How can I go about writing an AS level essay on specific poems?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

[Without specification as to what kind of essay is needed, this response must be generalized.]

For an AS level essay, the student will want to produce a logical and well-organized essay that very specifically addresses the assignment (or specific question, if given) by forming a thesis with at least 3 major opinions/points explaining these points in separate paragraphs, and supporting the points with specific lines from the poems. One teacher suggests that for such an essay, the student use the acronym PEEL as a reminder:

  • Present the points (thesis)
  • Explain each point
  • Support the point with evidence
  • Link the point to the next one

When writing about poetry, especially if the student is assigned an explication of poems, it is important to provide a brief analysis of the poem's meaning by pointing to how the structure and language in the poem relate to the subject and theme of the poem. Since the student proposes a specific interpretation of a poem, the essay, while explanatory, is also somewhat of an argumentative one. In fact, nearly all literary analysis essays come down to arguing for a certain interpretation of a few key elements in depth.

  • Introduction - In a sense, the introduction for an analysis of poetry acts as an abstract as it presents the topic and theme of the poem(s) and how the controlling metaphoric idea (a frame of mind, the poet's expression of an inner world) contributes to these two elements. The introduction for poetry analysis differs also in other ways. Here is what one authority advises,

Students write the introduction last. Unlike in a standard essay, with conclusion mirroring introduction, for poetry explication the ending paragraph wraps up the argument without restating the thesis.....[it] either explains the ...writer's conclusion about how form and content interact in the poem or describes the manner in which sound and visuals add to the poem's meaning.

  • Thesis - Even if the student writes the introduction last, he must still create a thesis about form and content as explained in the italicized words written above. This thesis involves an interpretation of what the poems mean and/or how literary techniques contribute to the poems' meanings. In composing the thesis consider two proposed questions: "What is this poem about and why did the writer compose the poem as he/she did?" and "Why did the poet choose to use the words, images, metaphors, rhyme scheme, etc.; what effect is he/she trying to achieve?" (questions offered from the University of California)
  • Body of the essay - One method of organizing the analysis of poems is going from the "big" to the "small," following the design of the poem, analyzing how each stanza contributes to the controlling metaphor (what is really being compared figuratively in this poem, i.e. how does the literal meaning of the poem relate to the non-literal [metaphoric] meaning--the poet's inner world/ideas) through the use of tone, imagery, similes, metaphors, or other literary devices.  In a similar fashion to writing other essays, the student begins each paragraph of the body with a topic sentence which is one of the opinions/arguments of the thesis [P] and explains [E] this opinion by providing support or [E] evidence from the poem's language, rhythm, etc. Then, the student concludes this paragraph by linking [L] the last idea to the topic sentence of the next paragraph. (Follow the PEEL technique for each paragraph of the body).          

Another method is considering the content of the poem as a whole by first discussing the details of the poem and how they contribute to the meaning of the poem (the controlling metaphor). In doing so, the student still goes from the big to the small, most important to least, but always considers the poem as a whole in each paragraph, rather than discussing stanza by stanza. 

NOTE: The consideration of which method to use can be determined by the poems themselves. Certainly, if a poem is short, considering it as a whole seems a better method.

  • Conclusion

In this part of the essay, the student draws together all the points [P] he has made, clarifying for the reader "the final destination" of the argument that has been made about the poems. However, this conclusion should not be a simple reiteration of what has already been written; in addition, it should be followed by what is called a "clincher," a sentence that erases all doubt that the essay has reached its end, but at the same time it raises a somewhat broader idea relative to the ones expressed.

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