Poetry Explication and Comparison
Your essay will explicate and compare two poems; below are directions and guidelines.
I. Prewriting Work
After you choose your poems, you should do all the necessary prewriting work in advance of your analysis. For both poems, figure out. . .
1. Literal Meaning. Decide the literal meaning of both works. In other words, determine what is literally happening in the poems. Separate the figurative (metaphorical) stuff from the literal.
2. Clarification. Look up any words or allusions you are not familiar with, and make sure you have selected the correct definition and usage.
3. Context. Research the author’s biography and see if there is anything in the poet’s life or belief system that might illuminate your reading of the poem. Is there any useful information that you collected in your research?
4. Subject and Speaker. Figure out what the poem is about in general. This general idea of the poem comprises its subject. Next determine the speaker (not always the poet) and his or her relationship to the subject.
5. Devices. List the poem’s use of devices and techniques: tone, mood, simile, metaphor, personification, apostrophe, end-rhyme, in-rhyme, alliteration, assonance, etc.
6. Theme. You may arrive at the poem’s theme in several ways. Here is one: what is the speaker’s most specified attitude or feeling or argument about the subject? Here is another: what specifically is the poem saying about the subject? How can you tighten your connection between speaker and subject? This specificity suggests theme. For example, if a poem’s subject concerns a soldier’s return home from the front, the theme might include the alienation s/he feels in readjusting to civilian life. If a poem holds childhood innocence as its subject, the theme could compare that innocence to some other or opposite concept. Specify. Specify. Specify. Strive for plausible scenarios for themes, and do not rely on lazy, thoughtless explanations such as “The speaker shows himself as crazy…” Just because something seems unfamiliar to you at first, you should not dismiss it as alien, unknowable, or crazy.
7. Explication. Argue how the poetic devices demonstrate and reinforce theme. For example, William Carlos Williams’s theme in “Spring and All” of the earth renewing itself in springtime comes to life via his use of images and guttural word choices (including the alliterative c’s):
Now the grass, to-morrow
the stiff curl of wild-carrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
II. Thesis and Outline
Finishing the prewriting work for both poems, you are now ready to devise a thesis and outline for your essay. Your thesis must be argumentative, thematic, focused, and compare both poems. Before drafting your thesis, consider the elements that make the poems similar: tone, subject, theme, other devices, etc. For your outline, you may use a formal structure with Roman and Arabic numbering, or you may find a bubble or list helpful. Many students create provisional topic sentences for each body paragraph that they fill in with interpretative points and textual quotations.
Example Thesis: Pairing mysterious diction and simple imagery, “Quinnapoxet” and “Passing Through” reveal a critical change in the speaker’s awareness of himself and his loved ones.
Example Thesis: The images in these poems by Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams focus on rural spaces as forces of earthly renewal and wonder.
III. Introductory Paragraph
In composing your opening paragraph, be sure to include the authors’ names, the titles of the poems, some background information about the poets or the poems, and your thesis.
IV. Body Paragraphs
You have at least two ways to approach writing the body paragraphs. One, you can focus on one poem for the first body paragraph and then focus on the second poem for the next body paragraph, and so on. Eventually, you need to spend considerable time in a paragraph comparing the two pieces. Two, if you do not wish to alternate in your discussion of the two poems, you can compare them—along lines of tone, subject, theme, imagery, etc.—in each body paragraph.
Whatever your approach, you need to remember at all times the “three-ID monster:”
Identify, Illustrate, Interpret.
· Identify your claim (topic sentence).
· Illustrate with a quote.
· Interpret the quote.
Repeat in different words the most salient points of your introduction and body paragraphs. Restate your thesis in different words, and offer a fresh offing on the subject, some alternative point that adds depth and resonance to your argument. For instance, a writer, using the thesis above, might comment on how “Quinnapoxet” and “Passing Through” draw from Kunitz’s specific sense of place—New England—but also his sense of timelessness.
· three to four pages, typed,
· Times New Roman, 12 pt.
· MLA formatted with Works Cited
· include ALL prewriting work
· include ALL peer edit drafts
· all work placed inside a ring-less binder or folder
· Refer to stanzas of the poems, not their paragraphs.
· Refer to lines, not sentences.
· You should write, “The speaker states . . .” and not “The narrator states . . .”
· Identify poetic devices as such—images, similes, metaphors, etc. Don’t write “In this quote…”
· Introduce all quotes and include in parenthetical citation the line number: (lines 2-3), (2-3), (2), (3) (2, 3).
· Proofread your essay carefully for grammar, mechanics, and formatting. See your handbook and Grammar Checklist for guidance.