Comparing Two Poems: Essay Example

Poetry is a unique art form as it usually captures the feelings of a particular individual. Therefore, two poems with the same genre and similar themes can have substantial differences. On the other hand, verses that seem different can share striking resemblances. To compare and contrast two poems, this essay example will focus on the message they carry.

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is a poem written by Langston Hughes during the Harlem Renaissance. It was 1921, and the young Hughes was just adding his voice to the plight of the African Americans at the time. “We Wear the Mask” is a piece by the famous author and activist Laurence Dunbar. The lyrical poem was written twenty-five years before Hughes published “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” By comparing two poems, this essay example will reveal both their similarities and differences.

These two poems were written in the period between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. This period was characterized by deep emotions concerning the struggles of the African Americans. Each of these poems represents the poets’ feelings towards the struggles of the African Americans. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” chronicles the speaker’s historical journey from Africa to the West. The speaker refers to African Americans, their history, and their heritage.

The poem captures this rich heritage albeit in a nostalgic manner. On the other hand, “We Wear the Mask” is a poem by one of the first African American writers to be accorded a national accolade for his work. Dunbar explores the coping mechanisms of the African Americans during their struggles. Both poems address issues that happen in the same period.

Dunbar’s poem was published at the turn of the century shortly after slavery was outlawed. This period was expected to be a victorious time for African Americans and everyone assumed that they were happy. “We Wear the Mask” disputes this idea and presents an argument that happiness among the African American population was a façade.

According to Dunbar, deep inside, African Americans have ‘torn and bleeding hearts’. The message in this poem is not direct and it is in line with the situation in the ground. When this poem was written, the fight for equal rights among African Americans had not started in earnest. Instead, the struggle for equal rights was just bubbling under the surface.

Dunbar’s poem hints at this discontent by claiming that African Americans were just masking their feelings. Dunbar digs deeper into the issue by claiming that most of the population at the time was hiding behind religion to avoid confronting the issues of inequality. In addition, the speaker accuses the African American population of misleading the rest of the population about their actual feelings.

Langston Hughes’ poem has a more melancholic tone. Hughes wrote “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” twenty-five years after Dunbar’s poem was written. Hughes’ poem uses a different approach to address the African American issues of the time. His poem highlights the pride of origin that African Americans have.

The speaker in this poem speaks proudly about his rich history and heritage and how it is closely connected to some mighty rivers around the world. Unlike Dunbar, Hughes does not hide the message of his poem. This is mostly because there was no need for indirect messages after the Civil Rights Movement had already taken shape. Hughes took time out of the equal rights struggles of the African Americans to reflect on this population’s prolific heritage.

By doing this, the poet was alluding to the fact that the Civil Rights Movement was a small hurdle for the population that had come so far. The message in Hughes’ poem is structurally different from that in Dunbar’s poem. Hughes is reassuring African Americans of their supremacy and the need to hold on to their mighty heritage while Dunbar is indirectly urging African Americans to do something about their veiled unhappiness.

The mask that Dunbar talks about hides a prolific history and heritage about the African Americans. On the other hand, Hughes reiterates the need for African Americans to hold on to their rich heritage. Hughes’ poem is also meant to remind the world that African Americans have contributed towards major civilizations around the world. For instance, the speaker reminds the readers that African Americans were part of the civilization that brought the pyramids.

Hughes’ point is that African Americans thrived through various civilizations around the world and the Civil Rights Movement is just another hurdle. The rest of the population at the time viewed the African American population as the recently freed slaves who were supposed to show gratitude. However, most people failed to put into consideration the fact that African Americans’ history predated slavery.

Dunbar’s poem is also structured in a manner that addresses African Americans and the rest of the population. Dunbar sends a call to action to African Americans although his message is not direct. On the other hand, Dunbar’s poem informs the rest of the population that the happiness they see among the African American population is not real. While Hughes’ message is assertive and direct, Dunbar’s message is provocative and indirect.

One of the most striking similarities between these two poems is the fact that they use a central metaphor. Hughes’ poem uses the River as the main metaphor. In addition, he includes it in the poem’s title. The river is used to show the passage of time in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”. African Americans have come a long way and triumphed over several forms of adversity. However, just like rivers flow eternally, African Americans have kept on flowing.

The metaphor of the river is also used to show that the existence of African Americans will outlast many things. At one point in the poem, the speaker says that he has seen rivers change their appearance depending on the time. This signifies that a time will come when the outlook of African Americans will be favorable. Dunbar’s poem uses the mask as the main metaphor.

The poet also boldly introduces this metaphor in the poem’s first line. The mask refers to the façade that prevents people from seeing the discontent of the African American population. According to Dunbar, African Americans use masks to hide their actual feelings and avoid provoking those who oppress them. The mask is a strong metaphor that also lends itself to the poem’s title. Use of metaphors gives these two poems a valuable outlook and helps the poets pass their strong messages to their audience.

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “We Wear the Mask” are two poems that address the plight of the African Americans albeit from different perspectives. The wishes of the two poets materialized with the success of the Civil Rights Movement. Both poets reckon that the struggle of African Americans is an ongoing process.

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Poetry & Poets

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A Level Poetry Comparison Essay Example

A Level Poetry Comparison Essay Example


Writing a comparison essay between two poems can be an interesting task. It requires a student to be creative and think outside of the box. Although poetry comparison might seem overwhelming and daunting, once you understand the basics of comparing two poems, the task suddenly becomes much easier. This article aims to provide students with a comprehensive guide on how to write a poetry comparison essay, offering key tips and providing example essays for inspiration.

What is a Poetry Comparison Essay?

A poetry comparison essay is a type of essay in which the student is asked to compare two different poems of their own choosing, analyzing and critiquing each one. The poems should share some common theme or concept, yet still have many differences that the student should explore and compare. Generally, the student should draw upon their own knowledge and research to make comparisons between both poems.

Key Considerations

When writing a poem comparison essay, there are several key things to consider. Firstly, the student should think about the overarching theme or concept of the both poems, as this will most likely be an aspect they will need to focus on when comparing. Furthermore, the student should think about the structure of the poems, taking into account the layout, the rhyming patterns, and other literary elements such as alliteration and repetition. Additionally, use of language, imagery and symbolism should also be taken into account.

Comparing Language in Poems

A Level Poetry Comparison Essay Example

When comparing two poems, one of the key aspects that the student should consider is the language used within each one. Generally, they should try to notice any patterns of language and note these down, thinking about how the various elements of language such as metaphors, similes and personification add to the effect of the poem. Additionally, the use of dialogue, structure and sounds can be used to compare the two poems, and how these elements help to convey the theme or emotions.

Analyzing Imagery and Symbolism in Poems

When comparing two poems, students should also be looking closely at the imagery and symbolism that is used within the poems. Imagery refers to any kind of mental image, description or figure of speech that has a referential meaning—namely, it refers to something else in order to help convey the subject. For example, a poem might use imagery of a flower to symbolize growth, or the use of tools to symbolize hard work. Symbolism, on the other hand, is an object or image that stands for something that it doesn’t literally symbolize. It can be used to add an extra layer of meaning to a poem.

Key Comparisons in the Poems

When comparing two poems, it is important to look at their similarities and differences. Generally, the student should look at common themes and imagery, as well as similarities in style and structure. It is also important to note how each poet has used language, imagery and symbols differently to convey their messages and feelings. Additionally, the student should think about how the structure of verbal and nonverbal elements impacts the overall message of the poem.

Example of a Poetry Comparison Essay

When writing a poetry comparison essay, an example can be useful. Taking a look at the following example from a student’s A-Level English Literature essay: In this essay, I shall be comparing and contrasting two poems: “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost and “The Listeners” by Walter de la Mare. Firstly, I shall be exploring the theme of choices in both poems. In “The Road Not Taken”, Frost has created a poem about the power of decision making, whereas “The Listeners” offers a less optimistic view on the consequences of choices. Both poems use vivid imagery to convey their respective messages. For example, “The Road Not Taken” uses the image of two roads to symbolize the difficult choices we make in life, while “The Listeners” uses the image of an empty house to represent the loneliness and confusion of not knowing which direction to take. The use of structure is also important in these two poems. Frost has used rhyming couplets to explore the theme of choices, while de la Mare adopts a more open, free-verse style. Both poets also use a similar range of language throughout their poems, with words such as “forlorn” and “darkness” being used to create a sense of loneliness and uncertainty. Ultimately, both poems explore similar themes in inventive, yet different ways.

Applying the Analysis

A Level Poetry Comparison Essay Example

When writing a comparison essay between two poems, it is important to consider the key aspects discussed in the article, such as the theme, language, imagery and symbolism of each poem, as well as the structural elements. It is also important to apply the analysis to the essay, noting any relevant similarities or differences as you go. Additionally, the student should support their analysis with relevant evidence, such as quotes and examples, to ensure that the essay flows smoothly and that all aspects are covered.

