Writing a response

When writing an essay about your interpretation of, or response to, a poem, you should consider the points below.

Essay-writing tips

  • Write a plan first, noting what you'll include in each paragraph.
  • Begin with a brief overview of the poem.
  • Go on to mention themes, form, structure, rhythm and language.
  • Mention a range of views or perspectives.
  • Compare the poem to another one.
  • Mention any relevant details about the context of the poem.
  • Conclude with a firm judgement about the poem.
  • Support all you say with details or quotes from the poem.

Key words

A good approach to begin with is to highlight any key words which stand out for you. Make sure you use these key words in your essay.

Example question

How does Owen present the horrors of war in the poem Exposure?


  • Overview: two different aspects – the war itself and the conditions they are trying to survive in, first-person perspective based on direct experience.
  • The fighting: noise of battle, the endless waiting for something to happen, use of alliteration.
  • The weather: weather is a central theme, the freezing conditions are potentially more dangerous than the fighting and the use of long vowel sounds (assonance) echoes the brutal force of the weather.
  • Sense of despair: inevitable feelings that death will be the result; use of half rhyme is unsettling.
  • Language: Owen uses emotive language to draw the reader in and make them part of the experience. He wants the reader to be angry about what is happening. A personal poem demanding a personal response.

Some other essay questions to think about:

  • How does Wilfred Owen make Exposure a highly personal poem?
  • Compare how both Wilfred Owen and one other writer use poetry to comment on the effects of war.

More about planning an essay.