Comparing and Contrasting Two Poems by the Same Author

Comparing and Contrasting Two Poems by the Same Author

As Mary Oliver writes in A Poetry Handbook, “A poem requires a design—a sense of orderliness… Even if the poem is a description of unalleviated chaos, it is a gathering of words and phrases and patterns that have been considered, weighed, and selected” (58). This assignment asks you to analyze the specific choices a poet makes in the design of his of her poems which impact the reader’s experience of the content and meaning of the work.

Goals: Our third essay directs further study toward the ways that an author uses formal elements to construct—and convey meaning within—his or her writing. We’ll practice the comparison and contrast method of organization and work on tightening your essays by looking at the need for a balance between having a strong claim (thesis) and offering strong evidence. We’ll also continue to do exploratory writing using the toolbox of techniques like “Notice and Focus” as suggested in Writing Analytically.

Reading: You’ll be writing about two poems by the same poet: choose one set of poems linked in the Essay 3 folder in Course Material.

Please also read the following sections in Writing Analytically: the selection about “Comparison/Contrast” (156-158) as well as the “Guidelines” on pages 159-160 and the sample assignment #2 on pages 160-161 in Chapter 7, and all of Chapter 12 on “Recognizing and Fixing Weak Thesis Statements” (255-265).

In addition, please read the handouts on analyzing poetry and comparing and contrasting linked in the Essay 3 folder.:

Folder Essay:
Poems to Analyze
Please read all 3 sets of poems below. You will chose 1 set of poems (2 poems by the same poet) to analyze for your Essay 3.

1.Cornelius Eady, "Money Won’t Change It" ( and "A Small Moment" (

2.Robert Francis, "Part for the Whole"( ) and "Statement" (be sure to scroll down–the first poem on this page is not by Francis) or (!/20583007)

3.Jane Kenyon, "Christmas Away from Home"( ) and "The Suitor"(




Assignment: Analyze the set of two poems by one of the three poets linked in the Essay 3 folder by comparing and contrasting the poems in order to make an overall claim in which you point out the significance of reading these two poems together in terms of gaining a larger understanding about the particular poet’s work. There are two main kinds of ideas to think about in coming up with your thesis…

• Consider how the two poems are complementary. Does reading the two poems together give the reader a fuller view of a theme that seems to be important in the poet’s work? Do both poems use specific elements of poetry in a way that’s important for us to study, and why is this similarity important?

• Consider how the poems reveal difference or variety in terms of the thematic content or formal/technical choices this poet utilizes. Why do you think the poet makes different choices in the two poems, and why are they important?

As our textbook suggests, you can offer some especially complex analysis if you can combine these two kinds of ideas to find similarity within difference or difference within similarity. For example, maybe the two poems are about totally different subjects, but you find that the speaker in each poem sounds the same and that both poems use metaphor to clarify ideas for the reader. Or maybe you find that both poems explore a similar theme, but the poet emphasizes different formal elements in each poem to convey that theme.

To support your thesis, you’ll need to do a close reading of each poem so that you can analyze the relationship between form and content: your evidence will be based on the specific details/examples you can point to within the poem that back up your main idea. How do some of the formal elements—concrete imagery, figurative language, number and length of stanzas, line breaks, meter/rhythm, tone, voice/speaker, etc—reinforce the literal content of each poem and what you interpret to be each poem’s meaning? Where is the poet making similar choices in both poems (compare), and where is the poet making different choices in the two poems (contrast)? You’ll be answering these kinds of questions in your paper, giving your reader a thoughtful, well-reasoned perspective on the importance of reading these two poems together.

You don’t have to discuss all of the questions above; try to choose what seems most important to you. In discussing the two poems, you need to come up with a dominant idea; this means that it’s not enough to simply list ideas (similarities and differences) about the poems: you have to make a larger point. This “larger point” is expressed in your thesis statement, in which you’ll make a specific claim to show how the important details you notice regarding the form and content of both poems help to prove the larger point you’re making about what the reader can learn and/or better understand from comparing and contrasting these poems in the way(s) you explain in your paper.

Generating Ideas: It might help to begin with your own perspective as a reader. Reflect on your own responses as you read the poems. Try reading each of your two poems several times, and make notes with each reading: first, read to understand the literal events of each poem (what’s happening in the poem); second, read to interpret what you think each poem means (what ideas do you take from the poem, and what makes the poem intellectually and emotionally engaging for you?); third, read carefully to assess the use of formal elements in the poem and think about how and why the poet has made these specific formal choices in light of your ideas regarding the poem’s content and meaning. When you think about these poems together, what important similarities and differences do you notice?

Specs: Your essay should have 3 pages double-spaced pages in length. As usual, this assignment calls for a thesis-centered essay in which your original title signals your thesis, your introduction clearly leads into and states your thesis, and your topic sentences indicate how each of your body paragraphs will present a unified idea in support of your thesis. You’ll need to provide ample evidence from the text (at least 3 citations, but probably more) along with your own reasoning to create a coherent and logical flow of ideas. Please cite your sources according to MLA format, with a Works Cited list as well as in-text citations.

There are a couple of different options for structuring a comparison/contrast paper.

In-Text Citations (MLA) for Poems: Type quotations of three lines or less within the text and insert slashes between the lines to show the line breaks. Instead of citing page numbers, give the line numbers in parentheses, immediately after the closing quotation marks and before the closing punctuation of your sentence. It is customary to say “line” or “lines” before the line number(s) so that the reader knows these are not page numbers. Example:

Langston Hughes asks a series of questions about the “dream deferred” (line 1) in “Harlem,” including: “Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?” (lines 2-3).

Quotations of four lines or more should appear as “block” quotes and be indented ten spaces from the rest of the text. No quotation marks are used for block quotes, and line numbers should be placed immediately following the closing punctuation of the last line in the quote. Example:

In “Theme for English B,” Hughes takes the reader from the speaker’s school to his home:

The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator. (lines 11-14)

A Note on Poetry: Even in a poem which seems to be based on events in a poet’s life—a poem in which the “I” of the first-person speaker (or voice) in the poem might easily be equated with the “I” of the poet—the choice to use the “I” is a deliberate artistic choice like any other. The poet Joan Aleshire writes that the successful poem “allows for the expression” of highly personal content, but achieves some measure of artistic distance through the poet’s care to “[impose] a degree of objectivity on the material by formal—but not always traditional—devices.” In other words, just because a poet uses “I” in a poem doesn’t mean we can assume the poem is a true account about the poet’s own life.


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