If you grew up in the 1980s chances are much of your education took place via osmosis. It just happened; a kind of confluence of activity. This isn’t to say my English Literature teachers didn’t rock, of course they did, which forms a large part of the reason as to why I ended up becoming a teacher. It’s just that I don”t ever recall being taught how to write an essay. We got a question and we simple did it, and if you did well your teacher would write ‘Ex’ for Excellent or ‘v.good’ -you guessed it, for very good. What you got for less less than ‘v.good’ I have no idea -I wasn’t that kind of student, but the point is, how to structure an essay and feedback when the essay was returned, was minimal.
And how things have changed! These days it’s expected you teach students how to write a literary essay, provide them with marking rubrics so that they know what they are being assessed on, and more often than not offer a post-submission interview with the teacher to nut out a five year plan on how to improve. ‘O for more simpler times’, I hear teachers cry. The fact is we can’t turn back, and even if we could, it wouldnt be fair to, you.
So I am going to give you an essay plan on how to structure a poetry essay. Please bare in mind that the structure below ís just one way of structuring an essay. It is helpful as it helps you consider the themes, use of language and literary devices employed by the poet, and therefore makes a good ‘general’ essay. The structure below, however, does not necessarily fit the question you may be set -in which case every topic sentence (the first sentence in each paragraph) should relate to the question at hand (we will cross that bridge when we get to it..)
For now, you may find the structure below, helpful.
INTRODUCTION (1 paragraph)
Use key words from the essay title in a brief description of what the poem is about. Comment briefly on the themes, issues, thoughts and feelings the poem explores. Identify the narrator, the tone and viewpoint of the poem.
STRUCTURE (1 or 2 paragraph)
Divide the poem into sections and explain in more detail what the poem is about, section by section. Write about the development of ideas and themes from one section to another and one stanza to another. Consider the significance of shifts in tone between sections. Consider the shape of stanzas, line length, sentence length, enjambment and caesura.
DICTION (WORDS) (1 or 2 paragraphs)
Write about the significance and effect of the poem’s words and their connotations. Look at semantic fields, hyperbole, contrasts, allusions, level of formality etc. Include short quotations and analysis of the effects of language.
IMAGERY (1 or 2 paragraphs)
Write about the significance and effect of the imagery used in the poem. Consider symbolism, metaphors, similes, personification, oxymoron etc. Include short quotations and analysis of the effects of language.
GRAMMATICAL FEATURES (1 or 2 paragraphs)
Write about the functions of word classes. Consider nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, prepositions, articles. Also consider syntax. Include short quotations and analysis of the effects of language. Only write about features which have significant effects.
SOUNDS (1 or 2 paragraphs)
Write about the significance of rhyme, rhythm and meter. Consider the use of repetition .Consider alliteration, sibilance, assonance, short and long vowel sounds, harsh or soft consonant sounds and onomatopoeia.
CONCLUSION (1 paragraph)
Return to the key words of the question and give your final personal response to the poem as a whole. Do you think the poem is successful in conveying a message or portraying experiences, thoughts or feelings? What does the poem make you think or feel?