Being asked to compare two poems can be daunting.
It needn’t be.
The mental processes a critical reader will need to employ are essentially the same, whether you’re being asked to compare two poems by the same poet or two (or more) poems by different poets from different centuries.
We need to have thought about:
- how poets work
- how poems are constructed
- how and why language choices are made
We could start that process at the very basic question of why people do write poems. Why go to all the trouble? Why not write ideas down always in prose? You may know that (apart from religious texts, legal texts, texts which record histories and economic documents) many of the early texts in our language – literary texts – tend to be poetry, rather than prose.
Why would that be, do you think? What advantages are there to getting ideas down in poetic form? These are questions any student of literature may wish to spend some time mulling over.
With those questions placed gently at the back of our minds, we’ll look at some of the key decisions poets make as they write poems.
These questions are likely to include:
- Choice of metre
- Choice of form
- Choice of stanza structure
- To rhyme or not to rhyme
- Type of language
- Whether to use imagery/Type of imagery to use
We’ll now look at how to structure an answer to an example question.
Suppose we’ve been asked to compare the ways in which Sujata Bhatt and Niyi Osundare explore the connections between past and present in their poetry (an unlikely question, as we’re far more likely to be presented with two texts, or fragments of text for comparison).
How might we go about making such a comparison? Using the rough guide above, we’ll want to consider the choices each poet has made and base our answers on the similarities and differences of those poetic decisions.
That of course is only the beginning. The most important thing is in understanding and evaluating how those decisions make a particular poem work (or not) i.e what impact those decisions have on the reader. What follows is merely a structure, with the grist, as it were, left out.
“The two poets use very different methods of exploring connections between past and present, but there are also similarities.
Their use of rhythm, for example, is quite different/quite similar. In the poem Search for My Tongue], Sujatta Bhatt uses a rhythm which uses half-rhymes (other and together; out and rot), whereas in Not My Business], Niyi Osundare uses a chorus (repeating the section about yams) to help establish a rhythm.
They gain different effects, the former effect being to gain the reader’s attention, and focus it on the selfish/ apathetic personality of the character in the poem, and the latter being [DEFINE IT].
On the other hand, their use of images can be strikingly different/very similar in the way that the first poet [DOES THIS] whereas the other poet [DOES THAT]
The uses of structure by both poets shows many interesting areas of similarity and difference. Whereas the first poet [best to name the poet, using the surname only] uses [THIS KIND OF] structure to [FOCUS OUR ATTENTION ON WHAT IS ESSENTIAL/MOST MOVING IN THE POEM], the second poet uses [A VERY DIFFERENT APPROACH TO STRUCTURING POEMS] because s/he does not wish to create [THAT KIND OF EFFECT]”