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

What makes the poem What Were They Like? engaging and appealing to the reader?


  1. Overview: context of the war (the counterculture that developed) and the structure used to draw the reader in.
  2. Question and answer format: can be read in sequence or by looking at question then answer.
  3. Two speakers: questioner and responder. It's left to the reader to decide who they are and the tone they are speaking in.
  4. Poet's voice beneath the surface: anger and dismay at what is occurring.
  5. Conclusion: poem is ambiguous and catches the reader off guard. It finishes with a question and then a silence, giving the reader time to reflect.

Some other essay questions to think about:

  • How does Levertov make her poem and her message memorable?
  • Compare how both Denise Levertov and one other writer use poetry to comment on the effects of war.

More about planning an essay.