Expanding the Arc

From Analysis to Argument

Explicating A Poem

Group Exercise and Writing


An Explication: A coherent explanation or “reading” that may include attention to setting, speaker(s), tone, imagery, figures of speech, sound, structure, and theme.

First read the poem assigned to you carefully, preferably out loud, or have one member of your group read it out loud while the others follow. Next, look up any words or allusions you don’t know, determine who is speaking, and what the setting and situation are. Further, determine if the poem has a specific form—for example it may be a sonnet or a dramatic monologue—and what poetic devices such as figures of speech and sound devices the poet employs. Finally, be sure to take into account the significance of the title, and, if you think it is relevant, the date of publication.

After you have read, understood on a literal level, and analyzed the poem, you will then (as a group) determine what you think is the central meaning, message, or theme of the poem. Write this out. Finally, note from the information given in your text or on line when the poet lived and what nationality he or she is.

Individually, out of class, you will compose an Explication, which is a coherent explanation of the poem that includes a discussion of all its relevant poetic, rhetorical, and stylistic devices.

In your introduction, state the name of the poet, when he or she lived, and the title of the poem and its date. Next, mention the type of poem it is if it is a recognizable type (for example a sonnet, dramatic monologue, or an Ode). At the end of the paragraph, state the central meaning, message, or theme of the poem (This is your thesis.).

In the following paragraphs, either discuss the poem stanza-by-stanza (line-by-line if necessary), including discussions of all the relevant poetic, rhetorical, and stylistic devices as you go, or take each relevant poetic, rhetorical, or stylistic device separately and discuss that device throughout the whole poem. Finally, provide a conclusion—some final words of interpretive wisdom gained from your analysis of this poem.

Poetic, Rhetorical, and Stylistic Devices:  These include the poet's diction, including denotations and connotations of words; symbols; allusions; the dramatic situation, including setting, speaker(s), person(s) addressed, tone (is there a shift in tone?), and voice(s); imagery, including figures of speech; sound devices; metrics; form and structure.

Relevant: Those devices used by the poet that help to support and clarify what you have determined is the poem’s central meaning. For example, in a particular poem, the speaker, the setting, the tone, and the imagery may be crucial to understanding the poem, while the metrical pattern may not be (It might be standard iambic pentameter.).

Quotation and Citation: Never simply quote random lines (fragments); like quoting from prose, always introduce lines (who is speaking the lines, or what is happening in the poem at that point) and incorporate them into complete sentences. You may quote up to three lines of verse, inserting a slash between the lines. For example: In “Those Winter Sundays,” Robert Hayden refers to his father’s “cracked hands that ached / from labor in the weekday weather . . . (3-4). In the parenthesis, give line numbers, not page numbers. If you need to quote over three lines of verse, set them off two tab spaces from the left margin and type them just as they are in the poem.


Warning: Do not consult any outside sources for this paper!