Poem comparison (15%)

ENGL 262: British Literature form 1660 to 1900 (Winter 2015)

The poem comparsion is, like the in-tutorial essay, a close-reading exercise. However, the close-reading here serves a different purpose: to support your thesis about how the two poems differ (or how they resemble each other despite their differences).

The best comparisons will not try to cover everything: focus on one or very few aspects of the poems (e.g., how each author uses myth, imagery, conceits, poetic language, meter and form, etc). Avoid merely paraphrasing the two poems side by side. If you compare formal elements, try to be precise in your terminology. Be sure to quote the text as evidence to back up your claims, and that your comparison has a central thesis.

Start with this simple observation: the two poems have similar titles, so they share a common theme, central concern or issue, etc. Wordsworth and Shelley both have a poem called “Mutability,” both about the reality of flux in the world. Having established this similarity, consider how the two poems differ in their depiction of or attitude towards the same theme or idea. These differences could relate to poetic form (Wordsworth’s “Mutability” is a sonnet, Shelley’s isn’t—what might this mean given the focus on flux?); to precisely what the poet is saying about the central theme or idea (does Wordsworth feel the same as Shelley about flux?); to how each poet uses literary figures like metaphor, simile, synecdoche, oxymoron (Wordsworth favours contrast, whereas Shelley uses more comparisons—what might this say about how each poet thinks of flux?); etc.

Don’t merely list differences between the poems; explain how the differences relate to the two poems’ different goals and meanings. For example, if you compared Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” with Coleridge’s “The Nightingale,” the similarity is that both poets have chosen a specific bird, with an important role in Classical and English poetic tradition, as an opportunity to meditate on ideas and experiences that they find important or moving. The poems are, however, very different: if you were to compare these (note: this is not an option), you might argue that for Keats the nightingale offers a means of connecting the individual to the divine and otherworldly through a kind of trance, while for Coleridge the experience helps forge a connection with other humans. Where in the two poems do you find evidence of this individualism versus that communal spirit? Do the different poetic forms reflect these different priorities? How? Always back up your statements with quotations from the poems, and don’t assume your reader can see the connections you’re making: spell things out!

For some helpful online resources on writing about poetry, see the OWL (Purdue University) pages on writing about poetry: here and here . See also “Reading Poetry” at the end of each volume of BABL.

If in doubt, speak to your TA or to me.

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