ENGLISH 91--PAPER 2

POETRY ANALYSIS

Length: 5-7 typed pages

For this essay you must analyze a poem or a theme or critical problem that you find in one or more poems. In Thinking and Writing About Literature, Michael Meyer contrasts explication and analysis, noting that

analysis . . . usually examines only a single element--such as plot, character, point of view, symbol, tone, or irony--and relates it to the entire work. An analytic topic separates the work into parts and focuses on a specific one . . . . The specific element must be related to the work as a whole or it will appear irrelevant. (23-24)

One strategy you may want to consider in this paper is comparative analysis (see Meyer, pages 33-35), which involves analyzing relevant similarities and differences in two or more poems. By comparing two or more poems in terms of theme, symbols, poetic form, setting, etc., you can often reveal features of the poems that may otherwise have remained inaccessible. You should begin, therefore, by looking through the Norton Anthology to find poems that seem strikingly similar or strikingly different to you in some way--for example, two or three poems that explore the nature of marriage, war, religion, racial relations, and so on; a group of poems that share important structural or formal characteristics (i.e., two or more English sonnets); or any other grouping that seems interesting to you for an identifiable reason. You may choose to compare two works by the same author.

Begin by trying to find common denominators between the poems--characterizations, settings, plots, etc.--that will give you topics to focus on as you compare. As always, you should avoid simply paraphrasing the poems you are comparing. After you've decided which elements of the poems you will focus on and compare, you must gather evidence (quotations and analyses of specific elements in each poem) to support your thesis. Decide how you want to organize your comparative analysis--would a part-by-part or a whole-by-whole analysis work best?

Work on crafting a coherent essay that begins with a clear introduction to the works you will compare, followed by a thesis statement or "promise to the reader" that lets the reader know what the point of this comparison will be. In the body of your paper, strive to give equal attention to each of the poems; avoid focusing on one to the exclusion of the other(s). Conclude your paper gracefully by tying your comparison together for the reader, so that the reader knows what to make of the juxtaposition of the poems.

SUGGESTED TOPICS--

--Select two or three poems by Emily Dickinson dealing with any theme (death, God, nature, e.g.). You may find it easier to select poems that differ from each other in their approaches to this theme.

--Select two or more war poems. How do these poems compare in their handling of themes such as patriotism, dying for one's country, and so on? Do they differ formally in any significant ways? If so, do you find significance in such formal differences?

--Select two or more carpe diem poems and discuss similarities and differences in the ways in which they handle persuasion, time, death, etc.

--Select two or three poems by one writer, such as Wilfred Owen, that date from different time periods in the writer's life. What differences and/or similarities do you note in the theme, focus, diction, and form of these poems? To what factors should we attribute those differences?

--Select a longer poem (e.g., "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed," for example) and examine the workings of one particular element (e.g. symbolism) or the ways the poem works within a genre or type of poetry (e.g., the elegy).