How to Write Good Papers on Poetry? Why Form Matters?
Understanding poetry can at times be challenging enough on its own; when it comes to actually writing papers on poetry; the challenge can be that much greater. Although most students do not realize it, papers on poetry, while similar to other essays, are different in some very important respects, and you need to approach them with a different focus. It is not enough to merely explain what is happening on the surface of a poem, or even to delve into its themes. Form is a vital consideration, one you simply cannot afford to ignore.
After you have paraphrased the surface content of the poem and identified its major themes, as well as how they interact (see the essay on understanding poetry), you have a basic understanding or reading of the poem. This is obviously important, and you cannot afford to be without such an understanding when composing a good paper on poetry. The next step is to identify the general form the poem takes, which can be very regular and predictable, or seemingly random. Look first at the shape of the poem on the page to get started on your formal analysis: are the lines of about approximate length? Are there regular patterns already visible? Does the poem's shape actually resemble some real object (like a cross, or a heart)? This quick analysis will get you thinking in the right direction.
From here, you can take a more specific measure of the lines of the poem. Take the first stanza (a paragraph in poetry) and count out how many syllables are in each line. Often poets order their poems based on syllable numbers, and you can determine whether there is regular structure by counting these throughout a stanza, and then in other stanzas to see if the form is maintained. A very common line length is 10 syllables, and almost all of Shakespeare is structured in this way. If you notice a regular form, but see that some lines do not fit precisely, being slightly too long or too short, look more closely at those lines to see why. At times, this can be a meaningless occurrence, but often poets use this kind of variation to make some point. For example, if a poet uses 10 syllable lines throughout, but one line is two syllables longer, this was obviously no accident. This line has an increased importance, and it could be an example of form reflecting content. It the line talks about a long journey, for example, it would be appropriate for it to be longer than the other lines, to reflect the length of the journey. This relationship between form and content is one of the greatest keys to composing a good paper on poetry.
Another aspect of form you cannot ignore is rhyme. Read the poem aloud and mark any rhymes you encounter. These often form a regular pattern known as a rhyme scheme, which will be consistent between stanzas. Aside from making the poem sound good, the rhyming words are also united through their sound, and it is worthwhile to explore how these words are related to each other in the content of the poem as well. An even more telling rhyme trick is the missing rhyme, where you expect a rhyme based on the rest of the poem, but it is not there. This draws your attention to the missed rhyme, and you know that the section with the missing rhyme is important. By evaluating the form closely, and relating it to the content of the poem, you can create papers that not only explain, but also explore the poems you are considering, a difference that professors will always appreciate.