Things to comment on in each poem
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.
Vultures - Content
Graphic/ unpleasant description of vultures who are nesting together around a dead body
Talks about strangest of love
shows "love" of concentration camp commander showing it to his family - having spent his day burning human corpses, he buys them sweets on the way home.
the end of the poem is open to interpretation. Poet praises that even cruelest being can show love but on the other hand they only show love to thier family and can still commit awful crimes to others
Vultures - Structure/Language
Poem is written in different lengths
4 sections -indented line rather than new stanza
Vultures - not what the poem is about just symbolises evil they are just the theme
Past tense but Belsen commander in present tense
Vultures - Imagery
The opening lines of the poem are dark.
The 'greyness' is heightened by the heavy alliteration 'in drizzle of one despondent dawn'
'sunbreak' (line 4) does not lift the atmosphere.
There are metaphors of horror and death: the 'dead tree' branch on which the vultures are roosting is described as a 'broken bone'
while the male vulture's bashed-in head is a 'pebble on a stem' and its body is a 'dump of gross feathers'
In the second section, the vultures' affection leads the poet on to think about the nature of love. Love is personified as a woman finding a place to sleep.
She is 'in other ways so particular' and hard to please, yet, strangely, she chooses to sleep with the vultures, 'that charnel house' .Yet why does love sleep with 'her face turned to the wall'?
Vultures - imagery 2
We see the 'Belsen Commandant' - a mass murderer - as Daddy. Why does Achebe use a child's name for him rather than 'father'?
In the fourth section, the poet again uses metaphors: the evil Commandant is 'an ogre' with merely a spark of love - 'a tiny glow-worm tenderness' in the 'icy caverns of a cruel heart'
These are fairly clichéd images, perhaps because Achebe wanted to suggest that what he is describing is nothing new: there will always be love and evil in the world.
The 'germ' of love does not seem to grow as a normal seed would because the 'perpetuity of evil' (line 50) is bound up with it and prevents it from developing. (Think of wheat germ rather than disease-carrying germs.)
There is some alliteration in the poem, but, otherwise, Achebe concentrates on visual images rather than sound effects to present his ideas.
Nothing's Changed - Content
District 6 - mixed race inner city community
1960's became a white only area by goverment and evacuate non white people
Apartied - seperate development of white and black people
The poet returns to the wasteland that was once his home, and relives the anger he felt when the area was first destroyed.
He sees a new restaurant: expensive, stylish, exclusive, with a guard at the gatepost.
He thinks about the poverty around it, especially the working man's café nearby, where people eat without plates from a plastic tabletop.
Makes him reflect that despite the changing political situation, there are still huge inequalities between blacks and whites. Even though South Africa is supposed to have changed, he knows the new restaurant is really 'whites-only'. He feels that nothing has really changed.
The deep anger he feels makes him want to destroy the restaurant - to smash the glass with a stone, or a bomb.
Nothing's Changed - Structure/Language
6 stanzas - 8 fairly short lines
regularity of lines gives sense of control , poet clear about feeling -calm
Present tense - poet reliving experiences makes poem vivid
We can imagine how his hands 'burn' to take revenge. It is a physical image - one we can almost feel ourselves.
The images in the poem - of the wasteland itself, the expensive restaurant, and the working man's cafe - are sharply contrasted.
Nothing's changed - sounds
Stanza 1 consists of a single sentence in which almost each word is stressed.
It follows the poet as he ventures onto the wasteland, step by step on the hard, unfriendly ground.
Now compare that with stanza 2. Look at the effect of the build up of repeated 'ands' in this stanza? What happens to the length of the lines here? Which words do you stress as you read this stanza?
Stanza 3 is another long sentence. Notice how the subject of the stanza isn't actually mentioned until the end. What effect does that have?
Nothing's Changed - attitudes , ideas and tone
Much of the meaning of a poem is conveyed by the attitude it expresses toward its subject matter. Attitude can be thought of as a combination of the poet's tone of voice, and the ideas he or she is trying to get across to the reader.
Blessing - Content
The poem is set in a vast area of temporary accommodation called Dharavi, outskirts of Mumbai, where millions of migrants have gathered from other parts of India and there is always a shortage of water because it is not an official living area.
The poem starts with a simple statement: 'There is never enough water', and shows what it is like to be without water.
When the poet imagines water, it is so special it is compared to a god.
When a water pipe bursts, we are shown how the community responds: they collect as much water as possible.
The children enjoy the water and play in it.
Blessing - Structure/Language
4 stazas - different lengths , 1 stanzas short no water 3rd stanzas lots of water = long stanzas.
words in this poem that rhyme. pod/god and ground/found/around.
alliteration: 'the flow has found', 'polished to perfection'
Stanza three refers to 'men, women and children', but stanza four focuses on the children alone, as the water pours over 'their small bones'.
