This is a writer’s explanation of a short theme, idea or issue.
Your reaction to a work of literature could be in the form of an expository essay, for example if you decide to simply explain your personal response to a work.
The expository essay can also be used to give a personal response to a world event, political debate, football game, work of art and so on. You want to get and, of course, keep your reader’s attention. This is the type of essay where you try to convince the reader to adopt your position on an issue or point of view.
In situating the poem, and on the basis of your preparation and plan, you should also formulate in a brief but open way what you think it is about, what its theme is, as a key or framework to your commentary.
For example, it may be an archetypal Romantic exploration of man and nature. A commentary should be concerned with the passage or poem as a whole, but it should also show the development through the passage or poem.
In general, in prose you need to pay particular attention to questions of narration: what is the narrative viewpoint and does it shift? How do images or repeated words relate to each other? But you may fruitfully look for repeated sound clusters – especially around the stressed vowel, rather than at the beginning of words – and try and see how these highlight and link key words (this is much more common than onomatopoeia).
Stanza organisation and rhyme scheme can help you to identify the compositional structure of the poem, and any change in these will be significant and is likely to accompany and highlight changes on other levels.What is the compositional movement through the passage or poem? When you refer to the passage or poem, this should be done clearly and succinctly by reference, for example, to first, second etc. Are there any other tropes – exaggeration, paradox etc.? This may relate to the meaning of the passage or the writer’s general style. This may relate to the meaning of the poem or the poet’s general style.As you write your commentary you should be looking to illuminate the theme or themes (or mood or emotion) that the passage or poem illustrates and explores. paragraphs or sentences (for prose), to first, second etc. You do not therefore need to quote large sections from the text. When looking at style in terms of lexis and syntax, you should consider what kinds of word are being used and their register. How does the choice of words relate to characterisation? If you are studying the texts in translation, it may be difficult to comment on aspects of style. Are there any other tropes – exaggeration, paradox etc. When dealing with poetry, you should also look at other formal aspects, such as rhyme or sound play, stanza organisation, rhythm and metre, enjambment and internal rhyme (see the separate handout for information on this).In this it can be helpful to say something about the mode of the poem and identify its genre or form if you can. This means that an appropriate structure for writing a commentary may be to follow this development.For example, is it rhetorical, contemplative or close to a song? To do so in an illuminating way will very likely involve paying attention to the compositional structure of the passage or poem: does it divide into sections and, if so, how?Choose the most important that support your argument (the pros) and the most important to refute (the cons) and focus on them. Choose the one that you find most effective for your argument.Do you find it better to “sell” your argument first and then present the counter arguments and refute them? As with an essay, you should prepare and plan your commentary.This means getting to grips with the passage or poem by underlining key words, making notes, highlighting connections, marking how it divides into sections.This may be of a short poem in its entirety or of a passage from a longer text.In this way a commentary repeats the kind of class work that does exactly this – going through a poem or looking at a particular passage in detail.