Instead of doing a close reading of a single poem, you may instead choose to do a close reading of a pair of poems on a related topic (for example, you could think about how two of Hughes’s poems inspire their readers to think about race in America, or look at how two poets explore a childhood memory – or love, or death, or our relationship to nature… The possibilities are endless!). You will need to consider the same organizational issues as you would if you were writing on a single poem, but if you choose to do a pair, you will also want to come up with an introduction and thesis statement that that includes both poems. (Example: “Both Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” and Raymond Carver’s “Photograph of my Father in His 22nd Year” involve the speakers’ memories of their fathers. Interestingly, both poems also depict fathers who drink. But while Roethke’s poem seems to celebrate the young boy’s exhilarating waltz with his father, Carver’s poem is more melancholy in tone.”) Identify a link between the poems in your introductory paragraph, and then discuss each one separately before concluding. Don’t be afraid to tackle a pair: some students find it more challenging to write an entire essay on one single poem, and if you fall into that group, you might find the comparison/contrast approach more productive!
Whether you write on one poem or a pair of poems, you will want to state a thesis in your introduction, organize your discussion in a logical way (stanza-by-stanza is an easy way to organize – if your poem has stanzas! If not, you could break it down by patterns of images or metaphors…), and develop at least three supporting paragraphs analyzing the poem(s) following this organizational scheme. Because this is an explication – or a close reading — make sure that you pay attention to the poet’s use of language!
One final technical point: When you quote from a poem (or a Shakespearean play, since that’s our next subject), rather than citing the page numbers of each quotation, you should cite the line numbers. If you are indenting the quote, make sure to keep the poet’s original line breaks. But if you’re quoting only a line or two, and if you fit the quotation into your own writing, use slashes (/) to indicate where the lines break. Here’s an example:
In the first stanza, the speaker addresses his father:
The whiskey on your breath
Could make a young boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy. (1-4)
Later in the poem, the speaker again shows us that he and his father are somewhat
unmatched partners in this waltz: “At every step you missed/My right ear scraped a buckle” (11-12).
Notice: 1) line numbers, not page numbers after each quotation, 2) quotation should be exact – capital letters, punctuation, and line breaks and 3) the slash indicates where the line is divided in the original poem.
Questions to consider as you read the poems for this unit, and as you begin to think about the poem(s) you will analyze in your essay:
Begin by thinking about your personal response to the poem. Did it make you laugh, smile, shudder, shake your head in bafflement? Did a specific stanza, image, line, or word jump out at you?
After you’ve considered your reaction, try to paraphrase what is going on in the poem. Describe the “scene” or action on the literal level. What is going on here – literally?
Characterize the speaker or persona. How do you figure out who he or she is from the poem itself?
Is there any conflict or tension in the poem? Is the speaker involved in the conflict, or merely observing it? What “two forces” are in conflict? Does a resolution happen in the poem – or is a resolution even possible?
Make a list of images in the poem. Do you see any groups of images – in other words, do the images form a pattern?
Read the poem out loud slowly. What words are stressed? What words, if any, rhyme? Why