The Value of Reading Poetry

expository essay question

Now that you have spent two weeks studying some of the best poetry available, here is your opportunity to demonstrate your understanding.


-Exam question: In a secular world that devalues those who make time to listen to themselves, in a society that tends to equate a need for solitude with laziness, inactivity, and nonproductiveness, many people have lost possession of what Emily Dickinson has called the “appetite for solitude.” As people grow older and their lives become steadily more hectic and fragmented, they find themselves caught up in a race against time with no time for themselves. Construct a (minimum) five-paragraph essay in which you argue for the value of reading poetry in such a time of ever-growing noise, frantic lives, and distractions.

Be sure to back up all claims with textual evidence. This first exam tests your ability to produce sound arguments on a substantive subject and to assess your own thinking. Stay focused and you will do well. Avoid the logical fallacies of hasty generalizations and unsupported claims.

Whenever you quote from a poem, include the line number in parentheses after the quoted passage. No research is required for this exam but if you do consult outside sources be sure to document everything you use. You may also pull ideas from the discussion posts and replies, but be sure to identify the source(s).

Above all, use this opportunity to show me how smart, how perceptive you are! You are all very fine students. Your discussion posts and replies are ample evidence of that. Now draw upon those strengths and present the best example of your writing.

Note: Cynthia Ozick’s essay, “The Din in the Head” (available online) is a helpful resource to use if you wish to consult it while developing your essay. What she says about novels could be readily applied to poems, too.