How to Write a Thesis for a Poetry Analysis Paper

The thesis statement can be the most difficult part of a poetry analysis to write, but this important component can help you create a powerful and provocative exploration of a poem. The trick is to first decide what you want to write about, followed by making one compelling argument about that subject.

Deciding What to Write About

After selecting or being assigned a poem, read and reread it to see what elements about it jump out at you. Write down how the poet uses figures of speech such as metaphor or imagery that strike you, or whether you sense a particular theme. Consider whether the poem has a particular cultural context or if its form illustrates a particular genre. Also take a look at the poem’s rhyme scheme and meter and how those elements affect the meaning of the poem. Make a list of these different ideas. Narrow your list to one idea you want to write about. For example, you might decide to write about the juxtaposition of plain and surreal language in Mark Strand’s “Eating Poetry” or the imagery in William Blake’s “The Tyger.”

Making an Argument

The purpose of a literary analysis is to make an argument about a work of literature rather than just providing a summary. Take the one idea you wish to write about and make it into a thesis statement. Your thesis statement is one declarative sentence that states the point you are trying to make in your essay. Writing a thesis, such as, “Dylan Thomas’ poem ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ is about death,” is not a strong statement because it simply states what the poem is about. Make it a persuasive or even controversial statement, such as, “Dylan Thomas’ use of the villanelle form in ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ creates a sense of urgency and a stronger emotional response for the audience.” In this essay, you might talk about the villanelle form and how forcing the English language into such a strict rhyme scheme, meter and repeated lines is evocative to the reader.

Naming the Poem and Poet

Your thesis statement will be the one thing that every point in your paper refers back to, so you want it to be as clear as possible. When writing about poetry, include the author’s name and title of the poem in your thesis statement. Many statements begin by introducing the poem and author, followed by the point you wish to make. For example, you could write, “In ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn,’ John Keats uses the urn as a symbol describing the relationship between humans and art.” The poem's title should be in quotation marks, and the thesis should be in literary present tense, meaning you should use present tense when commenting about what the writer says or describing events in the poem.

Choosing the Best Words

Once you have a draft of your thesis, consider whether you are using the strongest words possible. For example, instead of saying a poet “writes about” a particular topic, it might be appropriate to use more interesting verbs, such as “argues” or “illustrates.” Choosing the best verbs for your thesis statement can make it pop and make your argument more controversial or exciting for the reader.

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