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 Andrew Waterhouse show that places can hold memories for people in Climbing My Grandfather?


  1. Introduction: small child’s perspective - grandfather is compared to a towering mountain in a small child’s landscape.
  2. Context: Waterhouse was a keen environmentalist - taught environmental studies and wrote walking guides (interests may have suggested poem’s subject of climbing a mountain).
  3. Memories: Poet uses up-close details to suggest theme of childhood memories - puzzling and intriguing for reader. Ambiguity over whether the grandfather prompts memories of the mountain or the mountain prompts memories of the grandfather.
  4. Structure: loose structure using enjambment, relaxed rhythm - suggests a mind wandering.
  5. Language: gives a sense of intimacy by using metaphors about places. Simile of ice emphasises sense of touch. Textures vividly convey places, eg ‘screed cheek’ and ‘soft white’ hair on ‘summit’.
  6. Different views: Waterhouse may view his grandfather as heroic (epic scale) or remote and hard to know.
  7. Conclusion: Waterhouse suggests the process of remembering is like exploring a place - physical details of the mountain, gradually giving glimpses of grandfather’s personality (‘warm’, ‘smiling’, ‘still firm shoulder’, ‘heat’). It’s as if the heroic, remote figure comes into focus. The speaker finally overcomes fears he cannot remember or feels closeness with his grandfather when he discovers his essence, ‘the pulse of his good heart’.

Some other essay questions to think about:

  • Compare the ways the poets show feelings towards another person in Climbing My Grandfather and Letters from Yorkshire
  • How does Waterhouse writing memorably explore a child’s view of the world in Climbing My Grandfather?
  • How does the poet powerfully convey strong feelings about people and the landscape in this poem?

Explore the study guide for 'Letters from Yorkshire'.

Read more about planning an essay.