Comparing contexts

You may be asked to compare the contexts of two poems. For a reminder of how to approach this sort of analysis, read the study guide on 'Responding to poetry'.

As with other areas of comparison, you should comment on more than just the different contexts between two poems. Think about how their contexts relate to each other wherever possible. Try to avoid:

  • worrying about some poems having very famous or obvious contexts compared to others - you can consider context in different ways.
  • fitting in information without relating this to the comparison of the poems and the focus of the question being asked.

Questions to ask

Think about pairs of poems you know whose contexts could be compared with one another using the following prompts:

  • historical contexts - period when poems were written, events in the past they are about
  • locations - places or types of places that poems are written about
  • social and cultural contexts - particular ways of life, people's experiences of life that are the focus of the poems
  • literary contexts - genres or particular forms that a poem may be written in (eg a sonnet) or literary movements a poem may relate to (eg Romanticism)
  • readers’ contexts - ways in which different readers have engaged with the poems throughout time and in different situations
  • biographical contexts - how knowledge about poets' lives have affected the way poems are read

Example

The table below demonstrates some examples for how you might approach comparing the contexts between two poems.

Context Poem A Poem B Ideas for comparison
HistoricalExposure by Wilfred Owen Remains by Simon Armitage Both war poems: Owen - WW1; Armitage - contemporary Middle East conflict. Both show tragedy of war and effect on serving soldiers.
PlaceLiving Space by Imtiaz Dharker Cozy Apologia by Rita Dove Domestic locations, how we live in our homes - life and buildings. Dharker - precarious buildings, poor lives’, Dove - comfortable, safe.
Social and culturalKamikaze by Beatrice Garland The Émigrée by Carol Rumens People affected by conflict, excluded from home, culture, sadness, effect of culture on individuals. Garland - speaker within country, reflecting on life as an outcast. Rumens - speaker safe but banished from homeland.
LiteraryThe Destruction of Sennacherib by Lord Byron To Autumn by John Keats Influence of Romanticism: power of nature in both, impact of death. Byron - relationship with past, biblical account. Keats - focus on the present, personal account.
ReadersEnvy by Mary Lamb What Were They Like? by Denise Levertov Lamb - moral message in nursery rhymes popular at the time, but still relevant now. Levertov - Vietnam War in more recent past, a second voice used, reader looks back with hindsight.
BiographicalTo Autumn by John Keats Living Space by Imtiaz Dharker Biographical details add to poems’ power. Keats - died not long after poem published, sense of own death present? Dharker - modern-day poet who's spent much time in Mumbai, affected by life in slum towns.

Study guide for 'Cozy Apologia' by Rita Dove.

Study guide for 'Envy' by Mary Lamb.

Study guide for 'Exposure' by Wilfred Owen.

Study guide for 'Kamikaze' by Beatrice Garland.

Study guide for 'Living Space' by Imtiaz Dharker.

Study guide for 'Remains' by Simon Armitage.

Study guide for 'The Destruction of Sennacherib' by Lord Byron.

Study guide for 'The Émigrée' by Carol Rumens.

Study guide for 'To Autumn' by John Keats.

Study guide for 'What Were They Like?' by Denise Levertov.