Questions for Comparing Two Poems
ESSAY 2: POETRY
In this assignment you must choose a single poem from the textbook, but it does not have to be one we read for class. You should focus on a single word or phrase (such as “hidden meaning”) and explore its function in the poem. This will require you to focus tightly on the text rather than to wander into generalities. It will encourage you to produce a truly coherent, idea-focused essay that analyzes the poem as a whole rather than a kind of stanza-by-stanza “exposition”. You will be
surprised by how much you can say about a single word or phrase. Focus not on a word (or phrase) that is the explicit focus of a particular poem but on a word (or phrase) that might at first seem unimportant to the poem.
Here are some questions that should help you begin to brainstorm for your essay:
1. What poem do I want to choose and why? 2. What word or phrase really appeals to me, that I want to learn more about? Is it a primarily explicit word that is a clear focus of the poem (such as “ruined” in “The Ruined Maid”) or is it less obvious (such as “landscape” in Hopkins’s “Pied Beauty”)? I want it to be less obvious. 3. What role or function does this word (or phrase) play in the poem? 4. Why is it important to understanding the possible meanings in the poem? To extending readers’
understanding of the poem? 5. Does it play on other words in the poem? Does its meaning, sound, shape, or connotation connect with other words or phrases in the poem, with the title? 6. Is its position in the poem significant? What is its relationship to the structure of the poem? 7. What would the poem be like without this word? How, then, does the word impact the poem’s
received meanings? HELPFUL HINTS:
• Answer the questions on pg. 487 in the Norton textbook, which are located in the box
labeled, “Questions for Comparing Two Poems” as a prewriting (brainstorming)
exercise. Having these answers written down will help provide material for your essay.
• Look through the literature databases to find out what scholars have said about poems you have chosen. Another resource is “Google Scholar.” • As you read about the poem, follow leads in the research as they interest you. If you have a question, look for the answer. • Finally, write, write, and write some more. Then rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite until you have all your thoughts on paper and organized them in a clear, coherent argument supported by the text of the poems and outside sources—though your primary support will come from the poems themselves in this instance.
You should write using the following formatting standards for this class (note: an outside source means a source outside of the textbook that is scholarly and addresses one of the poems specifically—you must cite the poems, but they do not count toward the source total).