Example Explication Essay

by Sara Lundquist

First of all, read it over and over. Read it out loud. Then read it out loud again. Practice different ways of placing emphasis to get the most meaning. (Poetry is a spoken art; it needs the human voice, your voice, to really live.)

All of the following can be part of a written explication, depending on the poem. Let the poem dictate to you. The extra dimension of poetry is in its insistence that meaning cannot be divorced from form. The purpose of an explication is to show, for an individual poem, how this is true. Therefore an explication is a discussion of the art and craft of language. An explication shows how the form deepens the meaning of the content.

Look up anything you don’t understand: an unfamiliar word, a place, a person, a myth, an idea. Look up words you DO understand, to help you articulate connotations. Become a dictionary addict. Make friends with the OED.

  1. State, very literally and in one or two sentences, what the poem is about. What is the most obvious statement you can make about the situation that the poem concerns itself with? Do not scare yourself with “deep meaning”: start literally. Paraphrase the poem.
  2. What is the emotion of the poem? How does the speaker feel about what he/she is talking about? What can you infer about this speaker, what kind of person is he/she? Remember that because most poems are about human beings they are often expressions of complicated, mixed, and conflicting emotions; always try thinking in terms of both/and rather than either/or. To whom is the speaker talking: to him/herself? to someone else? How does the audience of the poem affect it?
  3. Look at the poem. Describe the form of the poem, the design it makes on the page. For instance, is it divided into stanzas? Does it have long or short lines, or irregular? How does the form contribute to the content? Is it an inherited form (sonnet, sestina, etc.) or an invented one?
  4. Listen to the sounds of the poem. Does it rhyme? Does it use alliteration (repetition of beginning consonant sounds)? Does it have an interesting rhythm? What do the words sound like? Are they smooth, or harsh, or lilting, or dull? Do they move quickly or slowly?
  5. How did the poet organize the poem, and why? Is it a question and an answer? Is it a story? Is it a list? Is it a conversation? Is it a description? Where (emotionally speaking) does the poem begin and where does it end? Be willing to be surprised. Things often happen in poems to turn them around. A poem may seem to suggest one thing at first, then persuade you of its opposite, or at least of a significant change or qualification. Discuss the “journey” the poem takes from beginning to end.
  6. Be very alert to word choice. Discuss the kinds of language the poet uses. Are they simple and everyday words? words from a particular occupation or walk of life? are they slang words? abstract? philosophical? from religion, or sports, or banking? from the world of nature or love or domestic life, or politics or painting or childhood or computers or psychology or law? From what “world” of experience does a group of words derive? Be alert to unusual words or usual words used in an unusual way. Try to say why this word is effective, what kind of very particular meaning it communicates, what it suggests. Try substituting a synonym of the word and explain to yourself why the poet’s choice serves his/her purpose better. Look up the word in the OED and find out how old it is, what kind of journey it has taken to get to this poem.
  7. Be alert to repetitions of any kind: a repeated word, a repeated sound, a repeated idea, punctuation, part-of-speech, syntactical arrangement. Since repetition always serves to emphasize, what is being emphasized and why?
  8. Figurative language: What metaphors, similes, images does the poem use? When and why does the speaker use them? Keep in mind that a poet uses figurative language when more literal ways of speaking seem inadequate or inappropriate. Discuss what further dimensions of human experience can be delved into when the literal gives way to the figurative. (note well: both metaphors and similes are essentially comparisons: say what is being compared to what and why.)
  9. Meter??? Do you want to deal with it?
  10. Theme: take a stab at the poem’s theme. A poem’s subject will be its wonderfully particular, local, personal concerns; its “theme” will be that part of it that communicates more widely, that tries to say a “truth.” Be careful that you don’t reduce the poem to a cliché. Don’t turn corny or glib. Good poems record hard-won and sometimes devastating “truths.” Reading them well makes us struggle to know, feel, and express those things about living that are not easy to know, feel, or express.

