How to Write an Argumentative Essay on Poetry

Interpret the poem and support your position using evidence from the text.
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Look at condensed language and not only form an interpretation of the words but also argue your position: That is the assignment when writing an essay about poetry. As a reader, you examine and even evaluate the work. As an essayist, you write about your understanding of the piece. Choose a central idea such as figurative language or theme and use the poem itself to support your interpretation.

1 Essay Structure

An argumentative essay about poetry carries the same structure as most essays: introduction, body and conclusion. For the introductory paragraph, use a strong quotation from the poem as the hook, give some background and end the introduction with your thesis statement: one sentence stating your interpretation of the poem. For example, you might write, "Sylvia Plath's exaggerated comparisons in her poem 'Daddy' display her guilt over her father's death." Use a minimum of three paragraphs to support your thesis statement, each with a unique point: the sing-song rhyming, the narrator's identity crisis and her admission of a suicide attempt, for example. End with a conclusion that mirrors the introduction, except instead of a hook, relate your interpretation to concerns in the world outside the poem.

2 Figurative Language

Since poetry uses so few words, each one counts. Poets commonly use figures of speech to enhance meaning. Similes, with their telltale "like" or "as" in the middle of comparisons, are easy to spot. However, look especially for metaphors, the comparison of two things seemingly unalike; their meaning often goes deeper than that of similes. Take, for example, Langston Hughes' "Mother to Son," in which the narrator states that her life is not a set of crystal stairs. Analyzing the effectiveness of the metaphor and interpreting the meaning makes an effective central idea.

3 Theme

Theme provides a common topic for essays about poetry. Analyze the images of the poem for words that relate to love, hate, death and other universal ideas. Consider whether the poem reminds you of historical events, or even refers to them directly. For example, Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" explicitly refers to World War II. Consider what the narrator is trying to accomplish in comparing her father to Nazis and herself to a Jew. For example, the comparison provides a commentary on the theme of father-daughter relationships and the power dynamic involved; in this case, the relationship is difficult and the father holds power like a Nazi over a Jew, according to the narrator.

4 Argument

Writing an argumentative essay about poetry means taking an interpretive position and supporting it with evidence. Use evidence from the poem itself and explain your interpretation of each quotation explicitly. Quotations can be direct or indirect, or you may summarize pieces of the poem. Relate all evidence and explanations to your central idea. It may also be useful to consider the historical or social context of the poem if it bolsters your claim. For example, when writing about Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est," it is important to note that the poem is from the World War I era, as the imagery relates directly to tactics used in that war.

Nadia Archuleta has a B.A. in English writing. She spent five years working abroad and has traveled extensively. She has worked as an English as a Foreign/Second Language teacher for 12 years.