Pre-writes are included in the forty minutes, although I will be doing them on a separate piece of paper to facilitate my rather haphazard pre-writing method.
POETRY ESSAY PROMPT #1
 Poems: “To Helen” (Edgar Allan Poe) and “Helen” (H.D.)
Prompt: The following two poems are about Helen of Troy. Renowned in the ancient world for her beauty, Helen was the wife of Menelaus, a Greek King. She was carried off to Troy by the Trojan prince Paris, and her abduction was the immediate cause of the Trojan War. Read the two poems carefully. Considering such elements as speaker, diction, imagery, form, and tone, write a well-organized essay in which you contrast the speakers’ views of Helen.
Despite Edgar Allan Poe and H.D.'s respective poems "To Helen" and "Helen" dealing with the same subject matter, their unique usage of subtle literary techniques allows them to communicate two very different messages. Poe's "To Helen" is a sentimental piece that alludes to imagery commonly associated with Helen and classical works in general. H.D., on the other hand crafts a much darker picture of Helen and the tragedy she instigated. How the two poets manage to do this by focusing every aspect of their poems, from the title to the conclusion and everything in between, at communicating a specific theme.
"To Helen" is much closer to what one would expect a poem about a legendary Greek beauty would resemble. It is flowing and reverent, with a hint of sentimentality. Poe begins to form this impression from the start. The inclusion of the word "To", which differentiates Poe's poem from H.D.'s, immediately implies a much more personal message. The audience is clued in that this is not necessarily a poem for the masses, it is almost like a glimpse into the exchange of secret letters. This is reinforced further in the first line, where Poe establishes a first-person speaker. Both the poem's structure and Poe's diction narrow down the poem's emotional range. The syntax in "To Helen" is evidently made to flow as much as possible. Methods such as the alliteration in line four (the weary, way-worn wanderer) help facilitate this. Breaking down the poem further, the reader finds several allusions to ancient Greece and Rome, or words associated with the two civilizations (hyacinth, Naiad, Nicean, and Psyche are a few). Because Poe establishes a retrospective point of view by referencing "the glory that was Greece" and "the grandeur that was Rome", these allusions are almost like throwbacks to a bygone golden age. All these things combine to make for a wistful poem that marvels at not only Helen's beauty, but the beauty of the entire time.
H.D.'s "Helen" is radically different from both Poe's poem and what the reader would expect. The most telling difference is communicated through anaphora. The repetition of Greece's attitude toward Helen at the beginning of each stanza indicates to the reader what the overall tone of the poem is. Because Greece's attitude is defined by words such as "hate", "revile", and "unmoved", the context of the entire poem is changed. Independently, the description of Helen H.D. gives seems delicate and refined. However, when this is juxtaposed with such overpoweringly negative language, Helen seems fragile and sickly more than anything else. The poem's primary shift is the last nail in the almost literal coffin of Helen's condemnation. In the final three lines, H.D. switches from description to action. Greece not only hates her, it actively wants her dead. In this way, H.D. quite bluntly communicates his more cynical take on Helen.
Because Helen embodied both beauty and violence, Poe and H.D. were able to write two poems on her at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Where Poe writes in an idealistic tone, H.D. writes bitterly. Both poets strive to convey an attitude toward Helen using every element of their poem, be it flowery syntax or venomous descriptions. Because the writing is so tightly knit, the reader can easily understand complex feelings without them being explicitly stated.
[I went ten minutes over my time-limit on this one, but I guess that's what practice is for. My understanding of the two poems was actually pretty loose, and I may have grossly misunderstood one or both of them. If you've got a different interpretation, please let me know in the comments!]
POETRY ESSAY PROMPT #2
1982 Poem: “The Groundhog” (Richard Eberhart)Prompt: Write an essay in which you analyze how the language of the poem reflects the changing perceptions and emotions of the speaker as he considers the metamorphosis of the dead groundhog. Develop your essay with specific references to the text of the poem.
In Richard Eberhart's poem, "The Groundhog", the stanzas are unified into a discussion of death, both literal and figurative. Each season that is detailed by the speaker's visits to the groundhog are characterized by their diction and tone. Because the poem is structured sequentially, the reader can compare the technical differences in each of the poem's parts and better understand the speaker's evolving perceptions.
The first and most lengthy stage of the poem is the discovery. These first few stanzas are marked mostly by the speaker's confusion. The corpse is both frightening and saddening, evoking hatred as much as it does pity. Eberhart is able to explain this uncanny experience through juxtaposition and parallelism. This is most obviously evident in line 11 as the speaker struggles with both loathing and "strange love". In an effort to add to the emotional overload, Eberhart also makes heavy use of personification. "Vigorous summer", "senseless change", "nature ferocious", and "angry stick" are just a few. All these words together connote feverish incomprehension.
The speaker's return to the groundhog in Autumn marks the second step of both the groundhog's decay and the speaker's mindset. In this visit, the fervid emotions of the previous stanzas have cooled off into observational detachment. Although this segment is significantly shorter than the first, Eberhart still communicates a distinct attitude of emptiness. The diction provides much aid in this regard, such as in the phrases "lost its meaning" and "bony sodden hulk." The brevity of this section actually plays into the the theme of loss as well. In the wake of such primal turmoil from the first stanzas, the lack of any emotionally charged statements in the second leaves the reader distinctly aware of the void.
The last transformation of the speaker takes place over two more time-changes. The first is another summer visit, and the other is the speaker's reflection three years later. This final shift, following the confusion and detachment of the first and second visits respectively, is one of catharsis. Appropriately, this reconciliation is achieved with many of the same elements used to describe the speaker's original shock. Eberhart juxtaposes a summer that is "massive and burning, full of life" with the groundhog of which "there was only a little hair left". There is more juxtaposition still as the speaker contemplates the beauty of sun-bleached bones. The poem is ended with a sudden shift into the future, while at the same time the speaker alludes to influential people and civilizations of the past. Through these techniques, the final few stanzas signal an acceptance of conflicting emotions encapsulated within an overall melancholy mood.
It could be said that in spite of the title, the main subject of "The Groundhog" is the speaker. With each visit, the groundhog's increasing decay triggers a new set of feelings. A myriad of techniques are used to differentiate each visit from the other, and it is because of these that the reader can discern the speaker's fluctuating perception.
[I was fifteen minutes over the time-limit this time. I'd blame fatigue, but unfortunately that is likely to be an even bigger problem on the actual AP test. Out of curiosity, I decided to read the comments on the poetry site that I linked (after my writing my essay) to see how my understanding lined up with others. It is actually very similar to what another person posted -- to which another user promptly replied "shut up" -- but I can assure you that the ideas I used were all my own at the time of writing.]
Thanks for reading (or skimming) my essays! As always, honest constructive feedback is appreciated.
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