Poem Comparisons

The two poems Mezzo Cammin by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1842)  and When I have Fears by John Keats (1818) have much in common. Both poems address what the passage of time means to them; they both do not feel they have enough time to do the work they can. Each poem starts with the the desolation of time and what that means for them. Keats describes the sadness and fear that comes along with those thoughts and Longfellow uses a more melancholy tone; yet, both convey the same message. At the end of both, while Keats describes what he feels at the prospect of wasting away into nothing, Longfellow is saddened by what little he has done and worries about an uncertain future.

If I were to write an essay comparing and contrasting these two poems, I would organize each by the literary devices the poets use to convey their messages. I think imagery played a large role in each poem as well as the repetition and contrasting ends.

An outline of the essay I would write:

  • Thesis sentence: While each poems begins with the sadness each poet feels at not accomplishing everything they want to, they end on a different note: Longfellow’s prospect of the future is grim, whereas Keats is accepting and realizes the wonder of life no matter the ultimate end.
  • Topic sentences: In the beginning of each poem, the disappointment felt by each poet at not doing enough in the time they had is present.
    • In the opening lines, Keats expresses his fear of dying “before [his] pen has gleaned [his] teeming brain.” Similarly, Longfellow realizes that he has let “the years slip from me and have not fulfilled / [his] aspirations.”
    • Each poet uses the image of some large item as to convey how consuming their fears are. Keats says that his are “high-pilèd books, in charactery” and Longfellow describes his as a “tower of song with lofty parapet.”
  • Topic sentence: However, in the end the poets have different views on the future they have in store.
    • Each poets does similar actions; Keats goes to “the shore / of the wide world” and Longfellow goes “half-way up the hill” and sees a city.
    • In the end, Keats recognizes that “love and fame to nothingness do sink.” But, Longfellow reminisces on the past, thinking of it as “a city in the twilight dim” and his death as a giant waterfall ready to descend.




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