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 Byron engage the reader’s interest in the poem She Walks in Beauty?


  • Overview: highly personal response to the beauty of a person which is shared with reader. The poem has ‘movement’ and is not all about one thing.
  • Imagery: rich images around physical attractiveness - eg ‘Of cloudless climes and starry skies;’
  • Inner goodness: character as important as outward appearances - eg ‘Where thoughts serenely sweet express’. One matches the other.
  • Literary devices: sound patterns (alliteration and assonance), antithesis and enjambment help the reader to admire technical skill.
  • Conclusion: poem is confessional in tone; the speaker seems to invite the reader to join him in admiring the woman’s physical and inner beauty.

Some other essay questions to think about:

  • How far is the speaker in Byron’s She Walks in Beauty only concerned with the woman’s physical appearance?
  • Compare and contrast how Lord Byron in She Walks in Beauty and Thomas Hardy in Neutral Tones present a moment in the speaker’s life.

More on planning an essay.