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 William Blake make his message clear in A Poison Tree?


  • Overview: poem has a moral message around the consequences of anger not being dealt with.
  • First-person narrative: examining a basic human emotion which can be felt by anyone.
  • Structure and language: quatrains, rhythm and rhyme scheme emphasises simplicity, use of extended metaphor of tree, simple vocabulary.
  • Reader's reactions: different views, what message might be taken from reading the poem?
  • Conclusion: there is a definite message but open to different interpretations, clarity achieved through simplicity and directness.

Some other essay questions to think about:

  • What does William Blake have to say about human nature in A Poison Tree?
  • Blake uses A Poison Tree to set out a moral lesson for his readers. Compare his approach to that used by Mary Lamb in the poem Envy.

More about planning an essay.