AQA Best Words Pre-1914 Poem Summaries

A brief summary of each Pre-1914 poem with some theme, form and language analysis (I am only half way through at the moment. I will update them and complete the notes soon).

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  • Created by: Emma
  • Created on: 31-03-10 21:20

To Autumn - John Keats


  • First stanza is defining what and who Autumn is i.e. her features.
  • Second stanza is personifying Autumn (using action verbs to make her seem like a person) and showing her character (careless, Drows'd, patient).
  • Third stanza is about the sounds of Autumn (wailful choir, loud bleat, redbreast whistles, Hedge-crickets sing, swallows twitter, etc.)
  • It is different from other poems of his time, because most people write about Spring but he writes about Autumn.


  • It is an ode, so it is written like a letter to someone, in this case, to Autumn.
  • It has a rhyme scheme of (usually) ABABCDECDDE, but is slightly diifferent in the first stanza. The E and then double DD at the end sets up an expectation for a rhyme and the last rhyming E is more satisfying as there is a longer wait.
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To Autumn - continued


  • It is a very sensuous poem; it uses senses such as smell (fume of poppies), sight (half-reap'd furrows), sound (swallows twitter), taste (sweet kernel) and touch (light wind).
  • First stanza: heavy sounds (load, bend, Summer) combined with lazy sounds such as zzz and eee (hazel, cells, eaves, bees, sweet) make the reader feel drowsy and warm, with warm, comforting sounds (clammy, Summer, warm).
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First Love - John Clare


  • This is a plain and simple love poem.
  • He is affected physically (My legs refused to walk away, my blood rushed to my face) and emotionally (Stole my heart away).


  • The rhyme scheme is ABABCDCD. It is very simple, sweet and chirping, which compliments his feelings and his love for her.
  • The poem is in Iambic pentatmeter (da dum da dum, like a heart beat), which echoes the beating of the poet's heart. It is lively and driving the poem along.


  • Straight forward and simple language. Visual words used allows you to imagine his situation. Hard words (struck, burnt, sudden) make love sound like an undesirable state to be in.
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My Last Duchess - Robert Browning


  • It is a dramatic monologue (a person telling their side of the story to the audience/reader, rather than anyone in the poem). The story is told by the Duke.
  • The poem is about how the Duke killed the Duchess (it is quite difficult to understand this from the text, and so...)

Story: The Duke shows someone the painting of his late wife. Everyone thinks that she is beautiful, even the painter. She was a lovely, warm lady to whom people gave gifts, which she thanked them for 'as if she ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name with anybody's gift' (i.e. the Duke thinks she should respect him and grovel at his feet more for marrying her). The Duke grows angry with her behaviour and so orders someone to kill her. In the last part, the Duke is showing the painting off to a representative of a new wife-to-be along with his other collectibles, as if his wife were merely a trophy and better as a painting.

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My Last Duchess - continued


  • It is an Iambic pentatmeter (heart beat, da dum da dum) and so it sounds natural and flowing - as though the Duke is merely having a conversation.
  • AABB - simple, short. It is hidden because of the enjambment (lack of punctuation or end-stopping) and yet the expectation is still satisfied, as you can hear and feel the rhyme.


  • As it is a dramatic monologue, we are not told how the characters actually are; they are described as the Duke would see them, and so we have to use the words to decipher what they are really like.
  • The Duke's arrogance is shown in lines 42-43 (I choose/ Never to stoop). He is also powerful (all smiles stopped together), shown as he has the power to order people to kill the Duchess.
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To His Coy Mistress - Andrew Marvell


  • This poem is not written for us - it is written to persuade the lady described in the poem to have sex with him.
  • There is little to do with love; it is purely lust.
  • It is an arguement as to why she should give in to him. His main points include: he loves her (saying it, not necessarily meaning it), time goes on, you don't want to die a virgin, you're ready for this. The lack of time is the main point though.


