Students tend to fret most about the “bookends” of writing: the introduction and the conclusion. If you’re writing an essay about poetry or the author of poetry, you’ve already made an important writing decision: that the poetry or the author you’ve chosen is noteworthy and therefore deserving of exploration and discussion. There are few times in writing when there is an obvious way to begin an essay, and this happens to be one of them.

Grab the Left Bookend

Prop up your essay with confidence by starting your introduction with a verbatim passage of poetry. Doing so will train the spotlight exactly where it belongs: on the words and meaning of a poem or its author. Paraphrasing would be exactly the wrong tack to take because you would saddle yourself with the responsibility of trying to say what the poem can undeniably say better.

Choose the Passage Carefully

Avoid two pitfalls of beginning an essay with a quote: choosing one that is either too short or far too long. As a general rule of thumb, a quote that is no more than two lines long should capture your reader’s interest and set the right tone without creating confusion or irritation.

Scrutinize Your Selection

Remember that the quote you have selected plays a vital role in your essay: It determines whether your reader will continue with interest or bemusement. Take a step back from your selection and preface it with a few short words, if necessary, to set the proper stage, such as, “Robert Frost left rooms spellbound with the words: ... ” or “For Maya Angelou, it was a recurrent theme: ... ”