Inside Poetry: Getting Organized to Write

Now that you have collected your thoughts along with those of the critics, the next step is to organize the materials in preparation for writing. Before determining which pattern of organization you use, you must give careful thought to the essay’s specific purpose. In other words, before you can select and arrange the specific details, you must know what main idea you are trying to get across to your reader. A a check to see if your understanding of the essay’s purpose is clear, try stating the main thoughts in a single sentence. For example, a student analyzing Frost’s “Mending Wall” might write: “In ‘Mending Wall’, Frost reveals that people build literal or figurative walls to maintain mutual goodwill and community peace.”

This single statement should appear in the introductory paragraph, and can help organize and control your essay’s content. If you see your interpretation as a view to be explained to the reader, then a pattern of organization might emerge naturally as you reread the material with your own interpretation in mind. Following are two common organizational patterns for essays presenting an explication of a central statement.

Introductory Paragraph: begins with a general introduction of the topic and moves to a specific statement of the essay’s main thought or purpose.

Examination and Explanation (I): This is of the poem’s first major segment (may be one stanza, one quatrain, the first three lines- whatever is a natural division of thought).

Examination and Explanation (II): This is of the poems second major segment. Included here should be some comment on how the author develops the thoughts and patterns established in the first segment.

Examination and Explanation (III): On the remaining segments of the poem (one segment per paragraph). This should be continued until you run out of segments. Care should be taken to keep the focus on the interpretation you stated in the introductory paragraph.

Examination and Explanation (IV): Consider the poem as a whole, pointing out out any further meaning the poem takes on when considered in its entirety, eg. structure, rhythm, etc.

Concluding Paragraph: Should restate, in fresh words, the general interpretation you are presenting and might comment on the significance or effectiveness o the poem as a whole. The pattern of thought here is from the specific to the general (in contrast with the opening, which was general to specific).


Introductory Paragraph: begins with a general introduction of the topic and moves to a specific statement of the essay’s main thought or purpose.

Explanation (I): The poem’s literal level. This might include an initial response to the poem, or identification of essential information about it (such as the speaker, audience, or context)

Explanation (II- as many as you need): The poem’s figurative level. Paragraph divisions should be made with each shift of focus as discussion moves from the first to the last major thought. It is helpful to remember that the figurative level involves interpreting the poem’s meaning, while the literal level is a simple statement of the poem’s basic content.

Explanation (the last one): This should discuss the poem’s organizing principle or theme. This paragraph should consider the poem as a whole, and point out its theme or deeper meaning.

Concluding Paragraph: Should restate, in fresh words, the general interpretation you are presenting, and might comment on the significance or effectiveness of the poem as a whole. The pattern of thought here is from specific to general.

The above patterns are just that: patterns that might be used. THey can be altered or adjusted to suit a particular poem or to make room for comments that must be included but are not accounted for in these patterns. Like any plan, these patterns should be a means for organizing your ideas so that they flow logically and smoothly, rather than functioning as restrictive structures that inhibit your creativity. Just remember to check back occasionally to see if you are accomplishing what you set out to so: explaining to your reader your interpretation of the poem’s meaning.

Drafting Your Essay

Once you have a pattern or plan in mind and have slotted your material into the various parts of the essay outline, you are ready to start writing. The following points might help you to present your views more effectively.

  1. The Introductory Paragraph
    Many introductions to literary essays have three parts: a general statement that sets up the topic, a statement that serves to focus the topic, and a statement that presents your specific view on the topic. This three-part pattern can be used if you wish.

    If you are inspired and have a special angle in mind, you might wand to structure your ow introduction. If you do so, it is helpful to remember that good writing gets to the point quickly and presents it clearly.

  2. Using Quotations from critics
    Unless your main point is to present and evaluate a critic’s interpretation of a poem, quotations from critics should be used sparingly to support or elaborate upon your own views. They should not dominate the essay, or present the case for you.
  3. Using Quotations or References to the Poem
    In order to help your reader see what you mean when you comment on the poem, show the reader where in the poem examples can be seen to illustrate or support your statement. This is done easily by making references to specific lines or stanzas, by quoting words or entire lines, or by paraphrasing the poem’s thoughts. Quote only enough examples to strengthen your essay, though. Over-use of quotations will clutter an essay, give an impression of disunity, and suggest a lack of conviction in the student’s mind.
  4. Integrating Quotes into the Essay
    Your teacher will explain the conventions regarding the placement of shorter and longer quotations. Take care that the following steps are followed when using quotations: introduce the quotation, present it, and then explain its meaning or significance in terms of your essay’s focus. Quotations that are not explained or commented on make no real contribution to an essay.
  5. The Concluding Paragraph
    The conclusion is often a problem because there are several ways to end a paper. It is helpful to keep in mind the two functions of a concluding paragraph:

    1. To summarize the main thoughts of the essay, in fresh words.
    2. To generalize about the significance of those thoughts.

Two common errors in concluding paragraphs are worth mentioning here. Stuck for something further to say about the poem’s significance, some writers resort to a comment about the author’s ability, such as: “This poem is an excellent example of Shakespeare’s power as a writer. His plays and poems are an invaluable part of our literary heritage.” While the comment might be accurate, it has no place in an essay that is focusing on the poem, rather than the author’s skills. In other words, such a comment is almost always off-topic.

The second error is made by students who shift from formal to informal style by making a personal statement in the conclusion, such as: “This essay presents my own interpretation of the poem. I hope my thoughts are clear and convincing, because I did my best.” These comments are especially disturbing, because they break the tone of the essay, and leave the reader remembering the comment more that the essay’s main point.