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 Hardy show that the past is as important as the present in the poem Neutral Tones?


  • Overview: it’s a first-person poem set in the speaker’s present, but about an incident in the past.
  • The past: the majority of the poem focuses on the past, with the speaker's feelings displayed towards their ex-partner (directly and indirectly).
  • The present: the last stanza represents a turning point. The tone is subtly different.
  • Language: generally neutral in tone but with gradual hints towards the end of loss and regret.
  • Conclusion: the past affects the present and a person's personal history is not something that can be escaped.

Some other essay questions to think about:

  • In the poem Neutral Tones, how convinced are you that the speaker is 'neutral' in their feelings?
  • Compare and contrast how Thomas Hardy in Neutral Tones and Lord Byron in She Walks in Beauty present a moment in the speaker’s life.