Comparing themes, ideas and attitudes

Icons for three themes (conflict, love, time)Conflict, love and time are themes that are often explored in poetry

You may be presented with two poems to compare and in other instances, you may be presented with one poem but be given the option to choose another poem to compare it with. This will often involve two poems that tackle similar themes which might include:

  • love / relationships
  • power / conflict
  • time / place
  • youth / age

Comparisons exercise

Here are some questions to help you think about the themes, ideas and attitudes of two poems when making a comparison:

  • Who is the speaker in each poem?
  • How are the speaker's views similar or different?
  • Does one poem present a more positive view than the other?
  • Do they focus on the same aspect of the overall theme?
  • Is there a stronger point of view in one poem compared to the other?
  • Do they concentrate on one aspect of a theme or explore different areas?
  • What about the tone or mood of each poem - are they similar?

Example

Two poems that deal with the theme of family relationships are Walking Away by Cecil Day Lewis and Eden Rock by Charles Causley. Although they share the same overall theme, the poems also differ in other areas.

Area of focusSimilar Different
Themes Parent/child relationship, childhood, necessary move away from parents as child grows up, strong family love outlasting separation. Walking Away - parent speaking about child; Eden Rock - child speaking about parents. Walking Away - loss, letting go; Eden Rock - loss, idea of being reunited.

The table provides some ideas for how you might compare these two poems but it is not a definitive list of points. It is through exploring and identifying these similarities and differences that enable us to deepen our understanding of the poems.

Next step

Try this comparisons exercise with two poems you know that tackle similar themes. Explore whether or not the poets present the themes differently, and think about the more subtle differences between them. Consider the attitude of the speakers and the ideas which are presented in each poem.

Explore the study guide for 'Walking Away'.