Poetry explications made easy?

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still! 
What is explication? Let's take a quick look at the beginning of an "A" example:

This poem dramatizes the conflict between appearance and reality, communicating the idea
that even in the unnatural city Nature’s presence can be seen. From Westminster Bridge, the
speaker looks at London at sunrise, and he explains that all people should be struck by such a
beautiful scene.

Line 1 begins with the speaker expressing his wonder: “Earth has not anything
to show more fair” (Wordsworth). Although he stands on a bridge in the city, a place the speaker sees as apart from nature, he finds himself seeing a scene as beautiful as any natural wonder like a
waterfall or mountain. In the next lines, the speaker further highlights the wonder of the
scene saying someone would have to have a dull soul not to be moved by “A sight so touching
in its majesty” (Wordsworth 3). What is ironic here is that the city typically, especially early 19th century London, is associated with pollution and human affects of the industrial revolution

In lines 4 through 9, we see details of the City scene the speaker is wondering at. In line 4, he
uses the metaphor of clothes to describe the city’s beautiful appearance: “This City now doth,
like a garment, wear/ The beauty of the morning” (Wordsworth 4-5). He seems to describe the way
the special light of early dawn illuminates the city as if this light were a beautiful piece of
clothes covering the city scene. Lines 5 and 6 catalog what he is seeing: “silent, bare, /Ships,
towers, domes, theatres” (Wordsworth). …

The Next Paragraphs
The next paragraphs should continue to explicate the poem’s central meaning line by line, expanding the discussion of the meaning and conflict central to the poem in terms of the elements of poetry: words/diction, imagery, speaker and tone, figures of speech, form, symbolism and allusion. That is, the writer should explain the overall meaning of the poem by focusing on how the poet has used these elements of poetry to construct this meaning.

Each “section” of the poem (stanza or grouping of text) should be explicated in a separate paragraph in the essay. What constitutes a “section” is determined by you based upon meaning.

One analogy to describe how an Explication is organized is a thread. By expressing the overall meaning or theme, you are saying that the poem has this particular thread running through it. When you start your Explication, you grab the beginning of that thread, and then you follow the thread as you interpret the poem line by line, stanza by stanza, part by part, from beginning to end (Modified from Laurie Coleman and resources at The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

What is the overview of the poem you have chosen? How would you summarize it in one to two sentences?


  1. Max Tom:

    The theme, or thread, that I will be following as I explicate my poem will be on individualism and opportunity cost. Throughout the entirety of the poem, he discusses what could have been if he had taken one path instead of another. In the final stanza of the poem he mentions that the road he took was "the one less traveled by" (18), implying that his decision was unconventional. As he claims his decision was a break from the norm, he offers insight into the importance he places on individuality and free will.

  2. The thread I'm going to follow in "In the Long Hall" is the thread of time.

  3. The thread that I will be focusing on during my poem explication is perseverance. Maya Angelou struggles throughout the poem with racism, hate and oppression from white men but despite these difficulties she rises above the negativity and manages to keep her head held high. Her ancestors were able to persevere during slavery and gain freedom for African Americans in the future, including the poet herself. Now she is able to get through her own struggles of race inequality.

  4. The central thread, theme, in my poem "My son, My Executioner" is the circle of life. The author's son is a metaphorical representation of death to the parents. As the child's parents place more care on it the stronger it becomes, but as a result the parents are becoming weaker. "Sweet death, small son, our instrument of immortality" (5-6). The infant will live long after their parents, hence carrying on their legacy. Life is short as the length of the poem suggests.

  5. Bernard Cabanilla,

    My poem is "Sins of the Father" by W.D. Ehrhart, I think one of the central themes of this poem is about bullying. Throughout this poem of mine we start the thread about his daughter being bullied and how it makes her feel. The thread continues and reveals to us that he was once a bully and get descriptions of how he bullied the kids and shows us why and the feelings he had doing it. The thread towards the end seems to be a reflection of how he is standing outside the door.

  6. The thread I will be following in my explication will be human nature. More specifically, how war, destruction, and violence are all a part of human nature. This is the theme I will be following because the entire poem is dark. The darkness really shines through with the lines: "children slain" and "corpses piled with hearts-a-burst".

  7. Thomas Rumfelt

    The thread I will be following in my explication will be human nature. More specifically, how war, destruction, and violence are all a part of human nature. This is the theme I will be following because the entire poem is dark. The darkness really shines through with the lines: "children slain" and "corpses piled with hearts-a-burst".

  8. The thread I will be focusing on my poem, "War is Kind", will be war and the ironic persona. The ironic voice and choice of words emphasize the brutality and grief war brings.

  9. Jake Owens

    The thread I will be following while explicating my poem is that human beings are confronted and defined by the choices that they make. To expand on that I will going into that fact that often times we can't see where are decisions go. Also the fact that we can't go back and take the other decision once we have made one.

  10. The thread I plan to be following is the satirical element of the poem "Sonnet" by Billy Collins because the author calls the poem a sonnet but proceeds to poke fun at the traditional forms of sonnets by poets such as Shakespeare and Petrarch.

  11. The thread I will follow as I explicate “A Hundred Years from Now” by David Shumate is how quickly civilization progresses. Throughout the whole poem he (David) talks about the future and keeps going to drastically exaggerated conclusions, but then shows us how they aren't that drastic after all.

    Samuel Aranovich

  12. I will explore the speakers patient striving to capture the image of his experience and the realizations his inability to do so reveal. Isa Dolan

  13. The thread I'm going to follow is: This poem is largely ironic because the poet mocks Petrarchan sonnets by explaining how they work by writing one himself. The message that the author is trying to get across to others is that they should just stop writing poetry and spend time with the people they love.

  14. The poem I want to explicate is "A Hundred Years from Now" by David Shumate. The theme of this poem is the imagine of the future.
    The thread I try to follow is interpret the poem line by line, and explain the words, and figure out the meaning of the particular words.
    Junping Feng

  15. Jack Vallee:

    The theme I will be following in my explication of "Tangled" is the intensity of emotions people feel in close human relationships like attachment, confusion, and empathy. The speaker in this poem feels that they are "twisted", "tied", and "tangled" with another person. However, the speaker feels so attached to them, and because it feels "so good", that they "refuse to leave".

  16. The thread I will be following is on perception. The Martian in this poem is writing a postcard home with descriptions of his observations of human nature. Simple objects such as books are described as "...mechanical birds with many wings" (1). These observations show that what we perceive as normal may be seen as something completely out of the ordinary to someone else.

  17. Mandy

    The thread that I'll be following is judgement and being unappreciated. Pastan shows us a woman who no matter how much she does for her family, they want more and don't appreciate how much she actually does. Instead of appreciating everything she does for her family they judge her performance, making her feel unappreciated.

    1. Also the unrealistic expectations and demands that are placed on women, esp wives and mothers.


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