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What is a Close Reading or Explicating a Poem?

To “explicate” comes from a Latin word meaning to unfold.

The purpose of an explication or close reading is to unfold the significance of a poem.

Explication pays close attention to the parts of a poem in order to support a larger argument about its overall impact. For your paper you will want to choose onepoem.

Your essay should reveal how the parts of the poem, like the parts of a tree, relate and form a totality. Ideally, your paper should reveal some of the wonder and excitement that first inspired you to choose this poem.

You should consider the following questions:

  1. Are you able to provide an argument about what the poem means?
  2. Are you able to provide evidence of how the poetic techniques (tone, speaker, figurative language, form, rhythm, etc.) enhances or creates that meaning? Is the evidence effective or is anything important being left out?Summarizing: Pre-writing
    Once you have chosen a poem, paraphrase it (i.e. put it in your own words). You will want to deliberately avoid using figurative language. The purpose of this step is two-fold. First, it ensures that you know what the poem is saying. Second, it allows you to see the moments where the poet uses an intense kind of language.

Poetic Techniques: Poetic Devices and examples
The following are some poetic techniques that you may want to consider in your paper. In your final exam you will want as wide a variety of techniques as possible. In earlier papers you may focus on only the ones covered in the day’s readings or that we have covered so far. These questions are only the most basic ones: As we cover more poetic techniques this semester you will want to create your own list of questions that you ask yourself.

1 . Examine the language of the poem. Look up any words that seem important or unclear. How does the text make use of the particular connotations of its words? Are there patterns of word choice (diction), such as language associated with religion or with everyday speech? What images and image patterns are prominent? What are the associations of these images? Do the images take on larger significance as symbols? What other metaphoric language contributes to the poem’s meaning? Similes? Puns? Are there larger patterns of allegory or allusion?

2 . How is the author using the form? How does the form suit the poet’s intent? What variations are there in meter and rhyme scheme? How do these variations affect the meaning? How does the poet use the break between octave and sestet or quatrains and couplets? What other sound effects do you notice (alliteration, assonance, etc.) and how do they fit the larger effects of the poem? How does the poem use line and stanza breaks? How does it use syntax to emphasize or enact its meaning?

3 . Who is the speaker of the poem? How would you characterize the speaker? What is the tone of the poem? How does it change? Does it use irony? What techniques does poet use to get this tone across? What is the relationship between the speaker and the audience? How does this relate to the message of the poem?

4 . What are the main ideas, themes, or concepts in the poem? Does it have a point you could summarize? Does it set up a contrast or debate? If so does it resolve the debate somehow? How does this relate to the sense of closure in the poem? How do the other elements of the poem support or enhance this theme?

5. What is the meter of the poem? Why might the poet have chosen this meter or what does it add to the poem? Choose a few instances in which the meter does something unexpected. How does the poet use rhythm to add meaning to the poem?

Now consider the following student essay that does a close reading of a poem. Please note, this is longer than your assignment: 

http://www.unm.edu/~aobermei/Eng200/samplepapers/assignment2sonnet46/index.html (Links to an external site.)

Also, one of my favorite and vetted sites: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/writing_in_literature/poetry_close_reading.html

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