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Locating Criticism of Individual Poems

Print Resources

James Russell Lowell James R. Lowell.
[between 1855 and 1865]

Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
Library of Congress.


There are four basic types of print resources you can consult to locate criticism of individual poems. First, you can review book-length analyses or collections of criticism of an author's poem(s). Many of these books are cataloged under the subject headings described in the previous section. Second, you can consult surveys of poetry criticism on multiple authors. Typically, these are multi-volume series that contain critical overviews or excerpts of criticism on oft-studied poems. Third, you can consult indexes of poetry criticism which will direct you to articles, book chapters, and other texts that include criticism of a poem. Finally, you can consult more general literary or humanities indexes that will direct you to criticism of poems. This section lists critical surveys, poetry indexes, and general indexes available at the Library that serve as good starting points for identifying poetry criticism.


Jason, Philip, K, ed. Critical Survey of Poetry. 2nd rev. ed. Pasadena, Calif.:      Salem Press, c2003. Call Number: PN1021 .C7 2003 Alc

An eight-volume survey of 698 poets from around the world. Volumes 1-7 include essays on poets no shorter than 2,000 words. The Analysis section of each essay typically reviews several of the poet's most important poems. References to all poems analyzed in the series appear in a Subject Index.

Poetry Criticism: Excerpts from Criticism of the Works of the most Significant and Widely Studied Poets of World Literature. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc, c1991-. Call Number: PN1010 .P499 Alc

An ongoing series (currently 60+ volumes) that serves as an introduction to the lives and works of major poets. The entry for each poet includes reprinted criticism of many of his or her most important poems. Entries conclude with a bibliography of Further Reading which may lead to additional criticism on a poet's work. The series includes a Cumulative Title Index and Cumulative Poet Index that facilitates locating criticism of individual poems.


British and American Poems

Alexander, Harriet Semmes, comp. American and British Poetry: A Guide to the Criticism. Athens, Ohio : Swallow      Press, c1984-<c1996>. Call Number: Z1231.P7 A44 1984 Ref Desk

A two-volume guide to criticism of American and British poetry. Coverage for volume one is 1928-1978, while volume two covers 1979-1990. The Note in volume one establishes the following limitations: "only criticism of poems a thousand lines or less has been included"; "only criticism or explanations of the entire work was considered, except in cases where little information was available on a given poem or the criticism was particularly noteworthy"; "no criticism of less than four sentences has been included"; "because books on specific poets are readily accessible through other bibliographic tools, they were not included in the sources."

Cline, Gloria Stark, and Jeffrey A. Baker. An Index to Criticisms of British and American Poetry. Metuchen, N.J.,      Scarecrow Press, 1973. Call Number: PR89 .C5 Ref Desk

Includes 2,862 criticisms of 1,510 poem by 285 poets from the earliest period of English language prosody to the early twentieth century. Most books and periodicals indexed were published between 1960 and 1970.

Donow, Herbert, S., comp. The Sonnet in England and America: A Bibliography of Criticism. Westport, Conn.:      Greenwood Press, 1982. Call Number: Z2014.S6 D66 1982 Alc

From the Introduction: "A bibliography of secondary materials, published prior to mid-1981, on the subject of the sonnet and the sonneteer." Coverage extends to poets in the British Isles and North American from 1530 to the end of the 19th century. If you are looking for criticism of a sonnet written before the 20th century, you may want to consult this resource.

Kuntz, Joseph M., and Nancy C. Martinez. Poetry Explication: A Checklist of Interpretation since 1925 of British and      American Poems Past and Present. 3rd ed. Boston: Hall, 1980. Call Number: Z2014.P7 K8 1980 Ref Desk

An index of poetry explications published from 1925-1977. The Checklist generally limits itself to poems 500 lines or less. Other limitations of coverage cited in its Introduction are: omitting "materials devoted exclusively to sources and circumstances of composition, to literary parallels, or to a minor part of a poem"; omitting "paraphrase and metrical analysis unless the authors related their analyses to the total effect of the poem"; and excluding "explications from books devoted to single authors" unless "reprints from those books have appared in collections of periodicals."

American Poems

Guide to American Poetry Explication. Boston, Mass.: G.K. Hall, c1989. Call Number: Z1231.P7 G85 1989 Ref Desk

A two-volume update to Poetry Explication: A Checklist of Interpretation for American poems. Coverage extends through 1987, with partial coverage of 1988. Unlike the Checklist, Guide to American Poetry Explication includes "explications found in books covering individual authors and works of more than five hundred lines." Volume one, Colonial and Nineteenth Century, includes explications of pre-twentieth century poets, while volume two, Modern and Contemporary, includes explications of twentieth-century poets.

British Poems

Martinez, Nancy C., and Joseph G.R. Martinez. Guide to British Poetry Explication. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1991-c1995.      Call Number: Z2014.P7 M34 1991 Ref Desk

A four-volume series that updates Poetry Explication: A Checklist of Interpretation for British poems. According to the Preface, "unlike the [Checklist], however, the Guides include explications for poems of all lengths and interpretations published in books about single authors as well as collections surveying periods or several poets." Volume One, Old English-Medieval, includes reference to more than 4,500 explications, with coverage through 1989 and partial coverage for 1990. Volume two, Renaissance, includes reference to more than 7,000 explications, with coverage through 1990 and partial coverage for 1991. Volume three, Restoration-Romantic, includes more than 7,500 explications; with coverage through 1991 and partial coverage for 1992. Volume four, Victorian-Contemporary, includes references to more than 8,500 explications, with coverage through 1992 and partial coverage for 1993.


Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature. Cambridge: Bowes & Bowes, 1921- . Call Number: Z2011      .M69 Alc [Also available online]

From home page: ABELL "aims to list annually all scholarly articles, books and reviews concerning English language and literature and related topics published anywhere in the world, and in any language. (Education and pedagogical subjects, and the medical application of linguistics, are excluded.)"

Humanities Index. New York: Wilson, 1975- . [Also available online as Humanities Full Text]

An index approximately 400 humanities journals, including those in the fields of language and literature. Earlier coverage is provided by Social Sciences and Humanities Index [1966-1974] and International Index to Periodicals [1907-1965].

MLA International Bibliography of Books and Articles on the Modern Languages and Literatures. New York: MLA,      1922- . Call Number: Z7006 .M64 Alc [Also available online]

A detailed bibliography of journal articles, books and dissertations. Online database coverage extends back to 1963, and includes over 1.7 million citations from more than 4,400 journals and series, and 1,000 book publishers. MLAIB contains many citations to poetry criticism and full text of selected articles. Read more about MLAIB here.


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  March 16, 2022
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