Musée des Beaux Arts

by W. H. Auden

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How would I organize a literary analysis essay arguing the meaning and origin of "Musée des Beaux Arts" by W. H. Auden and "On Seeing the Elgin Marbles" by John Keats, both of which are being analyzed by five different writers? Essentially, I have to turn five different critical essays into one five-page paper.

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When thinking about how to organize a literary analysis, it is good to think about the main point or thesis that you will establish and argue. The two poems you mention both deal with a poetic response to visual art—one a painting and the other a sculpture. Remember that when you are writing your thesis and putting together your analysis, it is expected that you are not stealing the analysis of other writers.

Instead, think of literary analysis as a dinner party. You are one of the newer guests, and you are entering into conversation with other guests who have been there longer. The five different writers you mention have been in conversation with one another about the meaning of those texts and how they connect, and you are adding your commentary to what they are saying. You might use their ideas as evidence for your own, but you should be adding your commentary to what has already been said.

As far as organization goes, it would be best to do the following:

Create a strong introductory paragraph that lays the foundation for what you will talk about in the rest of the essay. It might cover background information, give a short introduction to the texts you are analyzing, and set up your thesis.

Your thesis should answer three specific questions—what, how, and why.

  • What will you talk about? (For example, how the two poems are similar, different, play off the same themes, etc.)
  • How will you talk about it? (Here, you will explore the complexity in literary devices, tone, imagery, rhyme scheme, etc.)
  • Why does it matter? (Your answer might be that your paper will help others better understand the complex ideas explored in the text, or that it shows how different artists deal with the same themes in literature.)

Remember that the thesis doesn't have to be a single sentence.

Then you can divide up your sources (five authors with critiques) into different groupings. Two sources might talk about the relationship of the poems to the artwork; two might deal with the literary devices used or the way the two poets explore their central themes; and so on. However you group them, think about them as individual parts of a larger whole. Whatever groupings you use, they should all work together to explain the same overall idea of analysis of the text.

For instance, if you are saying the meaning of the two poems is similar (like how greatness eventually fades into obscurity or ruin), you might show or demonstrate how that happens in the poems through the use of literary devices, imagery, and allusion. The sources would be divided up to explore each of those reasons/arguments.

To get to five pages easily, consider the fact that every "reason" you might use could be its own section of the essay instead of a single body paragraph. The sections, which might have a subtitle of some sort, would resemble a mini-essay. If you are going to talk about how literary devices are used to explore the meaning of the poems, you can spend a good deal of time in that section, easily writing several paragraphs and covering two to three different literary devices with evidence from both the source poems and the critical texts. You could do the same with themes, tone, imagery, and so on. That makes the body of the essay much longer while also adding necessary depth to your analysis.

Finish with a conclusion in which you reiterate the main points, but then connect it to the larger question: so what? Why does it matter that these two poems share a similar theme or meaning? How does it connect to life, literature, or art as a whole? Start with your specific thesis, and then draw it out to relate to the broader world at large.

Ultimately, remember that you are the one doing the analysis, and you are utilizing the other writers' analysis as counterparts to your own. Their work acts as evidence for you to use in support of your own analysis, or their work can act as counterarguments for you to oppose, using your own analysis of the text to make points. Be sure not to overuse quotes or ideas from other writers, because that will lead to a disappointing grade and fewer chances to demonstrate your thinking and skill.

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