How to Compare and Contrast Two Poems
When you compare and contrast two poems, focus on similarities and differences between the themes, tone, imagery and language. You might compare and contrast two poems by the same author to show how the poet uses diverse methods to get her points across. Or, you might compare and contrast poems by different authors.
Focus on the Themes
Show how two poems have similar or different themes such as romantic love, death or courage. For example, you might compare and contrast themes in the epic poem "Beowulf" with those in "The Odyssey" by Homer. The two poems are similar because both contain themes of courage, honor, loyalty, hospitality and duty. However, Beowulf also contains themes about revenge and tribal allegiances, and "The Odyssey" contains themes about free will.
Examine the Mood and Tone
Two poems by the same author can have similar or different moods and tones. For example, you might compare and contrast two poems by the same author, such as "A Prayer in Spring" and "A Late Walk," by Robert Frost. The poems are similar because both focus on the wonders of nature and the changing seasons. However, "A Prayer in Spring" has a cheerful, delightful tone and a peaceful, grateful mood. Conversely, "A Late Walk" has a melancholy, somber tone and a depressing, pessimistic mood. Frost effectively differentiates the beauty of spring in one with the barrenness of fall in the other.
Study Imagery in Both Poems
Poets often use imagery and symbolism to reveal important truths about man and nature. Compare and contrast the use of imagery and symbolism in one poem with another poem from the same era. For example, you might compare and contrast Emily Dickinson's poem "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" with Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Raven." The two poems are similar because they deal with themes of death and loss, and both poets use imagery to reveal truths about death. However, Dickinson uses a pleasant carriage ride with a gentlemanly driver, the sunset and a house as a final resting place to show the inevitable, yet understandable and acceptable, role death plays in human lives. Poe uses an ominous, haunting raven who only utters "nevermore" to represent the dark, unwelcoming finality of death.
Evaluate the Language, Style and Format
Examine the language, style and format of both poems to find similarities and differences. Look at the author's choice of words, the meter, rhythm and the length of each line or stanza. For example, some poets prefer one-syllable words and short lines, such as Dr. Seuss, and others, such as William Wordsworth, prefer multisyllable words and long lines or stanzas. Consult with your teacher to determine how technical she wants your comparisons and contrasts to be, such as whether she wants you to discuss iambic pentameter, stressed syllables and feet.
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -- The Writing Center: Comparing and Contrasting
- Santiago Canyon College: English 102 -- Essay #2 -- Writing About Poetry; Professor Maureen Roe
- The Odyssey; Homer
- Poem Hunter: A Prayer in Spring; Robert Frost
- Poem Hunter: A Late Walk; Robert Frost
- Poetry Foundation: Because I Could Not Stop for Death; Emily Dickinson
- Poetry Foundation: The Raven; Edgar Allan Poe
As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.