Essay Examples - Poetry Explication

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Remember that explication means to unfold.


The pleasure experienced in listening to or reading poetry comes from the interrelationship of all the literary techniques that the poet uses to present the sense, or meaning, of the poem: choice of speaker, sound, imagery, and figurative language.

Write an essay which analyzes the connection between the techniques of your selected poem and its meaning, as you received it.

If you’re wondering “how should I write my essay?”, view this example:

Title:The Charm of 5:30

Poet: David Berman

Poem form/structure: The poem is a narrative dramatic composition.
___x__narrative, __x__ dramatic, or _____ lyric
___x__free verse, _____ blank verse, or _____ regular verse

Step #1: Begin by first jotting down your responses to the poem. At this point, concentrate on the poem's emotional effect on you.

The poem immediately creates a feeling of euphoric wistfulness within me. Although there is a bit of melancholy in the tone of the poem, I feel good when I read and recite it. It is as though the writer was taking me as the reader into a series of pleasant memories from the past. However those memories from the past are triggered by beautiful images and moments that occur in the present. Although the thoughts seem to be sporadic and spontaneous they follow a somewhat logical and linear thought process.

Step #2: Now consider the meaning (main idea, message, moral, theme) of the poem.

The central moment in time captured in this poem is 5:30 pm. Since it is the speaker’s favorite time of day it is described in great detail. The theme is hope in the midst of life’s challenges. One example, is the phrase, “Even the headstones in the graveyard seem to stand up and say Hello….”! It is as though the speaker wants to remind us that in the midst of seeming hardship the good ultimately outweighs the bad.

Step #3: Who is the speaker (or persona) of the poem? Describe the kind of person who appears to speak in the poem.

The speaker is someone who has a leisurely approach to life. Perhaps prior to 5:30 they are very serious and focused on achieving set deadlines amidst the chaos of life. However, when 5:30 approaches there is a shift towards simply enjoying life. Even in the midst of the hectic pace of life the attitude is towards harmony and joy. The statement “we’re too busy getting along,” suggests a deliberate choice of response. Others may choose to focus on the hectic nature of life but not this speaker.

Step #4:

What is the dramatic situation in the poem? In other words, what is going on in the poem? What is the occasion?

The embodiment of the drama is in enjoyment of the moment. Meaning taking time to reflect on the simple yet meaningful things in life is beautiful and simultaneously dramatic. To say a phrase again “just for a lark,” as the poem says is the whole point. There is a joyful, impulsiveness, an almost youthful approach to celebrating life. There is drama in the ability to squeeze out every ounce of the moment.

Step #5: What sound devices are used in the poem? These may include rhyme, rhythm,

One of the unique things about this poem is the careful use of sound devices and rhythm onomatopoeia, alliteration, consonance, assonance, etc.

The actual rhythm is more narrative and flows similar to a descriptive speech. This is further emphasized with the variation of short and long phrases. Additionally there are specific techniques such as onomatopoeia and alliteration. Examples of onomatopoeia could include the phrase “random okay’s ring through the backyard. There was earlier reference made to a phone. Examples of alliteration could include “contact…carports”.

Step #6: What are the dominant images, and/or sensory references (i.e. sounds, smells, tastes, etc.)? Consider not only which senses are appealed to, but also whether the images can be grouped in some way.

When the sky is metaphorically compared to blueberries and cream it is a brilliant visual image. It carefully incorporates the smell, taste, and visual image of a delicious dessert. In a sense the day becomes almost edible.

There is a technique used to humanize certain inanimate objects such as the graveyard. This is creative because most if not all tombstones have writing. So in a very real way they do stand up and introduce themselves although it is figuratively and not factually.

Comparing warm wind to the air in the tire is great as it creates a familiar association. Certainly as a reader we can hear the hiss of the wind comparative to the tire. We can also feel the warm blowing wind of the air coming from the tire and understand how the wind probably felt blowing against the speakers face. Since changing tires is such a common practice it instantly places us in a common experience with the speaker.