Here is some of the specialized vocabulary of your profession; extremely beautiful and useful words.

verse paragraph
dramatic monologue
slant rhyme, off rhyme, half rhyme
internal rhyme

Sample explications:

© Sara Lundquist 2011

Dr. Obermeier'sSample Paper Files

You are advised to peruse these sample papers previous students have written for my classes. The papers are either pdf files or HTML files, in which I have embedded comments to explain why they are superior efforts. The comments refer to the following sentence, phrase, or word. Clicking on the comment link will bring up the content. You have to close a comment window before proceeding to the next one. Clicking on the header will give you instructions on how to make such a running header for your papers. Because of HTML restrictions, the formatting might appear slightly off. You still need to keep your papers double-spaced with 1/2-inch paragraph indent. Even if there is no specific explanation for a specific paper, the papers generally share the following superior qualities: descriptive and analytical titles; analytical theses; superior analysis of the texts; correct inclusion of quotations and formatting.

For instructions on how to do a running header for your paper in MS Word, click here.

Click on your class in the lineup.


For Engl. 250

  • Paper 1 "Sheppard" Characterization
          • This paper has it all: outstanding thought and content, excellent organization, superior sentence structure and diction. This student's command of the language is superb. A few minor problems could have been edited out. The paper received the grade of 96/A.

  • Paper 1 "Girl" Characterization
          • This paper is an excellent example of superior analysis coupled with stylistic economy and succinctness that avoid anything superfluous. The introduction and organization deserve high praise. The paper received the grade of 96/A.
  • Paper 2 Explication of "Sonnet 46"
          • This explication of a Shakespeare sonnet is superbly done. The student outstandingly fused the analysis of the poem with an excellent and virtually error-free style. The paper received the grade of 98/A+.
  • Paper 2 Explication of "Sonnet 42"
          • This is a very good example of a Shakespeare sonnet explication. The student clearly understands the nuances of the sonnet, with great sections on metrical discussion. The paper received 94/A.

            Here are the high-scoring essays for our assignment two. Per announcement in class, these uploads are not following the format as faithfully. I just wanted to get you the info without having to worry about getting everything lined up to MLA standards. Note also that I am providing these examples for the sophistication of the explication, the students' knowledge of technical aspects and detail of analysis; the essays, however, may still contain other weaknesses.

  • Paper 3 Explication of "The Victim at Aulis"
          • The student provides a superbly analyzed and written thematic poetry explication. Notice that the paper is organized around the student's thesis, ie., the major players in the myth and the poem, and not just the chronology of the paper. The paper received the grade of 98/A+.
  • Paper 3 Explication of "Cassandra"
          • This paper is an excellent example of a thematic poetry explication, demonstrating superb intertextual understanding and control of the primary texts. Note the student's concise and honed style. The paper received the grade of 96/A.
  • Paper 4 Synthesis of Millay Poems
          • This paper offers a beautiful synthesis not only of three poems but also two critical approaches: Feminist and Freudian. It is almost flawlessly written and received the grade of 98/A+.
  • Paper 4 Synthesis of Mythology Poems
          • The paper is up, but I am still working on the comments..
  • Paper 5 Shrew Research Paper
          • This is an exquisite research paper utilizing a postmodern approach to Taming of the Shrew. Notice that the critical approach is incorporated into the paper; therefore, there is no extra Barry page. The paper received 98/A+. Sorry, no comment boxes yet.
  • Paper 5 Yankee Research Paper
          • This is another outstanding research paper. It shows the incorporation of the research especially well. Notice that the Barry page is appended after the works cited page.The paper received 98/A+. Sorry, no comment boxes yet.
      • Return to Student Resources Page

For Engl. 304


For Engl. 306

For Engl. 351

Paper 1a here was written for Chaucer's Canterbury Tales but also works for Love Visions. To save time, I did not create javascript comment boxes but inserted my comments in square brackets into the actual paper. Notice that the paper has all the aspects an outstanding paper should: original thought and analysis, clear organization and thesis, interesting intro, correct sentence structure, superior diction, and mostly correct MLA format. The paper received a score of 98/A+. Clicking on the header will give you instructions on how to make such a running header for your papers. Because of HTML restrictions, the formatting might appear slightly off. You still need to keep your papers double-spaced with 1/2-inch paragraph and 1-inch block quotation indents. Papers 2a and 2b were written for the shorter Love Visions assignment, 2c for the longer paper; these papers have no comments in them and are in pdf.

For Engl 449/559

For Engl 450/550

For Engl 451/551

For Engl 581

For Engl 650







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