Look at the different reactions of the adults and the children to the pipe bursting.
The poem opens with a striking image of dryness: 'The skin cracks like a pod'.
The sound of a drip of water is described in a metaphor as 'the voice of a kindly god',
while water itself is referred to as fortune, as silver, and as 'the blessing'. 'Blessing' is a religious word: blessings come from gods.
A congregation can just mean 'a crowd of people', but its main meaning is 'a crowd of worshippers'.
When the water appears, we get words like rush, burst, crash, flow, roar.
Blessing - attitude, ideas and tone
How should the poem be read?
- In a pitiful voice, sympathising with the poor of India?
- Excitedly, celebrating the blessing of the pipe bursting?
The main idea in this poem is that water - so essential to life - comes to be seen by people in a hot, dry country as supremely precious, a divine gift - a blessing.
Night of the scorpion - content
About the night when a woman (the poet's mother) in a poor village in India is stung by a scorpion.
Concerned neighbours pour into her hut to offer advice and help.
All sorts of cures are tried by the neighbours, her husband and the local holy man, but time proves to be the best healer
'After twenty hours / it lost its sting.'.
After her ordeal, the mother is merely thankful that the scorpion stung her and not the children.
Night of the Scorpion - structure/language
free verse - no rhyme
1st part of poem - full of lots of activity and is long
2nd part - mothers reaction just 3 lines long
The title is in some ways deceptive.It leads us to believe we are in for a frightening and dramatic tale with a scorpion taking centre stage.
In fact, the poem is not about the scorpion at all, but about the reactions of different people to its sting.
The poem starts off in the 1st person. Ezekiel describes an event that really happened.
However, he does not give his own feelings or reactions: we realise he is merely the narrator. Most of the poem is in the 3rd person, as Ezekiel reports on what other people do and say.
Night of the scorpion - language 2
Ezekiel does not portray the scorpion as a villain: it was driven to shelter 'beneath a sack of rice' after ten hours of rain. Stung the poet's mother instinctively as a warning to her when she approached its hiding place, rather than harming her on purpose; and having delivered the sting, scared off the people indoors, 'he risked the rain again'
The villagers more superstitious and link the scorpion to 'the Evil One'.
They claim that the poison will help in many ways. For example, by burning away the sins of the woman's former life - 'her previous birth' - and ease her life after this one - 'her next birth'.
The events of the night are described in rich detail - we know about the mud hut and the candles and lanterns, yet we know little about the individual neighbours ='they'.
Ezekiel's father does not believe in superstitions and is not religious. Yet when his wife is suffering, he tries 'every curse and blessing'.The final, simple 'After twenty hours / it lost its sting' nothing worked, after all.
The final three lines are poignant. We hear Ezekiel's mother's exact words, her simple speech is in contrast to the gabbling neighbours. She doesn't show any bitterness about her ordeal: she is just grateful that she was the one who was hurt rather than her children. (Children are more vulnerable to scorpion bites than adults.) She thanks God.
Night of the scorpion - imagery/sound
Simile = comparing the villagers to 'swarms of flies' . It is striking that he uses an insect image to describe the people's reaction to an invertebrate's sting. Another simile: 'they buzzed the name of God'.
The neighbours' candles and lanterns throw 'giant scorpion shadows' on the walls . We know that the scorpion has already fled. (A scorpion has eight legs, so the shadow of a small group of people standing together could look like a scorpion.)
There is a contrast between the neighbours' 'peace of understanding' and the mother who 'twisted... groaning on a mat' It is ironic that they are at peace because of her discomfort.
alliteration throughout the poem that helps to link or emphasise ideas: the scorpion is seen 'Parting with his poison'. Ezekiel's father tries 'herb and hybrid', Ezekiel sees 'flame feeding' on his mother.
There is a lot of repetition, so that we hear the villagers' prayers and incantations. Ezekiel uses direct speech, 'May...', to dramatise the scene and the echoed 'they said' is like a chorus.
night of the scorpion - attitudes/ideas/tone
In a factual tone, like a report, narrating the events of the night?
In a mystic tone, to contrast the different calls to gods and God throughout the poem?
Reverently, to show Ezekiel's pride in his mother?
The ideas in this poem concern our difficult feelings towards aspects of the natural world that seem to threaten us - the frightened insect becomes the Evil One! - and the complex ways in which individuals and communities respond when disaster strikes one of their number.
Night of the scorpion comparison
A comparison with Chinua Achebe's 'Vultures'
Poet and poemWhat to look for in your comparison Chinua Achebe: 'Vultures' - Both poems use unexpected changes of mood to engage the reader with the ideas of the poems. We start off feeling sympathy for the scorpion, but we are left thinking perhaps this really is a diabolical creature. With the vultures, we feel that they represent something depressing and violent and yet we are surprised by the affection between the two birds.
