Write a 3-4 page paper (double-spaced) explicating a poem or poems of your choice.
You must include your thesis statement in your first paragraph, preferably as the final sentence of the paragraph. The thesis statement must state your main idea about the poem. What is the poem about? What is the poet trying to say? Example: The tone of Roethke’s poem, “My Papa’s Waltz,” might seem playful, but much darker elements lie under this bright surface, especially the boy’s fear of his drunken father.
After the first paragraph, work your way through the poem explaining the significance of lines and stanzas. You don’t have to explain every word. Look for points in the poem which are especially relevant to your thesis.
Some points you should consider: form (especially how form relates to meaning), rhyme (or lack of it), tone, imagery, irony, etc. Again, no need to consider everything. Concentrate on the aspects most relevant to your thesis.
Choose something new to write about. This will be more interesting for you and me. No essays on Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” If you want to write about a song, clear it with me first.
These are the basic rules about quoting from poems. Quotations of two lines or less should be incorporated into your text, thus: The first two lines of Roethke’s poem, “The whiskey on your breath/Could make a small boy dizzy,” give the first indication of the poet’s troubled relationship with his father. (Note that a line-break is marked with a slash).
Quotations of three lines or more should be offset 10 spaces from the left-hand margin and should appear exactly as they are on the printed page. E.g., The final stanza of “My Papa’s Waltz” still holds in balance the forces of love and hate which Roethke felt toward his father:
You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard with dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.
Note that offset quotations do not require quotation marks.
Don’t consult critics of the poem you’re explicating. They tend to be a distraction more than a help.
Include one or two paragraphs in your essay that relate the poem to your own life in some way. Perhaps the Roethke poem makes you think of your own good relationship with your father, for example.