Step #7: What kinds of figurative language appears? This might include metaphor, simile, personification, allusion, and so on.

I love the comparison between the narrators voice comparative to that of a nineteenth-century senator. It is an ode of sorts to the history. While at the same time it reminds us that the human experience is universal.

There was an interesting parallel between the gin and tonic reference and James Madison. It is common knowledge that James Madison drank whiskey each day, usually by the pint.

Step #8: Is there any other specific technique that influences the poem's meaning? Repetition? Line breaks? Heavy use of a particular image? Symbolism?

The use of line breaks is especially powerful as a technique. For example the statement “In fact I’ll bet you something” is short but powerful. It almost forces the reader to pause with anticipation straining to know the next thought of the speaker. In the movie Groundhog Day the main character is stuck in a type of time loop. After repeating the same monotonous day repeatedly he begins to reexamine his arrogance.

This poem could actually be considered a continuation of the lesson learned in Groundhog Day. The conscious awareness by the speaker that they will recall this present moment at some point in the future is revealing. It is in essence them saying I understand what is most important in life and I welcome the remembrance of these wonderful moments. This attitude is refreshing particularly in a society where most people live with constant regret.

There is also constant reference to historical things. There is the mention of Regan, James Madison, and even Kermit Roosevelt. What is particularly revealing about the Kermit Roosevelt reference is the association between the action of the speaker and the reference. The speaker is sitting on his porch thinking about Kermit Roosevelt and following the course of an ant. Well historically we know that Kermit was the son of President Roosevelt and he followed his dad while they explored several continents. We also know that Kermit Roosevelt was someone who despite his pedigree battled depression and alcoholism. There is almost a reflective lesson then taken from history. Again focusing on the meaning of life and the importance of celebrating what 5:30 should represent.

Step #9: What is the tone of the poem?

The more granular the poem analysis becomes the deeper the contextual message becomes. While it initially appears almost whimsical and reflexive its deeper meaning stresses the importance of finding value in life. Therefore, the tone is powerful and captivating although it does not rise to a screaming pitch. It is almost as though the speaker is standing behind a lectern at a University speaking to undergraduates. The goal of the speaker is to bring them into a remembrance of history and their current experience. It is almost a tone that is warning the reader to take heed and not follow the path of destructive habits.

Step #10: Is the title significant? What does the title do to set the tone? The stage? The ultimate feeling about the poem?

The Title has great significance. Charm can also be interpreted as magnetism. There is almost a spiritual reverence with which the speaker admires where we are in reference to the sun. The title in essence is highlighting not just the beauty of that time period but the allure of this season of our lives. In the title of the poem the speaker is calling us to value each moment that is present so that we can look back on it with nostalgia and appreciation sometime in the future.

Step #11: Complete this plan page:

Introduction: General discussion of the poem's effect on the reader. Last sentence of the first paragraph should be your thesis statement stating the specific techniques used in your poem to convey the meaning of the poem.

Thesis Sentence:

Body Paragraphs: Each body paragraph should discuss each one of the points you have noted. You will support your selection by showing specifically how a passage created / revealed meaning. Each body paragraph may include two integrated quotes from the poem.

Body Paragraph #1 (Topic Sentence):

Partial quotes to be used:

Body Paragraph #2 (Topic Sentence):

Partial quotes to be used:

Body Paragraph #3 (Topic Sentence):

Partial quotes to be used:

AND SO, ON, until you have adequately interpreted and explained the poem, according to how you read it. Trust your instincts and your own perceptions/readings of the poem. Use excerpts from the poem to support your interpretations!

Conclusion: Your conclusion should include a restatement of your thesis in different words. You should broaden your discussion to include at least one of the following ideas:

  • * your opinion of the poem
  • * what you learned from reading the poem
  • * connecting the poem, you discussed to another literary work, for writers influence writers
  • * connecting the poem to your own life if it is really important, but do not spend a long time doing so!!! The weight of your work should be on analyzing and interpreting the poem.
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