Western Nevada Community Coll

Close reading is a method of observation and analysis. It consists of noticing something interesting, asking questions, and drawing conclusions. When we read closely, we connect different parts of the text to make an observation about how the text is working as a whole.

The three components of a successful close reading paper:

  1. Focus in: Introduce and define what aspects of the text you will be discussing. You can’t focus on everything. This is where you will use the formal concepts we’ve introduced in class (sonnet, anaphora, meter, etc.) to identify different parts of the text and define how they work. Do not give a plot summary of what the text “means.” You might, for example, focus on the “volta” of a sonnet.
  1. Break it down: Explain how the part(s) relate to the whole of the poem. If you want to claim that a contemporary sonnet revises the traditional sonnet form in interesting ways, you’ll have to first define what a sonnet is and then point out how the poem subverts and revises this form.
  1. Build it up: After you’ve explained how a text is working, you have to demonstrate why these observations matter. In other words, you have to take the parts you’ve just discussed and build them back into a whole to produce a new interpretation of the poem. Your goal is not to say what a poem means or what is it about (i.e., this poem wants to teach us about love). Instead, you will help the reader understand the poem from a different angle (i.e., this revision of the sonnet resists the traditional idea of the woman as an object of the male gaze, which I’ve demonstrated by how the volta is doing X and the rhyme scheme is doing Y). In other words, you’re looking at how a poem can generate new ideas and concepts that change how we think about the terms you’ve introduced.


  • 3-4 pages, double spaced
  • Focus on Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
  • Do not use external sources, as your goal is come up with your own reading of the poem.
  • Your thesis will be an interpretive claim that uses evidence from the text to tell the reader something not immediately obvious about the relation between the various elements of a given text with the larger aim of proving a coherent point about the text as a whole. Your thesis will appear at the end of your essay.
    • An interpretive thesis should be analytical rather than evaluative (i.e., this is how the poem is working vs. this poem was sad), and its claims should be about the text being discussed rather than about human nature, society, or history. We will discuss how to write a strong, interpretive thesis throughout the course.
  • You must include at least one formal concept to guide your interpretation and are welcome to draw on any thematic or historical discussions we’ve had in class.
    • A formal concept is not merely the “form” of the poem in terms of its genre (i.e. epic, ode, sonnet) but also its formal qualities or affordances that organize the poem (including but not limited to rhyme, metaphors, symbols, imagery, etc.)

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