  • The rhyme scheme is AABBCC... which drives the poem along quickly.
  • It is an Iambic tetrameter, like a heartbeat which makes the poem natural and driving.
  • It is set out in 3 stanzas; the first one is long and slow (20 lines) which reflects how long and slow the days are, the second stanza is small and cramped (as she would be when she's dead and in her tomb), and the third stanza is supposedly faster, due to the use of Now and Thus at the beginning of lines.
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To His Coy Mistress - continued


  • Language has changed since the 17th century and so some couplets don't seem to rhyme (lie, eternity) but we have to assume they did in Marvell's time.
  • He uses images, some disgusting, to persuade her (then worms shall try/ That long preserved virginity). Here he is trying to tell her that there is no point keeping her virginity until she's dead.
  • He uses onomatopoeia (echoing song), which makes the reader hear and imagine the echoing in a tomb or a crypt.
  • He uses suggestive langauge (My vegetable love will grow) and tries to seduce her with compliments (Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze,/ Two hundred to adore each breast,/ But thirty thousand to the rest).
  • The last stanza (lines 33-46) are faster and keep a good pace due to words such as Now and Thus at the beginning of lines.
  • He uses grand words (languish, amorous) to make the cause (having sex with him) also sound great and worth her participation.
  • A confident finish with 6 one syllable, punchy words. Yet we will make him run.
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Shall I compare thee...? - William Shakespeare


  • In this poem, Shakespeare is comparing someone to a Summer's day.
  • It is a love poem, as many Shakespearean sonnets are.


  • It is a Shakespearean sonnet, and so it has a set structure: 3 quatrains and a couplet. A quatrain is a set of 4 lines and a couplet is 2 rhyming lines. So the rhyme scheme goes ABAB,CDCD,EFEF,GG.
  • The double GG at the end, Gives a confident ending and brings a resolute end.
  • All Shakespearean sonnets have 10 syllables per line, making it an Iambic pentameter. It sounds like hearbeat which, as always, reflects the poet's heart.
  • The first quatrain, lines 1-4, is about the problems with Summer (Rough winds do shake the darling buds of Maie,/ And Sommers lease hath all too short a date:).
  • The second quatrain, lines 5-8, is about how Summer's beauty will fade (...natures changing course untrim'd).
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Shall I comare thee...? - continued

  • The third quatrain, lines 9-12, is about how the object of the poem (the person to whom Shakespeare is writing) will never lose her/his beauty (But thy eternall Sommer shall not fade).
  • The couplet, lines 13-14, says how as long as people can read this poem, you will be immortal (So long as men can breath or eyes can see,/ So long lives this, and this gives life to thee).


  • Shakespeare has contracted many verbs (dim'd, ow'st) because they fit the meter.
  • He uses But as the first word on the first line of the 3rd quatrain because it starts the rebutal, as this sonnet is like a reflective debate against himself.
  • As always, Shakespeare is confident in his poems, and says So long as men can breath or eyes can see,/ So long lives this, and this gives life to thee, which means that as long as the human race lives on, this poem will be known and remembered, and therefore you are immortal.
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Ballad - Anon

I haven't done this poem yet - I will get notes up soon.

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To a Mouse - Robert Burns

I haven't done this poem yet - I will get notes up soon.

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The Flea - John Donne


  • This is a seductive poem; its aim, to seduce someone to have sex with him.
  • It is an arguement in that he uses what she does to back up his arguement (...hast thou since/ Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?) and he uses it to convince her of his point of view.
  • The main point he is making is that this flea has bitten both of them and so their bloods has mixed in the flea, which is (sort of) the same as having sex.


  • The rhyme scheme is AABBCCDDD, which makes the rhyme very obvious, which compliments how he is trying to be; he is trying to make his points clear and obvious. The trpile DDD at the end really adds a punch and finishes off his point, like a summary.
  • It is alternting between Iambic tetrameter and Iambic pentameter, but each verse ends with a double Iambic pentameter, which acts as a punchline and 'completes' the arguement.
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The Flea - continued

  • The 1st stanza, lines 1-9, is his first point; their bloods have already been mixed.
  • In the 2nd stanza, lines 10-18, she wants to/has killed the flea. His point here is that they are already 'married' and so she needn't be unwilling.
  • The 3rd stanza, lines 19-27, is expressing how innocent the flea was and summarising his points.


  • He uses quite refinied words which create horrible images. These would persuade her that sex must be better than the flea.
  • Cloistered on line 15 symbolises being kept in and restricted, as a cloister is a covered walkway.
  • He tries to make her feel guilty by using words such as sacrilege, trying to put her off killing the flea, as the flea is 'sacred' and killing him is like killing the sacred flea, himself and herself.
  • He makes it more like an arguement when he uses what she says to add to his point (Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou,/ Find'st not thyself, nor me the weaker now).
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Let Me Not - William Shakespeare


  • It is another Shakespearean sonnet, so it is reflective and a debate.
  • In this one, he debates how true love is unromantic.
  • Each quatrain has its own metaphor to represent his point: 1st wedding, 2nd sailing, 3rd death.