Writing Style

When writing a comparison essay, it is important to ensure that the writing style is formal and direct. Generally, the student should not use overly complex sentences to ensure that the reader can understand the points that they are trying to make. Additionally, it is important to avoid the passive voice and use the active voice instead. This can help to ensure that the essay is succinct and that all points are clear and concise.

Explore Poems

When writing a poetry comparison essay, it is important for the student to take time to explore the chosen poems. Generally, the student should spend time looking at the different aspects of each poem in order to gain an understanding of the theme and ideas that the poet has tried to convey. Additionally, they can also look at reviews and interpretations of the poems in order to gain further insight into the meaning of both texts.

Bring in Outside Sources

When writing a comparative essay, it can be a good idea to bring in outside sources in order to provide a wider perspective on the chosen poems. Generally, this will involve looking for scholarly articles or reviews that have been written about the particular poems, and using these to provide further insight into the meaning and theme of the text. Additionally, the student should also look for any critical analysis that has been written in order to gain interesting perspectives from other experts in the field.

Organize Your Essay

A Level Poetry Comparison Essay Example

When organizing the essay, the student should ensure that the essay is well structured and organized. Generally, a good structure for the essay should include an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion. Additionally, the body of the essay should be divided up into two sections, one analyzing each poem individually, and one section comparing both poems. This can help to ensure that all relevant points are covered, and that the essay flows smoothly.

Proofreading and Editing

Finally, before submitting the essay, it is important to ensure that the student proofreads and edits the essay thoroughly. Generally, editing should involve re-reading the essay to check for any inconsistencies in the argument, as well as any spelling or grammar errors that may have been overlooked. Additionally, the student should also use a spellchecker and a grammar checker to ensure that the essay is perfect.

In conclusion, writing a poem comparison essay can be an interesting and challenging task for students. By understanding the key considerations discussed in this article and taking note of the example essay, students should be well on their way to writing a successful comparison essay. It is also important to take time to explore the chosen poems, bringing in outside sources to provide a wider perspective. Additionally, the student should ensure that the essay is well organized, and that they proofread and edit it thoroughly before submitting.

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Minnie Walters

Minnie Walters is a passionate writer and lover of poetry. She has a deep knowledge and appreciation for the work of famous poets such as William Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and many more. She hopes you will also fall in love with poetry!

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How to Write an Essay Comparing Poems

This is Revision World’s guide on how to write an essay or answer an exam question that asks you to compare poems within the poetry anthology you are studying.

Understanding the Task:

Identify the Key Components: Ensure you understand the task requirements, including the poems you're comparing, the themes, and the aspects you need to analyse (e.g., structure, language, tone).

Pre-Writing Stage:

Read and Annotate: Read the poems multiple times, annotating key themes, literary devices, and interesting observations.

Identify Similarities and Differences: Note down similarities and differences in themes, imagery, language, structure, and tone between the two poems.

Structuring Your Essay:


Introduce the poems and poets, providing context if necessary.

Present your thesis statement, outlining the main points of comparison.

Body Paragraphs:

Topic Sentences: Start each paragraph with a clear topic sentence that states the aspect of comparison.

Comparison: Analyse each poem separately, focusing on the chosen aspect (e.g., theme, structure). Then, compare and contrast the same aspect in both poems.

Use of Evidence: Provide evidence from the poems to support your analysis (quotations).

Analysis: Interpret the significance of the similarities and differences, considering their effects on the reader and the overall meaning of the poems.


Summarise your main points of comparison.

Reflect on the significance of the comparisons and their implications for the reader.

Offer insights into the broader themes or messages conveyed by the poems.

Writing Tips:

Be Specific: Avoid vague statements and ensure your comparisons are specific and well-supported by evidence.

Consider Poetic Devices: Analyse the poets' use of poetic devices (e.g., imagery, symbolism, metaphor) and how they contribute to the overall effect of the poems.

Focus on Key Themes: Choose a few key themes or aspects to compare rather than attempting to cover everything in the poems.

Maintain Coherence: Ensure your essay flows logically, with clear transitions between paragraphs and ideas.

Proofread: Carefully proofread your essay for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.

Example Statement:

"In 'Poem A' and 'Poem B,' both poets utilise imagery and symbolism to explore the theme of loss, but while 'Poem A' uses natural imagery to convey a sense of grief and acceptance, 'Poem B' employs religious symbolism to depict a more existential struggle with loss and faith."

Example Topic Sentences:

"In 'Poem A,' the poet employs vivid natural imagery to convey the speaker's emotional response to loss."

"Conversely, 'Poem B' utilises religious symbolism to explore the theme of loss in a more abstract and existential manner."

By following these steps and incorporating these tips, you can effectively write a well-structured and insightful essay comparing two poems in your GCSE English Literature exam.

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Writing About Literature

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Writing About Literature

Essay 1: Comparing Two Poems

Post your ideas for the first essay below. This is a good place to test thesis statements and topics and to discuss the finer details of the assignment.

Review the prompt and details for this assignment on Blackboard.

28 thoughts on “ Essay 1: Comparing Two Poems ”

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Thesis: In this essay, I will show how “Thirteen Ways to Look at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens and “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes both have themes relation to human emotions and analyze the execution presenting such themes.

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Kyla, this is a great start! Try and focus in on a specific emotion that you read in both of these poems. I’m immediately inclined to point out fear or perhaps love, but there are certainly other emotions described or implied in each poem even if they are not explicitly named.

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Thesis: “Ozymandias” and “My Last Duchess” are two poems that both describe works of art, a sculpture and a painting, respectively, both of which depict a deceased person. These artworks act as masks that hide the subjects’ real nature, as well as depicting the sum of their life’s work.

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Petvy, this is a good overview for your essay. Your thesis statement might want to argue that the dead figures depicted in each work of art are similar and/or different in important ways. For instance, Ozymandias seems to have had a hand in the commissioning of his statue and seems to have held a great deal of power while he was alive. But the Duchess had her portrait commissioned by her husband and was ultimately (we may presume) murdered on her husband’s orders. While she lived, she seemed not to have much power (according to my reading, but perhaps you can prove otherwise). Do these figures fare differently as works of art? Ozymandias’s broken statue seems a bit embarrassing and ironic. The painting of Duchess, however, is a subtler presence: do you think the Duke remains jealous or fearful of her even after her death?

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“Sonnet 73” and “Sonnet 116” are two different, yet very similar poems that use metaphors, imagery, and meter to portray the beauty and everlasting effect of love.

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Karyna, commenting on the mystical qualities of love in Shakespeare’s sonnets is a great starting point for this essay. But know that every poem uses metaphor, imagery, and meter. What you’ll need to show is how the Shakespearean sonnet form (fourteen lines divided into three quatrains and a final conceit expressed in the closing couplet), exemplified in the two sonnets you’ve chosen, works within certain formal constraints to explore what you call “the beauty and everlasting effect of love.” I don’t see a hopeful outlook on love (by which I think you mean romantic love within the confines of a marriage?) in Sonnet 73. That poem is more pensive and is concerned with “lov[ing] that well which thou must leave ere long.” In other words, enjoy the moment because this love is not going to last. This seems to be the antithesis to “the beauty and everlasting effect of love,” so if you keep with the theme you’ve chosen, Sonnet 73 should act as a sort of foil to Sonnet 116. If you’re going to talk about “metaphors, imagery, and meter,” you would do better to focus on elements like tone or mood, personification, or simile, as well as sonic qualities of the poem where you notice them, such as alliteration, assonance, and consonance, and repeated or closely related words. Always use adjectives to describe the tone, mood, imagery, meter, or any other literary device you’re scrutinizing. Using any of these terms without an accompanying adjective doesn’t tell your audience anything they won’t already know.

How do you start to do this? Reading each poem very closely! Start by breaking the poem into sections (quatrains and couplets) and then into lines and finally phrases or single words.

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The two poems I have selected for this Essay is Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost and It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free by William Wordsworth. The theme I am focusing on is nature and the influence it had on both characters in certain ways.

Tayyab, this is a good start. You’ll need to explicitly show what you mean by “nature” because it’s a broad term. You’ll also need to be more specific than to simply state that nature has an “influence… on both characters in certain ways.”

Here are some questions to get you started:

How, specifically, does Wordsworth’s speaker respond to the beauty and calmness and freedom of the evening by the seashore? Is the little girl part of “nature,” as you understand the term? How, specifically, does Frost’s speaker respond to the cold and the snow of the evening, to the woods, to his little horse, to the miles he still has to go before he can sleep? Does it matter that the speaker “thinks” he knows whose woods he stops by?

Do these speaker’s make similar resolutions? Do they have similar responses to their surroundings? What is important about the similarities or differences you see in these responses, and why?

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John Milton’s “On His Blindness” and Sir Phillip Sydney’s Sonnet 1 are both examples of poems that discuss an artist’s relationship to his work and his struggle to find inspiration and meaning in his work. In “On His Blindness”, the author finds it in a higher being while in Sonnet 1 he finds it in another person.

