Comparing the effect of form, structure and language

Equestrian portrait of Count of Olivares on the left and on the right drawing of a horse by Mario De Biasi
Two pieces of art, depicting the same thing in very different ways

An important aspect of analysing poems involves making comment on form, structure and language. For a reminder of how to approach this sort of analysis, read the study guide on 'Responding to poetry'.

When comparing the use of form, structure and language in two poems it's important to remember that the poets will have specifically chosen to write their poem in a particular way. They will have thought about how form, structure and language would suit their intended effect. It is particularly important that you think about ways in which form, structure and language link to meaning and effect.

Example question

Read the opening of these two poems and think about ways in which they are similar or different. Try to concentrate on their form, structure and language.

Poem A

Exposure

by Wilfred Owen
Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east wind that knife us…
Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent….

Poem B

The Destruction of Sennacherib

by Lord Byron
The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;

Example response

Just from the opening two lines of each poem, you can already see ways in which the poems work differently.

Which of the following responses do you think works best?

Example A

Byron uses a simile ‘like a wolf on the fold’ which shows how strong the army is. He compares it to a wolf attacking sheep. However, Wilfred Owen does not use a simile which makes his opening less powerful.

Example B

Both poets create a strong visual impression in the opening lines. Byron does this through the simile ‘like a wolf on the fold’, comparing the army to a wolf attacking helpless sheep and showing the army’s power. Owen’s use of ‘merciless iced east winds’ shows the bitter cold of the wind, and the image of it ‘kniving’ the soldiers shows its violence.

Feedback

Example B is the strongest response. Although example A appreciates the power of Byron’s opening, the understanding is weaker because it tries to match up the use of a simile too directly with Owen. Owen’s opening is not less powerful because it does not have a simile, the poet has just chosen a different approach.

Next step

Think about two poems you have read and focus specifically on comparing the ways in which their form, structure and language contribute to their meaning and effect.

Explore the study guide for 'Exposure'.

Explore the study guide for 'The Destruction of Sennacherib'.