French Literary Explication

What keeps us from anything but a secret appreciation of literary works, a feigned indifference, perhaps even a public disavowal of them? Are we uneasy about getting lost in the complexity of a masterpiece? Do we want to avoid sailing into uncharted waters? A fix for our anxieties may lie in the seemingly old fashion execution of a reasoned literary explication.

French "explication de texte" is an organized analytical description of a literary work as a text, that is a fixed document. It is generally composed of a series of related observations. These may concern the descriptive, narrational, episodic, contextual, prosodic, historical, lexical, semantic, phonetic, structural, stylistic, tonal, rhythmical, or other aspects of the text. They may focus on literary genre, kind of literary or rhetorical image, frequency of structure or word, the delineation between form and content, the identification of narrators, anticipated or embedded readers, what is implicit in an utterance. To a certain extent, by recording these observations, an explicator allows the work to speak for itself.  We will begin with poetry, and progress later to film.

Begin by noting all of your observations on a poem or several lines of one, no matter how minor.

What kinds of things might you observe?

title (its meaning and relation to the text)
date of the poem
verse form (the genre, that is ballad, sonnet, haiku, etc.)
poem's functional type (narrative, descriptive, dramatic expository, lyric)
poem's topic or theme (mention characters, things, events, etc.)
poetic voice (what position the writer takes) and discernable, implicit or imbedded readers
poem's tone (speaker's attitude toward topic or theme: optimistic, humorous, ironic, sarcastic, somber)
poem's diction (formal, informal, colloquial, slang, jargon)
poem's vocabulary (unusual, difficult, foreign words)
poem's length and structural divisions (mention strophes and refrains)
poem's thematic development; does it correspond with structural divisions?
versification (structure and scansion, rhyme scheme)
poem's auditory effects (rhythm, rhyme, repetition, alliteration, consonance, assonance, onomatopoeia)
poem's visual effects (same line-initial letter, acrostics, recognizable shape)
language (syntax, Imaged and symbolic language, figures of speech and rhetoric, sayings - metaphors, similes, analogies, personification)
possible reasons for odd vocabulary, rhythm and line length variations, word order
poem's allusions or references (historical, scientific, literary)
poem's punctuation and its significance
poem's development of theme, tone emotion, story
location of the lines or poem if it is part of a larger work
significance of the lines themselves
relationship of the lines to the larger work of which they are a part
particular characteristics of the author evident in the lines
particular characteristics of the period evident in the lines
particular techniques evident in the lines

These are suggestions for your notes.  Incorporate the ones that are appropriate and add to a reader's ability to grasp the significance of the poem. This means some will be left out of your final explication.

A key word for the explication is "organize", which is accomplished by grouping related observations into paragraphs. Remember, you don't have to create or prove a hypothesis, you don't have to confirm an esthetic system, you don't have to address theoretical problems or prove that the work is typical of its author, profoundly reflects the author's  era or associates.

Here is another presentation literary explication in French:

    Comment faire une explication de texte

yet another in English:

    Steps for Close Reading or Explication de texte:

and a French lexicon of very specific terminology:

    Lexique pour l'explication de texte