Ilya, I like the contrast you’re setting up between these two sonnets. Besides Milton’s overt deference to God and Sidney’s Muse’s admonition that he need only look into his heart to find the words by which to express his love for his beloved, Milton emphasizes Talent while Sidney emphasizes a progression of interconnected, interdependent, personified ideas: Knowledge, Pleasure, Nature, Invention, Study, etc. Milton wants to avoid wasting his talent, while Sidney needs to be reminded by his Muse to look into his heart. Maybe there’s some room for comparison and contrast here.

Also worth comparing are the voices that speak in each poem: the murmuring voice of “On His Blindness” and the Muse in “Sonnet 1.” Can you make any connections between these two voices?

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John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” both concern the appreciation of beauty in its stillness. In “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, the speaker is content with the immortalization of movement and strong emotion while in “My Last Duchess”, the speaker is satisfied with keeping his previously outgoing wife still and controlled as a painting.

Chiara, comparing these poems is a very logical move, since they are both ekphrastic poems (talk about ekphrasis in your essay!).

Is the speaker of “Ode on a Grecian Urn” truly, as you say, content? What, then, do we make of his exclamation, “Cold Pastoral!” Pastoral is poetry about an idyllic, restful life in the countryside. But “Cold” vexes this sunny view of pastoral—interpreting the meaning of “Cold” in this line will go a long way toward defending your reading of the speaker’s response to the urn. I do like the ways you’re reading the two poems.

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Although “Sonnet 73” by William Shakespeare and “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens both talk about similar issues, they are able to talk about different aspects of the same idea using there unique poetic writing style.

Jordan, you’ll have to work on this thesis statement. To say both poets have a “unique poetic writing style” doesn’t tell your audience anything. Shakespeare’s sonnet is, formally speaking, a very different poem from Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” which has no rhyme scheme, meter, or fixed stanza. More importantly, what are the “similar issues” these poems talk about? Again, “similar issues” shows your audience nothing. Note the specific similarities in your introductory paragraph and show how your reading of the poems will bring new similarities and differences to light.

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In this paper, I will analyze how both Robert Frost in, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and Emily Dickinson in “Because I Could Not Stop For Death,” utilize irony to portray death with a paradoxical approach. Dickinson uses irony in her poem by relating a serious topic of death with a soft-approach and tone, treating it as a journey. Likewise, in “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” the speaker wants to stop and admire the beauty of the tranquility in the woods, but cannot due to the obligations he still has to fulfill. Frost thus uses irony to convey how the speaker has responsibilities in life before he can “enjoy” a more calmer occasion, such as resting, or even death.

Love this! Keep building on these ideas.

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“The Snow Man” and “The Learn’d Astronomer” employ the themes of nature and man. “The Snow Man” paints the scene of a winter landscape, while “The Learn’d Astronomer” demonstrates the battle between scientific knowledge and natural knowledge of the stars. Both poems involve a higher perspective of thinking: “The Snow Man” promotes an objective view of nature, while “The Learn’d Astronomer” advances that experience and wisdom are the key to true knowledge.

Mary, I really like the ideas you’re working through here. I would question the “objective view of nature” you posit to be present in “The Snow Man.” What, then, do we do with the lines “for the listener, who listens in the snow, / And, nothing himself, beholds / Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” I can see how one might read this as an “objective view of nature,” as you do. And this is a good reading. I wonder whether the ambiguity of these lines might necessitate further explanation. Similarly, in Whitman’s poem, that learn’d astronomer himself seems to present the speaker and the students in the auditorium with an “objective view of nature.” Keeping in mind that what we now call science used to be called “natural philosophy,” I think you might mean to contrast “scientific knowledge” with “poetic knowledge.” Does this get closer to the position you’re trying to uphold?

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Thesis: In “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens and “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” by Emily Dickinson, both poems utilize different literary devices such as vivid imagery that generates very dark undertones, that help develop the common theme of irony shared between the two.

Lanz, the questions you’ll have to address, if you keep this thesis unchanged, include the following. What is it about the imagery of these poems that can be called “vivid”? Likewise, can you give specific examples (perhaps images that seem similar or even the same between the two poems) of what you mean by “imagery that generates very dark undertones?” Dark in hue, or dark in mood? Both? One or the other, depending on the poem? What is ironic about each poem, and how does irony help us to better understand the speaker of Dickinon’s poem in relation to Death, and the speaker(s) in Stevens’s poem in relation to a blackbird?

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The victims of time often are forced to face their own mortality, this phenomenon occurs throughout Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 60” and “Sonnet 64”. Imagery rooted in metaphorical language (generally alluding to themes regarding nature) in addition to structural parallelism (or lack thereof) creates an overarching theme across poems: Time is an enemy, and occasionally a paradoxical entity.

Cory, comparing these two sonnets is going to give you plenty to say. I think you can get even more specific than simply saying Shakespeare uses nature imagery. He uses imagery of oceans and shores, farms and fields, etc. “Nature” by itself could mean everything that is not myself, i.e., my mind. The shared theme of Time as something to be resisted through cultivating an appreciation for the fullness of life and youth is a great anchor to your more particularized readings of the imagery and its function within each respective poem.

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For my essay, I will be comparing Robert Browning, “My Last Duchess” and Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”. I am interested in the way the story gets told in each poem. I don’t know what it is called though! The majority of Frost’s poem is the person being distracted by the woods. At the end, he regains focus and continues walking. The majority of My Last Duchess is the person complaining about his ex in a painting. At the end, he dismisses it and moves onto Neptune. I need help determining what this is called, but this is what I want the focus of my essay to be of.

Joe, I’m wondering whether you might consider the differences between solitude and society in these poems. On one reading Frost’s speaker is very much alone in the woods, and yet he is not lonely. He knows there’s a village and an acquaintance (perhaps the owner of the woods might even be surmised to be a friend) nearby. He knows he has a place to sleep at the end of his journey. Perhaps it’s in a warm, familiar place, or perhaps it’s an eternal sleep with a community of souls who have died.

Browning’s speaker, Ferrara, on the other hand, enjoys all the comforts of an obedient court, a rapt audience in the courtly attendant of his new fiancée, and a house filled with fine art commissioned by some of the best artists available for hire. And yet, in a very important, poignant way, he is utterly alone in spite of all his power. This is the thing people never seem to understand about power. It breeds isolation and distrust.

I think the word you’re looking for is persona. The persona of the speaker in Frost’s poem seems more genuinely self-assured than the confident yet jealous Ferrara.

Thanks for the reply?

Meant to say Thanks for the reply! With an exclamation not a question mark, now I sound sarcastic. I will definitely try to make comparison on Persona.

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The two poems I will talk about in my essay are, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Bird” and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”. The common theme I will talk about between the two poems is Death.

Aiden, make sure in your opening paragraph, and in your thesis, to note specific ways each poem reflects on death. In Dickinson’s poem, Death is personified and takes on concrete characteristics (“He kindly stopped for me”). In Stevens’s poem, however, death is not personified and is more implied that openly articulated in the presence, absence, activity, or stillness of the blackbird or the scene in which the blackbird is involved. What role might literary devices like irony, sarcasm, innuendo, or mood play in each poem’s characterization(s) of death? What is clear or unclear about how the speaker thinks about or avoids thinking about death? Can either poem be said to be mournful? Obviously, there’s an endless font of questions to draw from. By articulating your reading of the particular ways in which each poem reflects on death early in your own essay, you’ll hopefully limit the range of possible interpretive questions to something manageable for a five-page paper.

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comparing two poems essay sample

  • How To Write The Perfect Comparative Essay On Poetry

Poetry comparison – How to write the perfect comparative essay

Students writing poetry comparison essays in classroom

When it comes to poetry analysis, Phil Beadle knows what examiners want to see – and he’s here to make sure you can help every student can deliver it

Phil Beadle

Poetry comparison – or writing a comparative essay about two poems, seen or unseen – is what students will eventually be assessed on when they come to sit the poetry analysis part of their English Literature GCSE .

It makes sense, therefore, to get some early poetry comparison practice in. See what the assessment criteria will be asking for in preparation for the day the stakes are high.

The first door we must knock on is the one housing the crone of context. What the GCSE mark schemes will eventually ask for is a well constructed, conceptual response replete with oodles of subject terminology and a fairly deep mention of context.

It asks students to do this, however, in very little time. It also ignores the fact that contextual analysis in poetry – aside from the obvious modern/ancient dichotomy – is a rich brew that requires, firstly, a lot of contextual knowledge.

Also ignored is the fact that the biographical takes you away from the textual. Since the value in poetry analysis is the study of how words and form align to construct beauty or its antithesis, mention of context inevitably takes you into the realms of history. This is a whole other subject.

