How do I write a poetry comparison essay?

The most important part of any English essay is the planning: you need to make sure that you know what you are writing about before you start. With a poetry comparison essay, you will usually be looking for similarities and differences in the poems.  For a coursework essay, you can take your time over this, and the same skills can be used to do the same thing efficiently in an exam. 

Step 1: READ!! Read the poems, and then read them again, and probably again just to be sure.

Step 2: After reading through both poems thoroughly, you can  make notes for each poem according to STRIP factors: Structure, Tone, Rhythm/Rhyme, Imagery and Person. "Person" can refer to both the people reading the poem, and the 'speaker' or the voice telling the poem, so you could make notes on each one individually if relevant.

Step 3:  The next step is to put all of these ideas into a plan, which compares the use of these STRIP factors. Usually GCSE questions are based on the themes, so you will be focusing on how the STRIP factors are used to create  (or challenge!) the theme shared by the two poems. Comparing your notes, you are aiming to find a similarilty and a difference in the language - that is, imagery, tone, and person; as well as a similarity and a difference in structure - which includes the 'structure' part of STRIP as well as rhythm and rhyme. 

Once all that planning is done and dusted, you can write the essay! 

Part 1: Introduction: The introduction should be short and clearly explain which poems you will be writing about, and what it is in each poem that you will be discussing. 

Part 2: Body: This is where all those similarities and differences go: it will depend on the poems, but usually it is best to alternate similarlity and difference. This will mean you have four paragraphs, which could go like this:

Similarity (Language)

Difference (Language)

Similarity (Structure)

Difference (Structure)

Part 3: Conclusion: After these four paragraphs, you can write your conclusion, which should be a few sentances long, and explicitly answer both the question and the introduction. 

And you're done! 


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Comparing poems - AQA Structuring a comparative essay

How do you tackle a poetry exam question that asks you to compare one poem with another? Learn about effective ways to explore similarities and differences to enable a better comparative response.

Structuring a comparative essay

Infographic illustrating how to properly structure a comparative essay - a tasty burger/essay with multiple points vs a dry burger/essay with one

Packing your analysis of two poems into one essay involves planning. There are different ways you could approach writing a comparative essay. These are some points to think about:

  • use the introduction to explain which poems you are writing about
  • try to balance out the detail you include for each poem
  • compare the poems throughout the essay
  • comment on content, themes, ideas and attitudes as well as form, structure and language
  • sum up your thoughts on ways in which the poems are similar and different in your conclusion

Example question

Compare the two poems about family relationships; Walking Away by Cecil Day Lewis and Eden Rock by Charles Causley. Where do they share similarities and differences?

Which of the two essay structures works better when responding to the example essay question?

Structure A

Structure b.

Either of the examples above could produce a good essay as they both explore each poem and compare their similarities and differences. However in structure B , the comparison takes place throughout the whole essay and avoids looking at the poems separately. This is a better model to use and one which can be applied to comparisons of other poems.

Explore the study guide for 'Walking Away' .

More guides on this topic

  • Commenting on context - AQA
  • Responding to poetry - AQA
  • Using quotations and textual references - AQA

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how to write a good poetry comparison essay

How to Write an Essay Comparing Two Poems

How to Write an Essay Comparing Two Poems at

In what follows you will get familiar with some useful instructions regarding how to write an essay comparing two poems. Please use them only as a starting point and not as absolute authority - essay writing is always a unique process.

Writing an essays comparing two poems – 7 useful tips

1. reflect on the topic.

As with any other kind of essay, here you need to reflect very deeply upon the topic. Ask yourself the following questions: what is your task? What will be your leading idea (or thesis)? Then write down everything which comes to your mind and use it while writing the essay.

2. Formulate a topic of your comparison

You cannot merely title it “A comparison between the poem A and the poem B.” It should be rather exposed as a topic; for example, “The idea of romantic love in the poem A and the poem B.” Of course, this is valid only if your teacher has not assigned a precisely formulated topic.

3.  Describe both poems one by one

Pay attention especially to their plot (if there is such), to the ideas that are exposed in them (in short), and to their narrator or main character.

Advice : you do not need to go into details while describing the poems. This should not take more than one-fifth of the whole essay. Thus, if your essay is ten pages long, the description needs to be around two pages.

4. Find similarities between both poems  

You can do this by referring to their style, length, author, social and political context. Usually such a task requires comparing two poems belonging to one literary school (romanticism, symbolism, etc.). However, it is also possible to compare poems by two great poets although both of them belong to different nations, traditions and schools.

5. Reveal the differences between both poems

Again by referring to their method, style, etc. 

6. Turn to your central idea  

Now you need to turn to the central idea which is the basis of your topic; for instance, romantic love. How is this idea treated in both poems? You can use quotations in order to prove how romantic love is defined by both authors. The first author puts more stress on its tragic dimensions, and the other author is more optimistic concerning it. You can also refer to the style and methods used by the particular poets because ideas are suggested also in technical way (i.e., not only verbally).

7.  Conclusion

You can conclude the essay by saying what are the similarities and differences in the treatment of the main idea (or that which is your topic).

Remember that your conception should be clearly expressed and logically proved. The fact that you are dealing with poems does not indicate that you can say about them whatever comes to your mind. A literary analysis should be logical.

From all said above, it can be asserted that writing an essay comparing two poems requires preparation and deep reflections on one central idea, common for both poems. You have to demonstrate your observational skills and also ability to find meanings through interpretation. 

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how to write a good poetry comparison essay

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 poetry comparison 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).

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