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 Simon Armitage present war in Remains? Compare with the presentation of war in one other poem.


  1. Introduction: scene of a modern war which is unnamed but recognisable as The Gulf War, Afghanistan or similar.
  2. Monologue: presented through the point of view of a soldier suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after the killing – first-person narrative.
  3. Imagery: brutal images of shooting – ‘rips’, ‘guts’. The reader shares the speaker's sense of disturbance.
  4. Structure: second half of poem is back at home. The soldier is haunted. Repeated lines emphasise repeated nightmares.
  5. Conclusion: war is pervasive – unnecessary death of innocent man and death of the soldier's innocence - ‘sent out’ to commit a crime he can never be rid of.

Some other essay questions to think about:

  • How does Simon Armitage present guilt in Remains?
  • How does Simon Armitage present conflict in Remains? Compare with a poem by another poet, such as The Destruction of Sennacherib by Lord Byron.

More about planning an essay.

Explore the study guide for 'The Destruction of Sennacherib'.