Poetry comparison example

Resources: ‘My Last Duchess’, by Robert Browning ‘Remains’, by Simon Armitage

Context – theme

So, my recommendation to students when constructing the first paragraph of a poetry comparison essay is, if appropriate, to make glancing reference to the titles. Only go so far as linking these to comparison of theme. The contextual is in the thematic.

On comparing theme, they should make explicit reference to the word ‘subtextual’. This flags to the examiner that this is an answer rich in apposite use of subject terminology quite early on. For example:

“The subtextual theme of ‘My Last Duchess’ is that sexual jealousy can cause the empowered (in this case titled) men – or, indeed, just men – to so lose their minds. They become murderous. Whereas the subtextual theme of ‘Remains’ links to the ambiguities of the title.

“As a noun, it links to the idea of the human remains of the looter around which the narrative revolves. As a verb, all that is left is memory.

“Both these poems linger around ideas of memory. Both narrators are tortured. But whereas the narrator in ‘Remains’ realises that he is stained by his actions, the narrator of ‘My Last Duchess’ is oblivious and has learned altogether nothing.”

Structure – rhyme

This is as far as we might want to go with context. Otherwise, we are addressing the poetic with its opposite and scribing a list of dates.

So, the next paragraph should examine structure. We do so by using rhyme scheme and form as a way of unlocking it. First of all, say what you see and, where possible, state the form:

“‘My Last Duchess’ is from Browning’s collection of ‘Dramatic Monologues’. It’s a substantial block of text with one person, the Duke, speaking. ‘Remains’ is seven quatrain stanzas and a couplet.”

Analysis of rhyme scheme

This is simple to do and gives students an opportunity to shovel a bit of subject terminology the examiners’ way. Generally, it is best to leave this unanalysed however. This is because analysis of rhyme scheme is much richer in terms of unlocking structure.

“The rhyme scheme in ‘My Last Duchess’ is in perfect couplets. On the other hand, ‘Remains’ is the epitome of deliberate irregularity.

“If one is to take this as a symbolic suggestion of the degree of order in both dramatic and moral worlds, one might conclude that the world of the former poem is ordered and correct, whereas that of the latter is chaotic and incongruent.

“There is an irony in the Duke speaking in perfect rhyme, being able to rhyme “munificence” and “pretence” and then suggesting he has no “Skill in speech”. This suggests him to be the liar he is.

“But the more interesting approach is in ‘Remains’: three out of four of the end words in stanza one, in which the looters raid the bank, are repeated in stanza six, when the incident is replayed in the narrator’s memory.

“The fact that only three of the four words -“out”, “bank”, “not” – are repeated suggests the decay of memory. Internal rhyme also plays a part in the pivot between action turning into memory. The fourth stanza features eye rhymes ”agony”, “by”, “body” before going into near perfect rhyme that carries on into the next stanza, “lorry”, “really”.

“But “really” is an add on, a coda to the phrase “End of story”. It suggests that the death of the looter should have been the finish of the event, but that there is an unpleasant coda. This is the fact that memory ‘remains’.”

You can get a lot from a poem through examining the rhyme in detail.

Metre – stress

From there, we go onto a fairly stunted form of metrical analysis; and we do this precisely because others avoid it.

I am not suggesting that students attempt analysis of trochees and anapests. After all, to our modern untrained ears, the differences between stressed and unstressed syllables can be unfathomable.

But where there is obvious metric change, we take this as a signal from the poet to pay special attention to this line (and to analyse it).

“ Metrically, ‘My Last Duchess’ appears to be in tetrameter with the odd substitution, “I call”. This, again, might be taken to suggest the narrator’s level of control over his circumstances.

“ The metre in ‘Remains’ is used to create specific effects. It is broadly irregular except in stanzas one, three and six (even, event, recall) where it goes into tetrameter.

“ The substitutions on “Sleep” and “Dream”, however, give a jarring effect, an elongated stutter, a metric pause. This sets up the brief moment of peace before the nightmare of replayed events comes back to haunt him.”

Language – reflections

We do not go over the top with metrical analysis. Just one comparison is enough to let the examiner know we are on top of the brief.

“We do not go over the top with metrical analysis”

From there, we divert into the linguistic. Show the examiner that you can recognise the idea that the soundtrack of the poem is somehow a representation or mirror of the poem’s themes. One killer comparison is all we need:

“Ultimately, the distinction is between a narrator rich in self delusion and one haunted by self knowledge. Both are murderers, but one has no guilt over an action he considered before committing. The other took a rapid action that now haunts him.

“The difference in consideration is signalled by the punctuation. There is a difference between the time implied by the commas in “probably armed, possibly not” and the semi colons in “This grew; I gave commands; then all smiles stopped together”.

“It tells us much about their comparative level of ruthlessness and design at the moment of decision. There is also a distinction in maturity that is signalled by the howling childishness of the ‘oo’ sounds in “forsooth”, “choose” and “stoop” and the deadening emotional stutter of pain in the repetitive ‘n’ sounds in the penultimate line of ‘Remains’.”

And as for conclusions for your comparisons in poetry essay, don’t bother. We haven’t got the time, and they are always rubbish anyway.

Phil Beadle is a teacher and the author of several books. This includes Rules for Mavericks: A Manifesto for dissident creatives (Crown House). Check out our AQA English Literature Paper 1 revision resource .

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Humanities LibreTexts

8.10: Compare and Contrast Poetry Assignments

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  • Page ID 101145

  • Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap
  • City College of San Francisco via ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative

Comparing and Contrasting

Frequently, you will find that an assignment asks you to ‘compare and contrast’ poems. There’s a very good reason for this, for, often, it is only by considering different treatments of similar subjects that we become aware of a range of possibilities, and begin to understand why particular choices have been made. You may have noticed that, in the previous discussions, I’ve used a similar strategy. When I showed, for example, how we can describe the rhyme scheme of ‘Love From the North’ as simple, once we have looked at the more intricate patterning of Keats’s, ‘The Eve of St Agnes,’ or Tennyson’s, ‘Mariana.’ Anne Brontë’s, ‘Home,’ and Grace Nichols’s, ‘Wherever I Hang,’ treat the subject of exile in quite different ways—and looking at one, can sharpen our understanding of what the other does.

Consider examples in everyday life, whether it's sports, music, etc. If you take, for example, football or basketball (or almost any sport, really), an offensive-minded team and a defensive-minded team will, despite playing the same sport under the same rules and principles, have completely different philosophical approaches. These different approaches are made even clearer when we compare and contrast them from each other, allowing us to learn more about both types of teams and the sport as a whole. Looking at music, it's the same thing. Think about the similarities and differences—and how these similarities and differences highlight respective traits—between jazz and rock, metal and classical, hip hop and punk.

1) Read the opening lines from these two poems given below about death. How might you explain why they sound so very different?

Lycidas by john milton (1637).

Yet once more, O ye Laurels, and once more Ye Myrtles brown, with Ivy never-sear, I com to pluck your Berries harsh and crude, And with forc'd fingers rude, Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year. [ 5 ] Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear, Compels me to disturb your season due: For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime, Young Lycidas , and hath not left his peer:

Felix Randal by Gerard Manley Hopkins (written between 1876-1889)

Felix Randal the farrier, O is he dead then? my duty all ended,

Who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome

Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it, and some

Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?

If I had to identify one thing, I would say that the first begins more elaborately and with a more formal tone than the second. ‘Felix Randal’ tends to use language in an unusual way, but you would probably agree that the first sentence is quite straightforward and sounds colloquial (or informal), as if the speaker has just overheard someone talking about Randal’s death and wants to confirm his impression. ‘Lycidas’ opens quite differently. It is not immediately apparent what evergreens have to do with anything (in fact, they work to establish an appropriately melancholy atmosphere or tone), and it isn’t until line 8 that we learn of a death. The word ‘dead’ is repeated, and the following line tells us that Lycidas was a young man. While ‘Felix Randal’ has an immediacy, the speaker of ‘Lycidas’ seems to find it hard to get going.

Both poems are elegies—poems written to commemorate/mourn a death—and both poets are aware of writing within this convention, although they treat it differently.

2) What do the titles of the poems tell us about each poem, and how might they help us understand the different uses of the elegiac convention?

Photo of a statue: man sitting on bench, playing a cello.  The photo is soft focus and green-tinted

name, but unless you know something about the classical pastoral tradition, it might mean very little to you. The young man whose death Milton was commemorating was actually called Edward King. However, at the time he was writing, elegies were formal, public, and impersonal poems, rather than private expressions of grief. ‘Lycidas’ commemorates a member of a prominent family rather than a close friend of the poet’s. Over two hundred years later, Hopkins, while working loosely within the same elegiac convention, adapts it. Felix Randal is an ordinary working man, not a public figure. In the seventeenth century, it would have been unlikely that he would have been considered worthy of a poem like this.

If you were making a special study of elegies, there would be a great deal more to say. That’s not the idea here, though. By comparing and contrasting the tone of the opening lines and titles, and considering when the poems were written, we have come up with several significant differences. These differences help offer insight into each poem.