  • 3 quatrains, 1 couplet, ABABCDCDEFEFGG (see Shall I compare thee...?).
  • Iambic pentameter reflects the poet's heartbeat.


  • The 1st quatrain is about how love isn't love if it changes in time or due to imperfections.
  • The 2nd quatrain is about how true love is never shaken and an ever fixed marke
  • The 3rd quatrain is about how love can't be changed, even in death.
  • A confident end, saying If this is proved wrong, no man has ever loved (If this be error and upon me proved,/ I never writ, nor no man ever loved).
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Amen - Christina Rossetti


  • It is a peaceful poem of reflection. This means everyone who reads the poem can empathise with the poet.
  • It is debatable whether the poem is supposed to be of resignation (read in a melancholy nature, as though Rossetti feels helpless towards life) or of acceptance (of life and death, and the course of life). You can judge.


  • The rhyme scheme is ABABB for the first two verses. The double BB at the end makes the verse feel finished; the expectation is doubly satisfied. The third verses, as it's the last verse, goes ABABBBA. The chain of BBBs finished with the last A follows through the feeling that is should end, and when it does, it is with the last satisfying A.
  • The poem has a Trochaic rhythm (dum da dum da, opposite of Iambic pentameter). This drives the poem through, like a train.
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Amen - continued


  • Rossetti uses images to convey her points - the peaceful images help to convey the poem's overall peaceful feel.
  • She brings religion into the poem - Amen is the words used to finished many prayers, It is finished were, if I remember rightly, Jesus' last words before he was killed.
  • She leaves us feeling happy and satisfied with life - And my garden teem with spices. For one, it has good phonaesthetics (it sounds nice). It also suggests that life is full (teem), good and tasty.
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Porphyria's Lover - Robert Browning


  • The main story of this poem is that a lower class man (possibly the gardener or game keeper) is having an affair with an upper class lady. The lady comes down from a party, strips for him, he kills her and sits with her corpse. Mm..
  • I hate to be the one to say this, but it is the equivalent of Victorian **** (Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,/ And laid her soiled gloves by, untied/ Her hat and let the damp hair fall). Anything more than just her cloak, or even that, is unspeakable.
  • One thing that you get out of this, is that the man is a nutcase/not right in the head. He is a necrophiliac - he has an ****** attraction to corpses.


  • The rhyme scheme is ABABB. In this case, it is supposed to sound off beat, almost limping. This compliments the man's mindset - a bit off/wrong.
  • It is an dramatic monologue - One person telling his side of the story. As the man is telling us, it is almost like a narration of his surroundings and his thoughts. Because of this, it is set out like a story - one long speech.
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Porphyria's Lover - continued


  • Browning uses pathetic fallacy (personification, but I thought I'd vary my technical language) with The sullen wind reflects the man's feelings - he is sulking.
  • He uses mine, mine, fairon line 36 to show how obsessed and possessive he is, which is supposed to, in a way, justify what he does next.
  • It may a lack of scientific knowledge in his time but Browning writes her cheek once more/ Blushed bright, which would only happen if blood was still pumping around her head i.e. she could still be alive, but we cannot be sure.
  • We can really see how twisted he is when he says And yet God has not said a word!, suggesting that he thinks that what he does is okay as he hasn't been scoulded by God.
  • At the end, there is a tricolon of Ands. This makes the end seem to drag on and reflects how long he hopes to sit there with Porphyria (the lady).
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La Belle Dame Sans Merci - John Keats

I haven't done this poem yet - I will get notes up soon.

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Maria Frogley

Thank you so much this has really helped me to revise english lit :)


thanks m8


safe for da summaries ydk



Thanks!! :D


Get. In

Laura Murray

In porphyria's lover, pathetic fallacy is not the same thing as personification. Pathetic fallacy is using the weather to describe the mood of the poem or in this case to describe the mood of the person


Get the ballad, To a Mouse and La Belle Dame Sans Merci up!! :D

overall great notes, I will bookmark this page, please do put the notes of Ballad, To a Mouse and La belle dame sans merci!!


so good :) tell us when you get the rest up please **

Hannah Eagling

Does anyone know where i can find summaries for the Culture Poetry English Specification B? (:

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