Unseen Poetry and Prose

This part of the Compare and Contrast paper brings together all the analytical skills you should have developed over the course, and is perhaps the most challenging section. Not only do you have to read a lengthy piece of poetry and prose, you also have to decide which to analyse, analyse them and write an essay. All in the space of an hour.

Stay calm -- it can be done!


Though the approach is basically the same for prose and poetry, people often prefer to analyse the poetry, because it's shorter. Before you begin to write your essay, it's essential to read and annotate whichever passage you're considering. Use the following bullet points for an idea of what to look for (blue text applied only to poetry, red to prose), but remember, it's not an exhaustive list!

  • Read the piece.
  • Note down your overall impression of the piece, any themes that are present, and a brief summary of what it's about. Can you guess when it was written?
  • Re-read, and think about how the themes are presented.
  • What elements of the style augment the themes?
  • Is the narrative structure important? Is it first person? Third person? Omniscient?
  • What about the meter and rhyme? Is it iambic pentameter? Trochaic? Tetrameter? Does it have rhyming couplets? Does it help convey the meaning? (Does stress fall on particular words?)
  • Does it take on any recognisable form? Sonnet (Shakespearean/Petrarchan)? Dramatic monologue? Free verse? Epistolary? Is there enjambment or are there end-stopped lines? Does paragraphing draw attention to phrases?
  • How does the imagery convey the message? Is there much or little? Things to look out for:
    • Metaphors
    • Similes
    • Personification
    • Alliteration
    • Oxymorons/juxtaposition
  • Anything else?
  • Remember, you're not just feature stopping - you need to consider how the features convey the themes and ideas of the poem.

Once you've spent about ten minutes making notes, spend another five planning your essay. The questions are open-ended, but the main purpose of the essay is to argue how the writer presents their themes and ideas.

Finally, give it a final read, take a deep breath, and then get writing!

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Common Themes

We've been talking about them ever since we started studying literature, but just what is a theme? It is an abstract idea that becomes concrete through the use of images, characterisation, and action within a piece of literature. Don't confuse the theme with the subject--what the piece is literally about.

It's best to think about it in English Language terms: the suject is the semantic meaning, but the themes are the pragmatic meanings, what the text is about "under the surface". A story might be about trainspotters, for example, but the trains might actually symbolise the passage of life. Here, the subject is trainspotting, but the theme is life's passage.

Here are a few themes to get you thinking:

  • The difference between appearance and reality.



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