Poem Comparison – Essay Sample

The two poems I have chosen to compare are “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.  These two poems are those of Frost’s most much-loved works. Indeed, they both are exceptionally beautiful. Despite the apparent simplicity of poetic structure, Frost’s works communicate truly great ideas. About “The Road Not Taken” it is said: “The poem may seem to many to be the great pastoral symphony of his works; upon closer probing, however, one uncovers discordant notes and tense ambiguities” (Timmerman 69). True indeed, if being analyzed closely, both poems reveal unexpected meanings. They seem to disclose same issues, yet, in fact, have many dissimilarities and specific features.

Both Robert Frost’s poems “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” reveals the theme of troubles caused by necessity of making choices in life. “Frost has written any number of poems that have such acts of choice as their dynamic center — choices that have been made, choices that will be made or that must be made, choices that have not been made” (Nitchie 157). In the first one the speaker comes upon a fork in the road while travelling through a wood. Considering both paths, he finally chooses one, realizing that his decision predetermines his destiny, since there would hardly be any way he could come back to that specific point of time and make another choice. The narrator concludes on a regretful note, wondering how different things would have been had he chosen the other road. In the second poem we observe how the narrator stops his sleigh to watch the snow falling in the woods on a gloomy winter evening. After a few moments of enjoying the beauty of winter scenery, he continues on his way unwillingly. Even though the themes of both poems are quite alike, there are, however, specific dissimilarities among them. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is about youth and dealing with life circumstances. Narrator observes the world in a positive way: even though he is under the burden of promises to be kept, he enjoys an easy wind, a downy lake, the lovely dark woods, he takes pleasure in living. “The Road Not Taken” is more probably about old age or, perhaps, an old spirit disillusioned, tired and worn out by life.  It is full or regret, of doubts about whether the chosen path is a right one. In “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” the speaker searches for a life deprived of soreness and fighting, yet still he has to act in accordance with social responsibility, which reproduces the obligation imposed on him by the society: “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep” (Frost 14-15). “In “The Road Not Taken” the problem of choice is in a way even more elementary, since neither self-interest, moral obligation, nor even curiosity provides a real basis for preferring one road to the other” (Nitchie 17). The speaker prefers the unusual method of the decision making process, in such a way demonstrating his individuality and challenging state of mind: “Then took the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear” (Frost 6).

The structure of both poems is quite similar. In relation to text they both seem to be quite plain. When analyzing “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” we observe that in sixteen lines, there is not a sole three-syllable word and only sixteen two-syllable words. Nevertheless, in relation to rhythmic scheme and form, the poems are unexpectedly elaborate. The poem is constructed of four stanzas, each one with four stressed syllables in iambic meter. For instance, in the first stanza first, second, and fourth lines rhyme, whereas the third line rhymes with the first, second, and fourth lines of the following stanza. “The interest in the final stanza is heightened by Frost’s repetend, or doubled last line” (Juten and Zubizarreta 348). Frost himself claimed that “the repetend was the only logical way to end such a poem” (Juten and Zubizarreta 348). Such an evocative duplication along with the preventive rhyme scheme and the promptness of the iambic tetrameter lines gives the poem its distinguishing worth. “The Road Not Taken” consists of four stanzas of five lines, each with a rhyme scheme of ABAAB. All stanzas and lines consistently the same length.

The road to success is easy with a little help. Let's get your assignment out of the way.

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Comparing and Contrasting

What this handout is about.

This handout will help you first to determine whether a particular assignment is asking for comparison/contrast and then to generate a list of similarities and differences, decide which similarities and differences to focus on, and organize your paper so that it will be clear and effective. It will also explain how you can (and why you should) develop a thesis that goes beyond “Thing A and Thing B are similar in many ways but different in others.”


In your career as a student, you’ll encounter many different kinds of writing assignments, each with its own requirements. One of the most common is the comparison/contrast essay, in which you focus on the ways in which certain things or ideas—usually two of them—are similar to (this is the comparison) and/or different from (this is the contrast) one another. By assigning such essays, your instructors are encouraging you to make connections between texts or ideas, engage in critical thinking, and go beyond mere description or summary to generate interesting analysis: when you reflect on similarities and differences, you gain a deeper understanding of the items you are comparing, their relationship to each other, and what is most important about them.

Recognizing comparison/contrast in assignments

Some assignments use words—like compare, contrast, similarities, and differences—that make it easy for you to see that they are asking you to compare and/or contrast. Here are a few hypothetical examples:

  • Compare and contrast Frye’s and Bartky’s accounts of oppression.
  • Compare WWI to WWII, identifying similarities in the causes, development, and outcomes of the wars.
  • Contrast Wordsworth and Coleridge; what are the major differences in their poetry?

Notice that some topics ask only for comparison, others only for contrast, and others for both.

But it’s not always so easy to tell whether an assignment is asking you to include comparison/contrast. And in some cases, comparison/contrast is only part of the essay—you begin by comparing and/or contrasting two or more things and then use what you’ve learned to construct an argument or evaluation. Consider these examples, noticing the language that is used to ask for the comparison/contrast and whether the comparison/contrast is only one part of a larger assignment:

  • Choose a particular idea or theme, such as romantic love, death, or nature, and consider how it is treated in two Romantic poems.
  • How do the different authors we have studied so far define and describe oppression?
  • Compare Frye’s and Bartky’s accounts of oppression. What does each imply about women’s collusion in their own oppression? Which is more accurate?
  • In the texts we’ve studied, soldiers who served in different wars offer differing accounts of their experiences and feelings both during and after the fighting. What commonalities are there in these accounts? What factors do you think are responsible for their differences?

You may want to check out our handout on understanding assignments for additional tips.

Using comparison/contrast for all kinds of writing projects

Sometimes you may want to use comparison/contrast techniques in your own pre-writing work to get ideas that you can later use for an argument, even if comparison/contrast isn’t an official requirement for the paper you’re writing. For example, if you wanted to argue that Frye’s account of oppression is better than both de Beauvoir’s and Bartky’s, comparing and contrasting the main arguments of those three authors might help you construct your evaluation—even though the topic may not have asked for comparison/contrast and the lists of similarities and differences you generate may not appear anywhere in the final draft of your paper.

Discovering similarities and differences

Making a Venn diagram or a chart can help you quickly and efficiently compare and contrast two or more things or ideas. To make a Venn diagram, simply draw some overlapping circles, one circle for each item you’re considering. In the central area where they overlap, list the traits the two items have in common. Assign each one of the areas that doesn’t overlap; in those areas, you can list the traits that make the things different. Here’s a very simple example, using two pizza places:

Venn diagram indicating that both Pepper's and Amante serve pizza with unusual ingredients at moderate prices, despite differences in location, wait times, and delivery options

To make a chart, figure out what criteria you want to focus on in comparing the items. Along the left side of the page, list each of the criteria. Across the top, list the names of the items. You should then have a box per item for each criterion; you can fill the boxes in and then survey what you’ve discovered.

Here’s an example, this time using three pizza places:

As you generate points of comparison, consider the purpose and content of the assignment and the focus of the class. What do you think the professor wants you to learn by doing this comparison/contrast? How does it fit with what you have been studying so far and with the other assignments in the course? Are there any clues about what to focus on in the assignment itself?

Here are some general questions about different types of things you might have to compare. These are by no means complete or definitive lists; they’re just here to give you some ideas—you can generate your own questions for these and other types of comparison. You may want to begin by using the questions reporters traditionally ask: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? If you’re talking about objects, you might also consider general properties like size, shape, color, sound, weight, taste, texture, smell, number, duration, and location.

Two historical periods or events

  • When did they occur—do you know the date(s) and duration? What happened or changed during each? Why are they significant?
  • What kinds of work did people do? What kinds of relationships did they have? What did they value?
  • What kinds of governments were there? Who were important people involved?
  • What caused events in these periods, and what consequences did they have later on?

Two ideas or theories

  • What are they about?
  • Did they originate at some particular time?
  • Who created them? Who uses or defends them?
  • What is the central focus, claim, or goal of each? What conclusions do they offer?
  • How are they applied to situations/people/things/etc.?
  • Which seems more plausible to you, and why? How broad is their scope?
  • What kind of evidence is usually offered for them?

Two pieces of writing or art

  • What are their titles? What do they describe or depict?
  • What is their tone or mood? What is their form?
  • Who created them? When were they created? Why do you think they were created as they were? What themes do they address?
  • Do you think one is of higher quality or greater merit than the other(s)—and if so, why?
  • For writing: what plot, characterization, setting, theme, tone, and type of narration are used?
  • Where are they from? How old are they? What is the gender, race, class, etc. of each?
  • What, if anything, are they known for? Do they have any relationship to each other?
  • What are they like? What did/do they do? What do they believe? Why are they interesting?
  • What stands out most about each of them?

