Essay 35 |

For Essay 1, write an explication of one of the assigned poems.

Choose to write about only one of the following:

  • “The Fish”
  • “A Blessing”
  • “My Papa’s Waltz”
  • “Lady Lazarus”
  • “The Blue Bowl”
  • “Most Like an Arch This Marriage”

Unit 1 will cover, in detail, how to write an explication essay. In brief, “in an explication essay, you examine a work in much detail. Line by line, stanza by stanza…you explain each part as fully as you can and show how the author’s techniques produce your response. An explication is essentially a demonstration of your thorough understanding of a work” (Literature: The Human Experience 47).

For this particular essay, you will want to focus on the poetic techniques of diction, tone, image, and/or figurative language, which we will also cover in this unit.

Your essay should be between 500 and 750 words and adhere to MLA formatting. It needs to quote directly from your chosen text for support, but it should not use any secondary research.

Remember that the explication essay should not just summarize the poem.

It needs to look at the different elements of poetry used and offer a detailed explanation of the poem that also addresses the poem’s overall effect and meaning.

The Fish

Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 – 1979

I caught a tremendous fishand held him beside the boathalf out of water, with my hookfast in a corner of his mouth.He didn’t fight.He hadn’t fought at all.He hung a grunting weight,battered and venerableand homely. Here and therehis brown skin hung in stripslike ancient wallpaper,and its pattern of darker brownwas like wallpaper:shapes like full-blown rosesstained and lost through age.He was speckled with barnacles,fine rosettes of lime,and infestedwith tiny white sea-lice,and underneath two or threerags of green weed hung down.While his gills were breathing inthe terrible oxygen—the frightening gills,fresh and crisp with blood,that can cut so badly—I thought of the coarse white fleshpacked in like feathers,the big bones and the little bones,the dramatic reds and blacksof his shiny entrails,and the pink swim-bladderlike a big peony.I looked into his eyeswhich were far larger than minebut shallower, and yellowed,the irises backed and packedwith tarnished tinfoilseen through the lensesof old scratched isinglass.They shifted a little, but notto return my stare.—It was more like the tippingof an object toward the light.I admired his sullen face,the mechanism of his jaw,and then I sawthat from his lower lip—if you could call it a lip—grim, wet, and weaponlike,hung five old pieces of fish-line,or four and a wire leaderwith the swivel still attached,with all their five big hooksgrown firmly in his mouth.A green line, frayed at the endwhere he broke it, two heavier lines,and a fine black threadstill crimped from the strain and snapwhen it broke and he got away.Like medals with their ribbonsfrayed and wavering,a five-haired beard of wisdomtrailing from his aching jaw.I stared and staredand victory filled upthe little rented boat,from the pool of bilgewhere oil had spread a rainbowaround the rusted engineto the bailer rusted orange,the sun-cracked thwarts,the oarlocks on their strings,the gunnels—until everythingwas rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!And I let the fish go. 

A Blessing

James Wright, 1927 – 1980

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.And the eyes of those two Indian poniesDarken with kindness.They have come gladly out of the willowsTo welcome my friend and me.We step over the barbed wire into the pastureWhere they have been grazing all day, alone.They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happinessThat we have come.They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.There is no loneliness like theirs.At home once more,They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,For she has walked over to meAnd nuzzled my left hand.She is black and white,Her mane falls wild on her forehead,And the light breeze moves me to caress her long earThat is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.Suddenly I realizeThat if I stepped out of my body I would breakInto blossom.

My Papa’s Waltz

Related Poem Content Details


The whiskey on your breath   

Could make a small boy dizzy;   

But I hung on like death:   

Such waltzing was not easy. 

We romped until the pans   

Slid from the kitchen shelf;   

My mother’s countenance   

Could not unfrown itself. 

The hand that held my wrist   

Was battered on one knuckle;   

At every step you missed 

My right ear scraped a buckle. 

You beat time on my head   

With a palm caked hard by dirt,   

Then waltzed me off to bed   

Still clinging to your shirt.

Lady Lazarus

Sylvia Plath, 1932 – 1963

I have done it again.One year in every tenI manage it—A sort of walking miracle, my skinBright as a Nazi lampshade,My right footA paperweight,My face a featureless, fineJew linen.Peel off the napkinO my enemy.Do I terrify?—The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?The sour breathWill vanish in a day.Soon, soon the fleshThe grave cave ate will beAt home on meAnd I a smiling woman.I am only thirty.And like the cat I have nine times to die.This is Number Three.What a trashTo annihilate each decade.What a million filaments.The peanut-crunching crowdShoves in to seeThem unwrap me hand and foot—The big strip tease.Gentlemen, ladiesThese are my handsMy knees.I may be skin and bone,Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.The first time it happened I was ten.It was an accident.The second time I meantTo last it out and not come back at all.I rocked shutAs a seashell.They had to call and callAnd pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.DyingIs an art, like everything else.I do it exceptionally well.I do it so it feels like hell.I do it so it feels real.I guess you could say I’ve a call.It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.It’s the theatricalComeback in broad dayTo the same place, the same face, the same bruteAmused shout:‘A miracle!’That knocks me out.There is a chargeFor the eyeing of my scars, there is a chargeFor the hearing of my heart—It really goes.And there is a charge, a very large chargeFor a word or a touchOr a bit of bloodOr a piece of my hair or my clothes.So, so, Herr Doktor.So, Herr Enemy.I am your opus,I am your valuable,The pure gold babyThat melts to a shriek.I turn and burn.Do not think I underestimate your great concern.Ash, ash—You poke and stir.Flesh, bone, there is nothing there–A cake of soap, A wedding ring,A gold filling.Herr God, Herr LuciferBewareBeware.Out of the ashI rise with my red hairAnd I eat men like air.

23-29 October 1962

The Blue Bowl

Related Poem Content Details


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Like primitives we buried the cat

with his bowl. Bare-handed

we scraped sand and gravel

back into the hole. It fell with a hiss

and thud on his side,

on his long red fur, the white feathers

that grew between his toes, and his

long, not to say aquiline, nose.

We stood and brushed each other off.

There are sorrows much keener than these.

Silent the rest of the day, we worked,

ate, stared, and slept. It stormed

all night; now it clears, and a robin

burbles from a dripping bush

like the neighbor who means well

but always says the wrong thing.

Most Like an Arch This Marriage

Related Poem Content Details


Most like an arch—an entrance which upholds 

and shores the stone-crush up the air like lace. 

Mass made idea, and idea held in place. 

A lock in time. Inside half-heaven unfolds. 

Most like an arch—two weaknesses that lean 

into a strength. Two fallings become firm. 

Two joined abeyances become a term 

naming the fact that teaches fact to mean. 

Not quite that? Not much less. World as it is, 

what’s strong and separate falters. All I do 

at piling stone on stone apart from you 

is roofless around nothing. Till we kiss 

I am no more than upright and unset. 

It is by falling in and in we make 

the all-bearing point, for one another’s sake, 

in faultless failing, raised by our own weight. 

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