Two savengers - content
The poem describes four people held together for a moment at a red traffic light.
There are two scavengers - garbagemen 'on their way home' after their round
and two 'beautiful people', an elegant couple 'on the way to his
The garbagemen's day ends where the young couple's begins.
The poet compares the two pairs in detail, then seems to ask - at
the end of the poem - whether America really is a 'democracy'.
Two scavengers - structure/language
The poem's structure is fairly free.
The poet doesn't use punctuation;
instead, he begins a new line when he wants us to pause in our reading. This slows the poem down and gives us time to appreciate each idea.
The poem appears very fragmented on the page. might suggest the fragmented or 'broken' nature of society.
The title shows us straight away that the poem will be about the contrasts between two pairs of people.
'Scavengers' is a derogatory term for the garbagemen because it suggests that they live off the rubbish of others - a scavenger beetle lives off rotting flesh. However, 'Beautiful People' is a compliment. So, right from the start, we feel the garbagemen are at a disadvantage.
Two scarvengers -language
However, the garbagemen are 'looking down' into the Mercedes. At face value, this is clearly because the garbage truck is taller than the car, but is there an ironic message too? You might have expected the rich couple to 'look down on' the dustmen, not the other way round.
The descriptions of the four people are very visual, making it easy to imagine the scene.
Appearances tell us a lot. The rich couple are very fashionable: he has an expensive 'hip three-piece linen suit' ,while her blond hair is 'casually coifed'.
On the other hand, the garbagemen are 'grungy' . The younger one has 'sunglasses & long hair' just like the 'Mercedes driver', which forces us to compare the two.
The poem is written in the present tense. This gives a sense of immediacy - we feel that the poem is happening now. From a wider perspective, it also suggests that the huge gap between the rich and the poor is a problem now, too.
The language is modern, simple and sometimes colloquial (eg, 'cool couple'). There are short cuts - '&' is used instead of 'and'.
What point is Ferlinghetti making about American democracy? Has it failed, because there is still an obvious gap between rich and poor? Or would it be unrealistic to expect a perfect democracy, free of class distinctions?
Two scavengers - imagery
The garbagemen are riding 'a bright yellow garbage truck' and wear 'red plastic blazers' later on we find one of them has 'grey iron hair'.
These are strong colours. The couple in the Mercedes, though, are almost colourless: he wears a 'linen suit' - natural linen is a cream colour - and they both have blond hair. the garbagemen have more colour in their lives? young couple actually colourless and boring?
The older garbageman has a hunched back and looks 'like some gargoyle Quasimodo'.
This simile is striking: Quasimodo is the Hunchback of Notre Dame in Victor Hugo's novel. He is a tragic figure: kind and loving despite his ugliness, he finally dies of a broken heart. Quasimodo means almost finished or half made.
The garbagemen stare at the young couple 'as from a great distance'. They are actually close together, stuck at the red light. Does the image suggest the 'distance' between the lives each pair lead?
For the dustmen, looking at the couple is the same as 'watching some odourless TV ad' - the ways of life portrayed seem impossibly perfect. To the garbagemen, the couple are almost unreal and their lifestyle is out of reach.
The closing lines of the poem involve a metaphor about the sea. If America is the high seas, the distance between the two vehicles is a 'small gulf' or narrow mouth that should be easy to cross.
Yet we also think of the other meaning of gulf - a deep chasm or abyss. It may look possible to cross, but really it is impossible. The lives of the two pairs may cross 'for an instant' but they will never be genuinely close together.
Two scavengers - sound
Ferlinghetti uses repetition in his poem.
Individual words are repeated, for instance, 'elegant' and 'scavengers' as well as phrases such as 'as if'.
shows division between people and emphasises the couple and the men.
Two scavengers - attitudes , ideas and tone
In a loud, angry tone, to protest about the failure of democracy?
In a sombre, muted tone, to express sadness that a gap remains between rich and poor?
In a dramatic tone, so that we wonder what may happen between the two pairs of people?
The ideas in this poem are to do with the extreme divisions between rich people and poor people in a supposedly egalitarian society, and the effect these divisions have on how people perceive each other.
Two scavengers - comparision
Imtiaz Dharker: 'Blessing'
Both poems have a very free structure and describe the lives of ordinary people.
- We are not told where the action of 'Blessing' takes place, but can guess that it is set in a rural village; 'Two Scavengers' takes place very explicitly at 'nine am downtown San Francisco'.
writing to describe
To describe is to give a description of what something or someone is like.
When describing, you should:
- Remember that your thoughts and feelings are important in this sort of writing, eg how does this place make you feel and why?