How to Write a Composition on the Figurative Language of a Poem

Figurative language imparts meaning and conveys authorial intent.
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Compositions about a poem's figurative language fall into the category of literary response. Advanced Placement English Literature essays are a good model for these as excellent examples of brevity and conciseness. However, you don't need to be an AP level student to write a good essay on poetic language; your essay should answer only two questions: What is the poem about, and how does the author make you understand this?

1 The Essay's Thesis

Your opening sentence, or paragraph, if your essay is lengthy, begins with the author's name; the piece's name; the intent, or what the poem is about; and the figurative language devices used, which is how the author makes you see the intent. For example: "William Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 immortalizes the poet's lover through implied metaphor, simile and personification." This creates your essay's thesis. The thesis statement has an arguable claim -- the poet's intent to immortalize, and proofs for the claim -- the three literary devices.

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2 Proceed to Body Paragraphs

You now have not only the essay's opening, but also the subjects of its three topic sentences and sections. Body paragraph one or section one, for example, will discuss similes found in the poem, paragraph/section two the implied metaphors, and paragraph/section three the personification. Each body paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that names and explains the use of figurative language: "Shakespeare's lover wins out over the summer with the implied metaphors he uses." Immediately follow with an example -- a concrete detail -- for proof: "In line 4, he notes 'Summer's lease hath all too short a date.'"

3 Quotes and Commentary

Notice that your concrete detail naturally begins your commentary, where you will explain the quote and offer your own thoughts about it, something like: "Shakespeare's lover obviously outshines the summer months for him; her happy season, as implied, is much longer." Your body paragraphs should continue the pattern of concrete detail plus commentary for at least three sections. A good rule of thumb, the Schaffer method of paragraph structure, is to group together a topic sentence (TS), followed by a quote or similar concrete detail (CD) and two commentary sentences (CM). The formula runs: TS/CD/CM/CM/CD/CM/CM/CD/CM/CM and closing.

4 The Poet's Intent

Your essay also needs a closing paragraph that discusses the poet's intent in using figurative language. You should never lose sight of the question, "What is the poem about?" Remember that poets use figuratives to create imagery, imply character and carry literal expressions into the abstract; be prepared to explain why a summer's day would compare unfavorably with a woman whom a man famously loves, when contrasted by similes, implied metaphors and personifications.

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.