How to Write a Comparison Between Two Poems
Writing a comparison between two poems needn't be overly difficult if you break it down into segments beforehand. Technically speaking, to compare two poems means to find the similarities between them, but it could also mean to discuss in detail any insightful similarity or difference. Before drafting the essay, plan it out by selecting targeted points of comparison such as structure, theme and imagery and then compiling the evidence from both poems.
One way to compare two poems is by examining their similar structures and explaining how the structure relates to the poems' meaning or the time period in which they were written. For example, Harryette Mullen's "Dim Lady" is a twenty-first century satire on William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 130." Whereas Shakespeare sticks closely to the traditional English sonnet structure of fourteen lines, iambic pentameter and an ABAB rhyme scheme, Mullen experiments with the structure playfully, to humorous effect, as she gives a modern take on the sentiments of the original poem.
Looking critically at similar examples of imagery, such as birds, can be another way to compare two poems. In John Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale," the speaker calls to a bird to fly "Away! Away! for I will fly to thee, / ...on the viewless wings of Poesy." This casts the nightingale in the role of a muse or other inspirational being. In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," on the other hand, the titular bird mysteriously appears one night to torment the speaker with memories of his dead love Lenore. In this example, you can compare how the birds are portrayed and the emotions they are intended to invoke, finding both similarities and differences between the two.
Comparing instances of figurative language, such as metaphor, simile, personification, metonymy and synecdoche, is yet another option. British poet John Keats and American poet Emily Dickinson, for example, personify the seasons in "Ode to Autumn" and "Apparently with no surprise." In the former, Keats writes that autumn can be seen "sitting careless on a granary floor," whereas in the latter, Dickinson refers to wintry frost as a "blonde Assassin" that "beheads [a flower] at its play." The poets' use of personification makes both autumn and winter seem to exhibit willful consciousness.
One of the most frequently used methods is to compare two poems' common themes. Theme, of course, is more than just a simple topic. It is what the poet is saying about a topic. For example, Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz" and Mark Irwin's "My Father's Hat" both seem to suggest that fathers impact their children's lives in unexpected ways, without fully realizing it. In both poems, the young speakers reflect back on everyday incidences involving their fathers that made a lasting impression on them.
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