select two poems from the section of the book, “Words and Music: An Album” (p. 885-896) and use these as the basis for a comparative essay.

Essay should be approximately 2 1/2 – 3 double spaced pages, 700 – 800 words.

  1. Follow MLA format for essays.  There are links to both the rules for MLA and sample essays in MLA format in the First Essay folder on the course homepage. (Note: Unfortunately, the sample essays in the textbook do NOT follow MLA format as far as having a proper heading.  Again, use the samples found in the Essay 1 folder.)
  2. Be sure to have a clear thesis at the end of your introduction. You will prove this thesis in the body of the essay.  (Review the handout “1302 Overview of the Essay and Rules for the Thesis” in Module 2 for more information on thesis statements.  One key point I would like to emphasize is that the thesis should not “announce”; it should not have phrases like “In this essay I will prove…” or “We will examine such and such… .”)
  3. Do not use any outside/secondary sources. (But, if for whatever reason an outside source IS used, you must properly cite that source in the body of the paper AND provide a correct list of Works Cited.)
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  4. You do need to use brief, relevant quotes  from the poems to support your points.
  5. Avoid using first person “I” and second person “you.”  (You may use first person plural “we” to refer to the audience or the readers.)
  6. Since this is the first paper and no secondary sources are to be used (and since we have not had time to cover format and other related issues) you do not need a Works Cited for this paper.  (See item #4 for the exception to this.)
  7. The final essay will be turned in directly to by the due date.  (For more information on, please see the Turnitin Instructions in the Essay folder.)

When I grade this essay, I will look for:

  • A strong, clear thesis.  This thesis will be at the end of the introduction.
  • An introduction paragraph that introduces both poem titles and authors as well as the central issues of the paper.  This introduction paragraph should end with the thesis.
  • A good balance in the comparison/discussion of both poems.
  • Good use of quotes from/specific references to the poems.
  • Logical paragraphing. Each paragraph should have a unique issue as its focus.  Each of these “issues” should, of course, be related to the thesis.

I discuss each essay assignment in detail in the Module Notes and Comments found in each module.  Be sure to review these.

(Please note: Some of you may be classmates in a Dual Credit setting. Please do NOT deliberately select the same topic or especially the same poems for this assignment.)

The topics:

Here first are the basic topics. You will be selecting JUST ONE of these topics. Each topic asks you to select 2 poems from the same section in the book.

  1. Select two poems from the section of the book, “Words and Music: An Album” (p. 885-896) and use these as the basis for a comparative essay.


  1. Select two poems from the section of the book, “The Poems of the Harlem Renaissance” (p. 1040-1048) and use these as the basis for a comparative essay. (Note: You are welcome to use the information in our book on the Harlem Renaissance that precedes these poems (p. 1031-1040).  If you do, be sure to cite our textbook’s author.  Example: ” ” (Mays 1033).



  • Try to find 2-4 specific areas of comparison for your poems. I like to refer to these as your focus points.
  • Look carefully at the questions that follow each poem. These can give you great ideas for the direction you might take with your essay.
  • Review the questions and topic selections at the end of each section/chapter. You can use these, adapt these, or even combine these for writing ideas. These also may spark ideas of your own. Keep in mind, though, that you are not to do any outside research for this essay.



Additional specific thoughts on these topics: (You do NOT have to use any of these ideas; these are just to help get you thinking): 

For Topic 1: Our book offers great ideas for discussion of these poems, not only with the questions after the poems and at the end of the section, but also in the introductory material. One basic question that comes up with those poems that are actually song lyrics is “how well does this work as a poem?” In other words, does it still “work” without being set to actual music?

For Topic 2: How well do the ideas and themes in each poem fit with the seemingly constrictive form of the sonnet? Does one poem seem to “work” better, as a sonnet, than the other? How well do the poems seem to fit traditional ideas of a sonnet, especially regarding subject matter (love, emotions). How well do the sounds of poems (via rhyme, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, etc.) reinforce their respective tones/themes?

Again, all of these are suggestions to get you writing.  The key to this topic (and all of the topics) is that you select two poems from the same section and come up with a thesis to guide your writing.

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