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World War One Poetry Essay Plan

You will be asked to compare two or more poems in your exam. You will usually be given some of the poems which you must write about, and you might need to choose other poems to compare them with.

You could be asked to write about the presentation of themes, people or places and the importance of language.

Writing a good comparative essay

All essay questions expect you to comment on the areas covered in Writing about poetry. This means you must write about the use of language, the effect of language and form, and how it makes you feel.

A good comparative essay is like a multi-layered sandwich:

  • BREAD - A new point.

  • FILLING A - How one of your chosen poems illustrates this point.

  • FILLING B - How your other chosen poem illustrates this point.

  • BREAD - Your conclusion about this point.

This is what the examiners call cross-referencing [cross-referencing: A technique in essay writing that compares points from two or more texts to formulate part of an argument. These texts might hold similar views or opposing ones. ] - you talk about both poems all the way through your answer.

What the examiner will look for

When marking your essay, the examiner will look to see whether you have appreciated and explored the:

  • ideas
  • attitudes and tone
  • structure and form
  • techniques used by the poets

When answering an exam question, keep these five criteria in mind.

Back to Writing and comparing poetry index

Writing a response

When writing an essay about your interpretation of, or response to, a poem, you should consider the points below.

Essay-writing tips

  • Write a plan first, noting what you'll include in each paragraph.
  • Begin with a brief overview of the poem.
  • Go on to mention themes, form, structure, rhythm and language.
  • Mention a range of views or perspectives.
  • Compare the poem to another one.
  • Mention any relevant details about the context of the poem.
  • Conclude with a firm judgement about the poem.
  • Support all you say with details or quotes from the poem.

Key words

A good approach to begin with is to highlight any key words which stand out for you. Make sure you use these key words in your essay.

Example question

How does Owen present the horrors of war in the poem Exposure?


  • Overview: two different aspects – the war itself and the conditions they are trying to survive in, first-person perspective based on direct experience.
  • The fighting: noise of battle, the endless waiting for something to happen, use of alliteration.
  • The weather: weather is a central theme, the freezing conditions are potentially more dangerous than the fighting and the use of long vowel sounds (assonance) echoes the brutal force of the weather.
  • Sense of despair: inevitable feelings that death will be the result; use of half rhyme is unsettling.
  • Language: Owen uses emotive language to draw the reader in and make them part of the experience. He wants the reader to be angry about what is happening. A personal poem demanding a personal response.

Some other essay questions to think about:

  • How does Wilfred Owen make Exposure a highly personal poem?
  • Compare how both Wilfred Owen and one other writer use poetry to comment on the effects of war.

More about planning an essay.

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