Poetry Explication Notes
Directions: Use the following handout from The Language of Literature for a guide on “How to Read a Poem (And Then Write About It).” Follow each step as you complete your explication.
Step 1: Forget what the poem may mean, is supposed to mean, or what it may be about.
Step 2: Look at the title. Jot down three things it suggests to you. Give literal (concrete) meanings as well as figurative (abstract) things coming to mind.
Step 3: Read the poem. Read it quickly at first; then read it slowly several times. Try to hear the poem aloud in your head or find a place to read it aloud. Write down the first two things you think about after reading the poem.
Step 4: Now look at the poem. How is it put together? Take notes on each of the following that apply:
⦁ figures of speech: similes, metaphors, personification, symbolism, etc.
Step 5: List any features you notice about the language in the poem and take notes on the following:
⦁ stops and pauses
⦁ punctuation, or lack of it
⦁ capital letters, or no capitals
⦁ line breaks
⦁ adverbs and adjectives
⦁ sentences or fragments
⦁ verb tense
⦁ organization of stanzas
Step 6: What patterns do you see emerging from your lists? Look at the list below and write short notes about your observations:
⦁ sensory details
⦁ puzzling words
Step 7: Read the poem again. Form some guesses at what the poem means.
Step 8: Answer the following questions about voice and tone:
⦁ Who is speaking in the poem?
⦁ To whom is the poem spoken?
⦁ What is the tone of the poem?
Step 9: By now, you should have some solid information about what your poem is all about. Read the poem again. Consider why the poet made the choices you identified in steps 4-7. How do you think these things contribute to the meaning? Write your response in your notes.
Step 10: If you have not already noticed, with your notes from steps 1-9, you have a great start on a written poetry explanation (or explication). It should be a multi-paragraph essay. You may want to include other observations, such as:
⦁ Record a line of the poem you thought was powerful.
⦁ Did you like or dislike the poem? (It is okay to be honest, as long as you justify it.)
⦁ Does the poem remind you of another poem/story/event? If so, explain it.
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