change your wording to a statement and you
have the beginnings of an argument: “____________ is saying/ does mean __________”
● Any time you’re able to identify something like a symbol, and image, or an interesting
contrast, etc., within a poem, even if you’re not entirely sure what that detail is doing or
what it means, you can use it as a starting point for an argument. What is that detail doing
in your interpretation of the poem?