Deciding what to focus on

By now you have probably generated a huge list of similarities and differences—congratulations! Next you must decide which of them are interesting, important, and relevant enough to be included in your paper. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s relevant to the assignment?
  • What’s relevant to the course?
  • What’s interesting and informative?
  • What matters to the argument you are going to make?
  • What’s basic or central (and needs to be mentioned even if obvious)?
  • Overall, what’s more important—the similarities or the differences?

Suppose that you are writing a paper comparing two novels. For most literature classes, the fact that they both use Caslon type (a kind of typeface, like the fonts you may use in your writing) is not going to be relevant, nor is the fact that one of them has a few illustrations and the other has none; literature classes are more likely to focus on subjects like characterization, plot, setting, the writer’s style and intentions, language, central themes, and so forth. However, if you were writing a paper for a class on typesetting or on how illustrations are used to enhance novels, the typeface and presence or absence of illustrations might be absolutely critical to include in your final paper.

Sometimes a particular point of comparison or contrast might be relevant but not terribly revealing or interesting. For example, if you are writing a paper about Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” and Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight,” pointing out that they both have nature as a central theme is relevant (comparisons of poetry often talk about themes) but not terribly interesting; your class has probably already had many discussions about the Romantic poets’ fondness for nature. Talking about the different ways nature is depicted or the different aspects of nature that are emphasized might be more interesting and show a more sophisticated understanding of the poems.

Your thesis

The thesis of your comparison/contrast paper is very important: it can help you create a focused argument and give your reader a road map so they don’t get lost in the sea of points you are about to make. As in any paper, you will want to replace vague reports of your general topic (for example, “This paper will compare and contrast two pizza places,” or “Pepper’s and Amante are similar in some ways and different in others,” or “Pepper’s and Amante are similar in many ways, but they have one major difference”) with something more detailed and specific. For example, you might say, “Pepper’s and Amante have similar prices and ingredients, but their atmospheres and willingness to deliver set them apart.”

Be careful, though—although this thesis is fairly specific and does propose a simple argument (that atmosphere and delivery make the two pizza places different), your instructor will often be looking for a bit more analysis. In this case, the obvious question is “So what? Why should anyone care that Pepper’s and Amante are different in this way?” One might also wonder why the writer chose those two particular pizza places to compare—why not Papa John’s, Dominos, or Pizza Hut? Again, thinking about the context the class provides may help you answer such questions and make a stronger argument. Here’s a revision of the thesis mentioned earlier:

Pepper’s and Amante both offer a greater variety of ingredients than other Chapel Hill/Carrboro pizza places (and than any of the national chains), but the funky, lively atmosphere at Pepper’s makes it a better place to give visiting friends and family a taste of local culture.

You may find our handout on constructing thesis statements useful at this stage.

Organizing your paper

There are many different ways to organize a comparison/contrast essay. Here are two:


Begin by saying everything you have to say about the first subject you are discussing, then move on and make all the points you want to make about the second subject (and after that, the third, and so on, if you’re comparing/contrasting more than two things). If the paper is short, you might be able to fit all of your points about each item into a single paragraph, but it’s more likely that you’d have several paragraphs per item. Using our pizza place comparison/contrast as an example, after the introduction, you might have a paragraph about the ingredients available at Pepper’s, a paragraph about its location, and a paragraph about its ambience. Then you’d have three similar paragraphs about Amante, followed by your conclusion.

The danger of this subject-by-subject organization is that your paper will simply be a list of points: a certain number of points (in my example, three) about one subject, then a certain number of points about another. This is usually not what college instructors are looking for in a paper—generally they want you to compare or contrast two or more things very directly, rather than just listing the traits the things have and leaving it up to the reader to reflect on how those traits are similar or different and why those similarities or differences matter. Thus, if you use the subject-by-subject form, you will probably want to have a very strong, analytical thesis and at least one body paragraph that ties all of your different points together.

A subject-by-subject structure can be a logical choice if you are writing what is sometimes called a “lens” comparison, in which you use one subject or item (which isn’t really your main topic) to better understand another item (which is). For example, you might be asked to compare a poem you’ve already covered thoroughly in class with one you are reading on your own. It might make sense to give a brief summary of your main ideas about the first poem (this would be your first subject, the “lens”), and then spend most of your paper discussing how those points are similar to or different from your ideas about the second.


Rather than addressing things one subject at a time, you may wish to talk about one point of comparison at a time. There are two main ways this might play out, depending on how much you have to say about each of the things you are comparing. If you have just a little, you might, in a single paragraph, discuss how a certain point of comparison/contrast relates to all the items you are discussing. For example, I might describe, in one paragraph, what the prices are like at both Pepper’s and Amante; in the next paragraph, I might compare the ingredients available; in a third, I might contrast the atmospheres of the two restaurants.

If I had a bit more to say about the items I was comparing/contrasting, I might devote a whole paragraph to how each point relates to each item. For example, I might have a whole paragraph about the clientele at Pepper’s, followed by a whole paragraph about the clientele at Amante; then I would move on and do two more paragraphs discussing my next point of comparison/contrast—like the ingredients available at each restaurant.

There are no hard and fast rules about organizing a comparison/contrast paper, of course. Just be sure that your reader can easily tell what’s going on! Be aware, too, of the placement of your different points. If you are writing a comparison/contrast in service of an argument, keep in mind that the last point you make is the one you are leaving your reader with. For example, if I am trying to argue that Amante is better than Pepper’s, I should end with a contrast that leaves Amante sounding good, rather than with a point of comparison that I have to admit makes Pepper’s look better. If you’ve decided that the differences between the items you’re comparing/contrasting are most important, you’ll want to end with the differences—and vice versa, if the similarities seem most important to you.

Our handout on organization can help you write good topic sentences and transitions and make sure that you have a good overall structure in place for your paper.

Cue words and other tips

To help your reader keep track of where you are in the comparison/contrast, you’ll want to be sure that your transitions and topic sentences are especially strong. Your thesis should already have given the reader an idea of the points you’ll be making and the organization you’ll be using, but you can help them out with some extra cues. The following words may be helpful to you in signaling your intentions:

  • like, similar to, also, unlike, similarly, in the same way, likewise, again, compared to, in contrast, in like manner, contrasted with, on the contrary, however, although, yet, even though, still, but, nevertheless, conversely, at the same time, regardless, despite, while, on the one hand … on the other hand.

For example, you might have a topic sentence like one of these:

  • Compared to Pepper’s, Amante is quiet.
  • Like Amante, Pepper’s offers fresh garlic as a topping.
  • Despite their different locations (downtown Chapel Hill and downtown Carrboro), Pepper’s and Amante are both fairly easy to get to.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Comparing and contrasting two poems.

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In Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” and Stevens’s “Anecdote of the Jar,” two poets take an approach often seen in romantic verse, in that both focus on the relationship between humanity and nature. Moreover, and for each poet, the relationship is intensely strong. Wordsworth and Stevens similarly immerse themselves in the natural landscapes they explore, as both suggest immense power in those landscapes. At the same time, however, there is a crucial difference in their views. This also goes to the actual lengths and tones of the poems, in that the longer expression of Wordsworth promotes affection, while the brief lines of Stevens reflect a combative quality. As the following examines, Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” exists as a loving tribute to a natural scene of his past, whereas Stevens’s “Anecdote of the Jar” is based on an adversarial relationship between mankind and a raw landscape known to the poet.

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Comparison/Contrast There is no question that both poems are based on each poet’s perceptions and feelings regarding nature, and in terms of a specific landscape. Wordsworth in fact identifies the exact scene he recalls and revels in. There is a kind of blending here between the natural and the man-made, as the poet’s focus is on both nature and the dwellings created by man within the scene. Nonetheless, what dominates is the force and presence of the natural, as in: “These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,/…Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves/ ‘Mid groves and copses” (ll 11-14). As the poem goes on, the personal fuses with the scene, but nature is supreme to the poet’s being: “The sounding cataract./ Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,/ The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood” (ll 79-81). Stevens is by far less effusive in his observations: I placed a jar in Tennessee,/ And round it was, upon a hill” (ll 1-2). At the same time, however, the scene here is natural, so both poems are based on extremely personal experiences and perceptions of men regarding natural landscapes known to them.

This similarity noted, what then becomes evident is how the poets differ in their views, which is powerfully reflected in the lengths and styles of each work. As noted, Wordsworth’s poem is long, just as his tone is reverent and his language goes to classically poetic description and praise revealing emotion: “How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,/ O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods” (ll 57-58). In striking contrast, Stevens presents only three short stanzas and expresses what may be called a clinical eye on his landscape. There is no joy or grandiose language, as the poet also dispenses with rhyme and relies on relatively ordinary expressions of nature: “The wilderness rose up to it,/ And sprawled around, no longer wild” (ll 5-6). In a sense, then, the brevity of Stevens’s poem greatly underscores his viewpoint, in that it is more a quick and distanced evaluation in relatively plain language. Wordsworth, conversely, seems almost unable to properly give sufficient voice to the impact of the landscape on his life, and its meaning for him. Consequently, actual structure, length, and language go to supporting how differently the poets present their impressions.

