After studying this section you should be able to understand:
- what features to look for in each poem
- how to plan and write your response
As part of the GCSE English Literature course, one of the things you will need to do is to ‘explore relationships and comparisons between text, selecting and evaluating relevant material ’. One of the ways in which you might be asked to do this is to compare two poems.
When comparing poems you need to look for all the features that you look for when studying a single poem.
You need to look at the:
- content of the poem
- tone and mood of the poem
- form in which it is written and structured
- ways in which language is used
When writing your response, avoid writing an examination of one poem and then the other and comparing them in a final paragraph. Integrate your comments on the poems throughout.
However, you also need to compare these features in both poems.
You will need to look at each poem individually to plan your response, but when writing your response you need to integrate your ideas on both poems.
Here’s one way you could approach this task:
Planning your response
1. Read both poems through carefully and get an overall sense of what each poem is about and how the poets handle their topics.
2. Re-read poem ‘A’ and make brief notes either around the poem, if you are able, or on a separate sheet, noting key words, phrases, images etc. and your response to it. Do the same with poem ‘B’.
3. Note down some brief quotations from each poem that you will use to illustrate your ideas. You could underline or circle these if you can write on the copy of the poem.
4. Make two lists – one headed similarities and one headed differences and list the main points under each heading.
Writing the response
It is important that you avoid writing an essay on each poem and then try to join them together. The best responses are those that integrate the ideas in parallel throughout the essay.
Here’s one way you could approach this:
Introductory paragraph commenting on what each poem is about and capturing the ‘flavour’ of each.
Several paragraphs based on your detailed reading of the poems. It is a good idea to make a point about poem ‘A’ and then a point about poem ‘B’.
It can help you structure your ideas in a logical way, e.g. one paragraph could compare the way each uses imagery, while another paragraph could focus on structure etc.
A concluding paragraph, summing up the main similarities and differences, saying which you find more effective and why, if you are asked this.
Keep both poems at the centre of your focus and don’t be tempted to write all about one and then the other.
You will be asked to compare two or more poems in your exam. You will usually be given some of the poems which you must write about, and you might need to choose other poems to compare them with.
You could be asked to write about the presentation of themes, people or places and the importance of language.
Writing a good comparative essay
All essay questions expect you to comment on the areas covered in Writing about poetry. This means you must write about the use of language, the effect of language and form, and how it makes you feel.
A good comparative essay is like a multi-layered sandwich:
BREAD - A new point.
FILLING A - How one of your chosen poems illustrates this point.
FILLING B - How your other chosen poem illustrates this point.
BREAD - Your conclusion about this point.
This is what the examiners call cross-referencing [cross-referencing: A technique in essay writing that compares points from two or more texts to formulate part of an argument. These texts might hold similar views or opposing ones. ] - you talk about both poems all the way through your answer.
What the examiner will look for
When marking your essay, the examiner will look to see whether you have appreciated and explored the:
- attitudes and tone
- structure and form
- techniques used by the poets
When answering an exam question, keep these five criteria in mind.
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