Poetry explication takes the reader on a guided tour through how a poem works. An explicative essay for a poem provides a short analysis of the poem's meaning, focusing also on how the language and structure of the poem provide a relationship between the topic and theme. Because the essay writer proposes a specific interpretation of a poem, the explicative essay is a position paper.
Beginning and Ending
Though an explicative essay contains the standard introduction, body and conclusion, the information in each paragraph differs. The introduction functions as an abstract of the entire paper. It includes the plot and theme as well as how form contributes to both. 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. Rather the final paragraph either explains the essay 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.
The shape of the poem guides the essay's structure, meaning students discuss lines and stanzas in the order in which they show up in the poem. The student focuses on the content of the poem first by identifying the narrator, plot and setting. She also notes whether the poem is a specific style, such as sonnet or villanelle. After addressing the larger content, the student describes developing conflicts or potential themes. The goal is to guide the reader through the essay writer's process in analyzing the poem and formulating an argument about that analysis.
Students move from big to small, so after analyzing the larger content structure, they move on to details. Their goal is to analyze the ways the structure and language add to the drama in the poem. Word choice is a key detail since it adds to the poem's tone. Students also analyze figures of speech and how they add to the poem’s meaning. So they may consider why a poet uses a simile instead of a metaphor or what hyperbole adds to the piece. Students also look for patterns, whether rhyme scheme, meter or even patterns of rhetoric and image. For example, if phrases follow a similar format, this denotes a rhetorical pattern.
Students have two options for structuring the body of the essay. One method of organization is to follow the poem exactly, analyzing each stanza from large to small or most important to least important in one paragraph each. For this method, then, the student discusses the content then analyzes how the language, patterns, etc. dramatize the poem. This takes place in a single paragraph for each stanza. Alternatively, the student spends a paragraph talking about the content before moving to the details and how they inform the meaning of the poem. For this method, the essay writer still moves from large to small and most to least important; she simply considers the poem as a whole in each paragraph.