These striking differences in structure, length, and language then reinforce the completely opposing ideas of nature held by Wordsworth and Stevens. For the former, the abbey and the surrounding lands are a source of wonder and inspiration. He remembers how this landscape filled him with awe when he was young, and he finds it just as remarkable as he once again revisits it. In his reflections, the poet comprehends that the impressions made upon him as a boy were more primal, and are no longer the same because he has had experience of life: “That time is past,/ And all its aching joys are now no more” (ll 85-86). Nonetheless, returning to the scene brings a feeling as inspiring as that which he once knew as, as a man, he now perceives a spirit within the natural. Something human or divine exists here and is speaking to him: “In thy voice I catch/ The language of my former heart, and read/ My former pleasures in the shooting lights/ Of thy wild eyes” (ll 119-122). Importantly, this voice is an affirmation. Everything once known, which gave the poet a sense of natural beauty and meaning in life, has not vanished; there is more to feel and know, and it will guide him in the future as it did in the past. No such joy or awe is found, however, in Stevens. There is a kind of challenge, or even experiment, at the core of the brief verse. The poet places a jar on the hill and observes that it changes everything, which goes to humanity’s power over the natural. Somehow, this jar overwhelms what surrounds it: “The jar was round upon the ground/ And tall and of a port in air./ It took dominion everywhere” (ll 7-9). More importantly, the poet seems either unconcerned or even pleased by this demonstration of human power. As Wordsworth embraces all the natural and feels it as promoting his own humanity, Stevens merely comments upon the human ability to eclipse the natural, which he in no way presents as anything but raw and primal.

Conclusion As poets of all ages often turn to nature as their subjects, so too do poets present vastly different ideas of what nature means to them. Wordsworth, invariably a classicist, explores the landscape of his beloved abbey and finds renewed inspiration from it. Stevens, clinical and somewhat detached, invests himself in a Tennessee landscape only to “test” the power of man to dominate it. Ultimately, then, Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” is as a deeply affectionate tribute to a natural scene of his past, whereas Wallace Stevens’s “Anecdote of the Jar” reflects an adversarial relationship between mankind and a raw landscape known to the poet.

  • Stevens, Wallace. “Anecdote of the Jar.” Poetry Foundation. 2015. Web. 5 Dec. 2015.
  • Wordsworth, William. “Tintern Abbey.” Poetry Foundation. 2015. Web. 5 Dec. 2015.

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Comparing Two Poems


The Iliad and The Odyssey, authored by the ancient Greek poet Homer, are esteemed epic poems and are often considered foundational to Western literature. The Iliad recounts the ten-year Trojan War, a conflict initiated by the abduction of Helen by Paris, the Trojan prince. The Odyssey narrates the trials of Odysseus, a Greek hero from the war, as he endeavors to return home to his family, encountering numerous challenges. These works reflect fundamentally ancient Greek culture, values, beliefs, and history. However, the primary objective of this essay is not to provide a mere summary or commendation of the poems but rather to examine two specific moments or scenes that illuminate disparities between the Classical era and the contemporary 21st century. Through this analysis, the essay aims to posit that while Homer’s works portray a world vastly distinct from ours in many facets, they also unveil specific enduring themes and values that can resonate with present-day readers.

One of the most startling and unsettling occurrences in The Iliad transpires when Achilles, the preeminent Greek warrior, drags the lifeless body of Hector, the esteemed prince of Troy, around the city walls following their fatal duel. Homer vividly portrays this event in Book 22 of The Iliad, providing explicit and macabre details: “he pierced the sinews at the back of both his feet from heel to ankle and passed thongs of ox-hide through the slits he had made” ( Homer, the Iliad, Scroll 22, Line 344 ). This incident illustrates Achilles’ extreme brutality and lack of regard for his foe, even in death. Furthermore, it reflects the honor-centric culture and warrior code of the Classical era, where renown and prestige were attained through acts of violence and dominance. In contrast, the 21st century values human dignity and compassion, condemning such acts of cruelty and desecration.

However, this moment establishes a striking juxtaposition with the later scene wherein Achilles returns Hector’s corpse to his father, King Priam, displaying benevolence and compassion. In the 24th Book of The Iliad, Homer recounts where Priam, aided by the divine Hermes, infiltrates the Greek encampment and implores Achilles to restore his son’s remains. Touched by Priam’s entreaties and tears, Achilles consents to relinquishing Hector’s body, permitting a dignified burial. Additionally, he commands his troops to cease hostilities for a dozen days, allowing the Trojans to lament their fallen hero. This portrayal underscores the multidimensional nature of Achilles, portraying him not as a simplistic character but as a hero undergoing a nuanced transformation throughout the epic. Moreover, it accentuates the overarching theme of mortality and the human condition, a principal motif in The Iliad.

An alternative interpretation of this instance is to reflect it as a manifestation of the wrath and sorrow experienced by Achilles following the demise of his cherished companion Patroclus. Patroclus met his end at the hands of Hector while adorned in Achilles’ armor. In the 18th book of The Iliad, Homer illustrates Achilles’ response to learning about Patroclus’ demise. Achilles places blame on himself for Patroclus’ fate, pledging to avenge him by slaying Hector and bringing dishonor upon his corpse ( Homer, the Iliad, Scroll 22 ). Furthermore, he refuses to inter Patroclus until he fulfills this vow. This underscores Achilles’ profound commitment to loyalty and friendship, highlighting his prioritization of personal honor over collective welfare. It also underscores the tragic repercussions of warfare, emphasizing themes of violence, revenge, and their cyclical nature in The Iliad.

The Odyssey

One of the most exciting and daring episodes in The Odyssey occurs when Odysseus and his crew confront the Cyclops Polyphemus, a one-eyed giant who consumes some of them and traps the rest in his cavern. In Book 9 of The Odyssey, Homer details Odysseus and his crew’s exploration of the Cyclops’ island and their entry into Polyphemus’ cave. The giant returns, blocking the cave entrance with a massive boulder, leaving Odysseus plotting revenge: “and I was left there, devising evil in the deep of my heart, if in any way I might take vengeance on him, and Athena grant me glory” ( Homer, Odyssey, Book 9 ). This moment underscores the risky and adventurous aspects of Odysseus’ journey, along with the fantastical elements of the Classical world. It also highlights the cultural and religious disparities between the Greeks and the Cyclopes, portrayed as uncivilized beings disregarding gods and hospitality. In contrast, the 21st-century world is depicted as more rational and scientific, displaying greater tolerance and respect for diverse cultures and beliefs.

Nevertheless, this particular moment also showcases the cleverness and courage of Odysseus, who successfully extricates himself from the Cyclops by impairing the creature’s vision and concealing himself beneath its flock. This highlights Odysseus as an adept warrior and a resourceful leader who employs intellect and ingenuity to surmount challenges. He formulates a stratagem to inebriate the Cyclops with wine and dupes him by claiming his name is “Nobody.” Subsequently, when Odysseus pierces the Cyclops’ eye with a honed stake, the creature calls for assistance, yet his compatriots presume he refers to an entity named “Nobody,” allowing Odysseus and his men to elude detection. The ensuing episode elucidates the thematic interplay between sagacity and physical prowess, alongside the intervention of deities in human affairs, central motifs within The Odyssey.

An alternative interpretation of this moment involves reflecting it as a manifestation of Odysseus’ pride and arrogance. He jeopardizes his chances of survival by disclosing his proper name to the Cyclops upon escaping. Odysseus taunts and boasts about his accomplishments, provoking the anger of the Cyclops, who happens to be the offspring of the god Poseidon. The Cyclops beseeches his father to curse Odysseus, either preventing his return home or inflicting significant suffering upon him during the journey ( Homer, Odyssey, Book 9 ). Poseidon heeds his son’s plea, intensifying Odysseus’ challenges with storms, monsters, and temptations. This underscores Odysseus’ imperfections as a hero, portraying him as a flawed and human character prone to errors and subsequent learning. Furthermore, it underscores the tragic consequences of hubris and highlights the potency of fate—key themes within The Odyssey.


The unusual elements found in both The Iliad and The Odyssey serve to illuminate the distinct worldview and values of the Classical era in contrast to the contemporary world. The Classical period was characterized by a realm of gods and heroes, myths and legends, war and glory, honor and fate, hospitality, and revenge, as well as poetry and prophecy. In contrast, the present is marked by science and technology, reason and logic, peace and human rights, dignity and compassion, diversity and tolerance, information and innovation. Another shared characteristic of these unusual elements in both epics is their capacity to elicit pleasure and frustration in modern readers. The delight arises from appreciating the poems’ beauty and creativity, admiring the characters’ skill and courage, enjoying the adventure and drama of the plots, and uncovering the wisdom and insight within the themes.

