What is a literary commentary? (with examples)

Alexander Pearson
What is a literary commentary? (with examples)

The literary commentary It is one that is made around a work of literature. This aims to analyze the work beyond the words that are observed with the naked eye. For example, you can write a comment about how the plot of a novel reveals the social situation of an era, or how the author's life is evidenced in text.

The commentary can be based on a single element of the literary work or the general features can be analyzed. The choice will depend on the person writing the comment.

Like any other written text, the comment must present:

- An introduction in which the thesis is specified (idea to be developed).

- A development in which the work is commented, analyzed and criticized.

- A conclusion in which the most important elements of the comment can be summarized and the thesis affirmed or refuted.

How to make a literary comment and what is its structure?

Before making a literary comment, it is essential to understand the work to be analyzed. For this, it is necessary to read carefully more than once, highlight the relevant ideas and the characteristics of the work that attract our attention..

Once this phase is finished, the specific topic to work on is decided and a text plan is made, which is a general sketch of the comment..


Literary comments consist of three parts: introduction, development and conclusion. In the introduction, the general data of the work to be analyzed must be presented: title, year of publication (if known) and author. In this part, a short biography of the author can be included, although it is not necessary.

At the end of the introduction, it should close with the thesis, which includes the specific topic to be analyzed. For example, if you want to make a comment about the language, you should point this out in the thesis.


Subsequently, development begins. Transitional phrases should be included between introduction and development, so that the text flows naturally.

In this part, citations of the work that support the thesis of the comment should be included; It should be noted that the quote is not enough but it must be explained. Our opinion can be included, as long as it is logically justified.


Finally, the text closes with the conclusion. This should not be a repetition of what was already said in the commentary, but should be a way of reinforcing the most important points of the text that we have written.

If the thesis has been proven correct in the comment, it will be reaffirmed through the conclusion. If the thesis has been proven to be wrong, then it will be disproved in the conclusion..

Example of literary comments

"When You're Old" by William Butler Yeats

When you're old and gray and sleepy

nod by the fire, take this book

and read it dreaming with the soft gaze

that they had your eyes, and with their deep shadows;

and how many your moments of joyful grace loved,

and your beauty, with false or sincere love,

but only one loved the pilgrim soul in you,

and loved the afflictions of your changing face;

and then leaning next to glowing bars,

whispers, somewhat saddened, how love left

to pass over the high mountains

and his face hid endless stars.


In the poem "When You Are Old" (1895) by William Butler Yeats, the central theme is love. This is evidenced through the use of language and literary images.

These two elements combine to create a work that represents the nostalgia and depression that a lost love generates.. (Thesis: language and literary images).


The poem begins by presenting the image of an old woman "old and gray, and sleepy", who sits near the fire remembering "the soft look" that her eyes once had..

This woman takes the book with Yeats's poem and reminisces about how beautiful she once was. This scene gives strength to the poem, because it sets the tone and the atmosphere that will reign in the rest of the work: old age, lost love and memories. (Inclusion of citations).

Likewise, Yeats uses a series of symbols to convey the message. One of the first symbols he uses is the fire in the fireplace.

Fire is bright and full of life but, in the end, it will burn out and end in ashes. The hidden meaning behind this is that nothing lasts forever. As with fire, the woman will also eventually disappear. (Development of the thesis).

The fact that the woman sadly whispers how the love left indicates that she rejected this love, so the fire can also represent the desire to revive this passion that has already ended..

Other symbols present in the poem are the high mountains and the stars in the sky. These two elements reaffirm the unattainable quality of the elderly woman's love..

This lady can hold a Yeats book and remember how it felt to love but her love object is no longer within her grasp. (Development of the thesis).

Language plays a very important role. The poem is written in the second person singular, which gives it a touch of intimacy and sadness as well, as if the narrating voice knew the consequences that this woman's decisions would entail and hoped that she would have acted differently.. (Development of the thesis)

The use of verbs in the imperative ("take this book and read it dreaming of the soft look that your eyes had") establishes a link between Yeats and the old lady, which lasts through the passage of time.. (Development of the thesis, inclusion of citations)


This poem by Yeats is a sample of how to integrate images and languages ​​to convey strong emotions in readers.

The use of suggestive figures (symbols) instead of more direct messages gives the work a cryptic quality that is pleasing. (Reaffirmation of the thesis)


  1. How to write a Literary Commentary. Retrieved on July 24, 2017, from wikihow.com
  2. Literary criticism. Retrieved on July 24, 2017, from theguardian.com
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  4. Literary criticism. Retrieved on July 24, 2017, from en.wikipedia.org
  5. Literary Analysisn Retrieved on July 24, 2017, from roanestate.edu
  6. The elements of literary analysis. Retrieved on July 24, 2017, from myweb.rollins.edu
  7. Elements of literary analysis. Retrieved on July 24, 2017, from canisius.edu.

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