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YOURSELF

Read a poem and think about the effect it has on you. Read it through again at least two or three
times before starting to write about it. If you are writing about a poem you have already studied
before, re-reading it will remind you of its effect.
If there are parts of the poem you dont understand or confuse you, dont worry. At this stage, you
are just trying to work out your general response to the poem.

Questions to consider:

how does this poem make me feel?


are there particular parts of the poem that stand out for me and why?
what is the poet saying or how is the poet expressing themselves that makes me feel this
way?
are there other ways that someone else might interpret the poem?
what are the details in the poem that might support another interpretation?

Example question

Read this first stanza of Jackie Kays poem Dusting the Phone. Think about what your response
to it is and what stands out to you. Try reading it twice and closing your eyes and looking away,
what do you remember from it?
Dusting the Phone
by Jackie Kay
I am spending my time imagining the worst that could happen.
I know this is not a good idea, and that being in love, I could be
spending my time going over the best thing that has been happening.

Sample response

We can see that the speaker is 'in love' and she imagines 'the worst that could happen'. This is
striking because we imagine being in love as being something that makes people happy. However
the first stanza shows that this isnt always the case and that love can make someone anxious and
worried.

Feedback

This response demonstrates the readers engagement with the poem and shows an understanding
of the way the poem offers a surprising view of love. It includes short references from the poem
that is effectively woven into the response.
EFFECT

Once you have thought about your own personal response and other people's possible responses,
think in more detail about how the poem is achieving its effect. There may not be a clear, right
answer, and there isnt a comprehensive list of things you must comment on. However, there are
some general approaches that can help you think about the power of a poem.

Themes, ideas and attitudes

There are popular themes in poetry such as love, conflict, time, place, nature, family, and
childhood, but a poem can have any theme. Poets want to express something to the reader. This
is often something they feel very strongly about so thinking about the message behind the poem is
a good starting point.

Questions to consider:

is it clear what the poem is about and is there a clear theme?


could the poem be about different things and why might you think this?
are there key lines or phrases that stand out to you as saying something strongly?
are the themes/ideas clear throughout, or do they emerge or change during the poem?
are there any particular clues in the title or at the start and end of the poem?

Example question

Read the title and opening four lines of To Autumn by John Keats. What themes , ideas or
attitudes are emerging?
To Autumn
by John Keats
Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun:
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;

Sample response

The title tells the reader that this poem is centred on the season of Autumn. The opening stanza
focuses on and establishes aspects of nature during this season, with references to mists, the sun,
vines and the eaves of a thatched cottage. This gives the impression that the speaker very much
admires this beautiful, rural, autumnal scene.

Feedback

This response demonstrates the reader's understanding of the poem being about nature and
autumn and that they form the central themes for the poem. It also shows an understanding of the
speakers attitude, which is admiration of the season.
LANGUAGE
It is crucial to observe a poem's form, structure and language but once you've identified the
techniques that a poet has used for these, you should think about how they link to the meanings
and effects of a poem.
Questions to ask
Meaning Considerations
yourself

Can you spot a


Some poems adopt specific form? Why
specific forms eg might the poet have If the poem does not
sonnets or narrative chosen this? How have a specific form you
poems. Many dont does it link to the recognise, think about
have an identifiable message of the poem the impact of the
Form form. or its ideas? structure.

Think about big and


The way the poet has small building blocks of a
organised the poem poem - the overall
on the page eg shape, number of
number of stanzas, How might the way stanzas, length of
lines per stanza, the poem appears on stanzas, length of lines,
breaks in between the page link to its movement between lines
Structure lines and stanzas. meaning and effect? and stanzas.

Can you spot a


rhyme scheme? Is
this regular or varied?
Are there a regular
number of beats or
The poem may have stresses in each line? Dont just count beats
Rhyme, a rhyme scheme Does this vary? How and rhyming words, think
rhythm, and/or a noticeable does this link to the how these link to the
metre rhythm in each line. mood of the poem? mood of the poem.

When I read the


poem and look away,
what words, phrases
or lines do I Language is like the
remember? Why are engine of a poem. What
The power of they powerful? How fires it up is thinking
individual words or does the language of about the power of the
phrases and the the poem support the language. This can be a
overall effect of the overall effect and strategy for getting to the
Language language in a poem. meaning? heart of a poem.

Ways in which a poet Once Ive felt the Identifying techniques is


Poetic
uses language in a mood and message only the first step. A
techniques
particular way to of a poem, can I spot good analysis has to
or devices
create effect eg the ways the poet think about how these
Questions to ask
Meaning Considerations
yourself

simile, metaphor, has used language to link to meaning and


alliteration, support the meaning? effect.
personification. How do specific
techniques link to
meaning?

Example question

Read the opening of She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron. Select one thing that strikes you about
the form, structure or language and think about how that might link to the meaning or effect of the
opening.
She Walks in Beauty
by Lord Byron
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all thats best of dark and bright
Meet in the aspect of her eyes.

Sample response

Byron uses a simile to compare the woman to a cloudless and starry night. By opening the
poem in this way, he immediately conveys what a strong impression she made on him. Comparing
her to such a striking natural scene suggests he finds her very beautiful, perhaps even sparkling
like the stars he refers to and therefore standing out from other people.

Feedback

This response does more than just stating that a simile is used. It shows clear understanding of
the effect of this use and provides an understanding, and appreciation, for why the poet chose to
begin the poem in this way.

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