A poetry explication is a “relatively short analysis which describes the possible meanings and relationships of the words, images, and other small units that make up a poem.” For this paper, you will choose one longer poem from the textbook and analyze the previously mentioned “meanings and relationships.”There will be no outside sources for this essay, only your own analysis in your own words. There are a few steps to follow, so please read the following carefully.

explicate (v.):

1. To unfold, unroll; to smooth out (wrinkles); to open out (what is wrapped up); to expand (buds, leaves, etc.). (Obsolete)
2.  To spread out, expand in area or volume.
3. To disentangle, unravel;  to disentangle, extricate from, out of difficulties.
4. To develop, bring out what is implicitly contained in (a notion, principle, proposition).
5. To unfold in words; to give a detailed account of.
6. To disclose the cause or origin of (a phenomenon); to account for.
7. To make clear the meaning of (anything); to remove difficulties or obscurities from; to clear up, explain

Etymology: Explicate comes from a Latin word, explicare, meaning literally: to unfold.

(Above definition from The Oxford English Dictionary)

In 1959, Italian-American poet John Ciardi published his now-famous guide to reading, teaching, and writing about poetry, a book entitled How Does a Poem Mean? That is the question you will answer in this assignment. A poetry explication provides a sense of how a particular poem means by analyzing the interplay of its elements.  The reader of the poem/writer of the explication begins to imagine how the poem’s design formed in the mind of the poet, and thus arrives at a deeper appreciation of the poem’s complexity, intricacy, and unity. A poem is always more than the sum of its parts: A poem is concerned with experience. Analyzing the parts of a poem in an explication, however, leads to a greater unfolding and appreciation of the whole.


4-5 page minimum, MLA, double spaced, twelve-point Times New Roman font, and one-inch margins on all pages. Write in third person (no personal statements like “I,” “we,” “you,” etc.)


Only cite the poem in the textbook (primary source). You will not be using any outside material, so any use of another source (other than the poem itself) will result in a zero for the paper. Whenever you paraphrase or quote from the poem, you must include the author’s name and page number from the textbook. All other material or writing must be your own.

MLA Works Cited Page:

Included at the end of the paper (not included in the 4-5 page minimum). The only sources you will cite here is the poem within the textbook.


1. The first paragraph should present the large issues; it should inform the reader which conflicts are dramatized and should describe the dramatic situation of the speaker. The explication does not require a formal introductory paragraph; simply start explicating immediately. One foolproof way to begin any explication is with the following sentence: “This poem dramatizes the conflict between…”

Example: “This poem dramatizes the conflict between appearance and reality, particularly as this conflict relates to what the speaker seems to say and what he really says. From Westminster Bridge, the speaker looks at London at sunrise, and he explains that all people should be struck by such a beautiful scene. The speaker notes that the city is silent, and he points to several specific objects, naming them only in general terms: “Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples” (6). After describing the “glittering” aspect of these objects, he asserts that these city places are just as beautiful in the morning as country places like “valley, rock, or hill” (8,10). Finally, after describing his deep feeling of calmness, the speaker notes how the “houses seem asleep” and that “all that mighty heart is lying still” (13, 14). In this way, the speaker seems to say simply that London looks beautiful in the morning.”

2. The next paragraphs should expand the discussion of the conflict by focusing on details of form, rhetoric, syntax, and vocabulary. In these paragraphs, the writer should explain the poem line by line in terms of these details, and he or she should incorporate important elements of rhyme, rhythm, and meter during this discussion.

Example: “However, the poem begins with several oddities that suggest the speaker is saying more than what he seems to say initially. For example, the poem is an Italian sonnet and follows the abbaabbacdcdcd rhyme scheme. The fact that the poet chooses to write a sonnet about London in an Italian form suggests that what he says may not be actually praising the city. Also, the rhetoric of the first two lines seems awkward compared to a normal speaking voice: “Earth has not anything to show more fair. / Dull would he be of soul who could pass by” (1-2). The odd syntax continues when the poet personifies the city: “This City now doth, like a garment, wear / The beauty of the morning” (4-5). Here, the city wears the morning’s beauty, so it is not the city but the morning that is beautiful …”

3. The conclusion: The explication has no formal concluding paragraph; do not simply restate the main points of the introduction! The end of the explication should focus on sound effects or visual patterns as the final element of asserting an explanation.

            Example: “The poem ends with a vague statement: “And all that mighty heart is lying still!” In this line, the city’s heart could be dead, or it could be simply deceiving the one observing the scene. In this way, the poet reinforces the conflict between the appearance of the city in the morning and what such a scene and his words actually reveal.”

4. Tips to keep in mind:

– Refer to the speaking voice in the poem as the speaker” or “the poet.” For example, do not write, “In this poem, Wordsworth says that London is beautiful in the morning.” However, you can write, “In this poem, Wordsworth presents a speaker who…” We cannot identify Wordsworth with the speaker of the poem, so it is more accurate to talk about “the speaker” or “the poet” in an explication. Also, use the present tense when writing the explication. The poem, as a work of literature, continues to exist!

– Avoid over-use of the verb “to be” by using some of the following verbs:  conveys, presents, views, illustrates, asserts, posits, connects, portrays, contrasts, emphasizes, juxtaposes, juggles, suggests, implies, shows, addresses, stresses, mirrors, evokes, completes, enables, accentuates, expresses.

– The title is an important set-piece of the poem.  It deserves consideration.

– Look up the meaning of unfamiliar words or allusions. Be sensitive to word connotations.

  • Follow MLA format and include a Works Cited page just for the poem itself.
  • In the explication itself, do not tell why you enjoyed the poem or include any kind of first-person response.

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