All in all, the two poems by Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey, present a world that is altogether different from our own in numerous ways, yet also share a few routine subjects and values that can engage current readers. By breaking down two minutes or scenes that represent the difference between the classical world and the 21st-century world, this paper has shown how the poems investigate the subjects of mortality, bravery, trickyness, and the human condition. The poems by Homer are incredible works of writing yet also essential wellsprings of knowledge and motivation for anybody who needs to figure out the past and the present and the likenesses and contrasts among societies and developments. They are immortal and widespread and should be perused and valued for ages.

Works Cited

Homer, the Iliad, Scroll 22.

Homer, Odyssey, Book 9.,and%20Athena%20grant%20me%20glory.

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Anthony Cockerill

Anthony Cockerill

| Writing | The written word | Teaching English |

Teach your students how to compare poems for GCSE English Literature, Paper 2, Section B

Learn some of these brilliant strategies for teaching really effective poetry comparison for  GCSE English Literature, Paper 2, Section B.

One of the elements of our students’ exam performance we identified as a weakness in last summer’s examination series was comparing poems from the AQA poetry anthology, Poems Past and Present, which forms part of GCSE English Literature Paper Two. In the English Department at Boroughbridge High School, where we teach the Power and Conflict cluster, we’ve been spending time over these past few weeks taking a closer look at what our students need to do in order to write a great poetry comparison. Using our current students’ work alongside papers we recalled from last summer – plus the ever helpful examiner’s report – we’re working to establish some maxims for how we teach this particular aspect of the examination, which I’d like to share with you in this blog post.

1. Get your students to know the poems really well.

‘Students who knew the text were able to move around and within it in order to respond to the specifics of the task.’ AQA Examiners’ report, June 2017. 

There are some great ways to introduce students to poems, such as D irected A ctivities R elated to T exts, in which a student is usually instructed to reconstruct or resequence a text. An activity might encourage students to think about the form of the text, the structure, or the recurrence of particular types of language.

Working creatively with a poem...

As a first encounter with Seamus Heaney’s ‘Storm on the Island’, students might consider what the poem could be about by exploring the nouns. Are there any patterns? Could they be classified into lexical fields? Or they might attempt to write a poem or description using words sorted by their function. Alternatively, a teacher might encourage students to engage intellectually or emotionally with the poem by exploring a still image, a moving image clip or by sharing a story.

The subsequent process of the shared reading of the poem in its entirety and the ensuing discussion is a great opportunity to model the process of reading, understanding and thinking analytically.  A series of prompts – or something akin to ‘Key Questions’ – can work as a framework for class discussion, enabling students to think, and ultimately write, about the poems and also to provide a ‘schema’ to help them build and consolidate their knowledge and understanding.


When helping students to deal with aspects of language and structure, a teacher might provide a tool to help students structure their thinking and note-making (the acronym FLIRTS, for example, which stands for F orm and Structure, L anguage and Sounds, I magery, R hyme, Rhythm and Repetition, T heme and Tone, S peaker).


2. Cluster and study the poems thematically to help  students to make a good choice of second poem.

‘The selection of the second poem is one of the keys to success as this gives the student the material to construct a holistic response.’ AQA Examiners’ report, June 2017.

The Power and Conflict cluster could be usefully divided into poems about power and legacy; poems about the power of natural world and conflict with humans; poems about conflict that can happen as a result of culture and belonging; poems about war and conflict. Thinking about the poems in these clusters will guide students toward making a helpful choice of second poem.

3. Don’t constrict written responses with a rigid framework, but instead provide more flexible ways of comparing the poems.

‘One examiner commented that one of their key teaching points for next year will be that “comparison comes in a variety of shapes and does not have to be formulaic”‘. AQA Examiners’ report, June 2017.

Some of the possible ways of structuring a poetry comparison can lead to answers which can constrain the level of the response. This can usually be evident when ‘essay plans’ are too simplistic (Poem A, then Poem B) or too artificial (Similarities and Differences) but also when they become too unwieldy. But the examiners’ report suggests that ‘…the key message here is to enable and guide students to form a comparison relative to their level of ability.’ In engaging with the poems, a student aiming for a top grade should aim for a conceptualised response which is exploratory in nature. A confident student might write an ambitious introduction which outlines their ‘angle’ on the question. They might seek an interesting angle on the task, such as how patriotism might lead soldiers into combat. Then they might develop their response along a series of conceptual lines of enquiry, integrating analysis of the writers’ methods as they go; illuminating their interpretation with contextual insight relevant to the task.


Rather than offering up a rigid ‘essay plan’, the ‘series of prompts’ I described above as a cognitive tool can function, when applied to both poems, as a sort of ‘loose structure’ to help students produce a more focused written response. I have found these ‘Key Questions’ to be useful in encouraging students to focus on a comparison of two poems. ‘What are the poems about?’ serves as an introduction to the whole response.


‘Who is ‘speaking’ in the poems?’, as I discuss in more detail below, allows the student to engage with the ‘constructed voice’ of the poem. ‘How has the poet used language and structure to convey their message?’ allows students to consider the writers’ methods. ‘Why have the poems been written?’ offers the opportunity to explore deeper layers of meaning, authorial intent and conceptual interpretations. However, it’s important to think of this approach as flexibly as possible. It wouldn’t be good, for example, to encourage students to think of the Key Question ‘why have the poems been written?’ as an opportunity to shoehorn context into their response. Ideas, exploration of the writers’ methods and apt integration of context should be evident throughout the response. 

4. Think about the voice as a construct.

‘Students who recognised where the voice was a construct were more successful than those who regurgitated biographical information about the poet that they then attempted to link to the poetic voice.’ AQA Examiners’ report, June 2017.

Addressing the task itself – and considering why the poems might have been written – will enable the student to naturally explore context – rather than including lots of biographical information. But the ‘persona’ of the constructed voice might also provide a very useful way of considering context. In Simon Armitage’s ‘Remains’, for example, the narrative voice deftly reflects the turmoil of someone struggling to come to terms with what they’ve seen. Armitage’s narrator uses first-person plural pronouns, for example, to emphasise the narrator’s attempt to redistribute his own guilt among his comrades. Similarly in ‘Beatrice Garland’s ‘Kamikaze’, the modulating narrative perspective creates distance between the reader and the narrator that reflect the gulf between pilot and family. Context in this analysis, therefore, becomes implicitly connected to the student’s understanding of the task.

5. Make sure students understand the importance of answering the question.

When students start to write their responses – and if they’re using my ‘Key Questions’ approach, they’ll begin by considering what the poems are about – they must respond in terms of the question rather than with something generic. ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley for example, explores the power of the natural world, but if the question is about the theme of mortality, then it is through this filter that the student must construct their response. It’s useful reiterate the key word from the question throughout throughout the answer to keep the response on track.

6. Get students to engage with the poem, rather than obsessing about poetry terminology.

‘Some responses set out to identify poetic techniques and employ as much terminology as possible before engaging with the poems themselves.’ AQA Examiners’ report, June 2017.

Sometimes, a student who is too heavy handed with various poetry terms can find themselves attributing questionable effects to the features they’ve ‘spotted’. It’s much better to encourage students to consider different layers of meaning in language and to consider possible interpretations.


7. Flexible analytical writing is much more effective than the PEE paragraph.

‘The use of structures such as PEE / PEA and its variants worked in the sense that they allowed students working at the lower levels to access Level 3 in the mark scheme. However less rigid structures worked better for those working at higher levels.’ AQA Examiners’ report, June 2017.

As I have explained in an earlier blog post , I’m not sure I always taught analytical writing well earlier in my teaching career. For me, like many, the PEE paragraph was a formula to get students through coursework essays and to use as a model for exam-style responses.


8. Teach students to integrate and embed short quotations – it’s much more effective than copying out longer quotations.


It’s much more productive when students embed judiciously chosen, short quotations into the essay, rather than wasting time copying out large chunks of text. The response will feel much more fluid.

9. Encourage students to write individual responses with precise, cogent expression and more sophisticated analytical writing techniques.

When aiming for top flight responses, there are several techniques students can deploy as part of a well-structured, insightful essay. These include evaluation, anticipating the response of the reader, tentativity, spotting patterns and deepening analysis are some great ways of making analytical writing more ambitious. 


Here, the student has spotted patterns of language throughout the poem.

The student here has noted the ambiguity of the poem in this example of deepening analysis…

10. Familiarise students with how their work will be marked.

‘Mark schemes’ should be used with care, as the process of arriving at a level is a subjective judgement based around a guided standardisation process. Futhermore, the meta-language around each level needs to be properly exemplified and understood – something even experienced teachers and examiners need ongoing support with. This said, it is always a worthwhile exercise to share with students an exemplar script or two and a ‘friendly’ version of the mark scheme they can use to become familiar with the standard and where their own writing sits.

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