8 Top Poems


I, being born a woman and distressed

Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1923

American liberal and pacifist - first poem published at 8

Bisexual and open about her sexuality - atypical for time 

Patricia Kelmans: 'feminist philosophy'

Lust over love - atypical for literature of the time - reason vs passion (lexical set of the body)

Subverts typical structure - Petrachan sonnet - with atypical content

Social Satire - riddled with sarcasm

Ironic title - challenging stereotypes about women - hysterical woman archetype

Edith Wharton

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Love and a Question

Robert Frost, 1913

Jimmy Anderson: 'Frost stands on the crossroads of 19th century American poetry and modernism'

Duty v love - moral dilemna

Wedding night - traditionally a time for the couple to be alone - for Victorian couples, often the first time without chaperones

Archaic syntax - Victorian poetry

Mental illness ran through Frost's family - father died of TB at 11

Frost himself suffered from depression

Dilemna not solved - mystery/ambiguity 

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One Flesh

Elizabeth Jennings, 1985

Part of the movement - strict structure, atypical message - typical of modernism

Couple trapped in loveless marriage by Catholic faith (Jennings herself was Catholic)

Final lines reveal the couple as her parents

Lucinda Harrington: 'a negative view of couples who have been together a long time'

Clive: 'she has ben prolific without interruption'

Title ironically suggests intimacy - cynical

Typical of sixties generation who were encouraged to marry young?

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For my lover, Returning to His Wife

Anne Sexton,  1968

Mental health issues and psychotic episodes - sleeping with her married psychologist

Confessional style - brutally open and honest

Beauty and idealisation of motherhood and 'the wife' - explicit sexual imagery (atypical)

Extended metaphor for being fleeting - setting him free

Creates pathos for Sexton, despite her role as mistress

References to art at start and end - cyclic in structure

James Dickney: 'the type of poetry she wrote is confessional poetry and often controversial

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Seamus Healy, 1975

Pious Catholic, mildly nationalist, rural family

Execution of young adulteress in Germany - 'bog bodies' - and Belfast Girls - 'Betraying sisters' - shorn, tarred and feathered by IRA - women who dated British soldiers

Metaphorical connection between two violent events 

Sexual imagery

Cynical of both religion and 'the Troubles'

Richard Murphy: 'the finest art in presenting a coherent vision of Ireland, past and present.'

typical of modern literature

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Keith Douglas, 1943

Forget me not - symbol of remberancr in Canada

During WWII, in which Douglas fought - KIA during invasion of Normandy 

Extrospective - 'quite callous' - 'unsettling' 

Owens: 'discomforts so profoundly'

Reflects on the nature of humanity 

Dated in Tunisia, during invasion of Italy 

Lots of war poetry from WWI, less from WWII (less criticism of WWII generally)

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Long Finish

Paul Muldoon, 1998

Double Ballade

Imagery of Jewish wedding - 'Chuppah'

Dow - financial market - sibilance - 'soars and slumps in the Dow'

Ten year anniversary with wife - reflecting on marriage

The Irish Troubles - Matsukaze (story of Japanese sisters)

Pine word play - the tree and the emotion

Envoi - typical feature of ballade - 'Princess of Accutane' - excema cream

Positive message of love and acceptance - long-term focus

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After the Lunch

Wendy Cope, 2002

Waterloo Bridge - typical romantic setting

Conflict between head and heart - typical theme in modern literature

Comedic - typical of Cope

Down to earth struggle

Could be a metaphor for a moment rather than a realistic recollection

Childish and light hearted

A date? Or a funeral?

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