IB Unseen Commentary: Poetry

Important terms to remember when doing the IB Higher English A1 Unseen Commentary for poetry.

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First Glance

Is the poem a story or does it suggest a mood or emotion?

Is there a narrator? Can the narrator be relied on? Which quotes/ literary devices back this up?

What did you initially presume in the poem? What did you presume from the title?

Importantly, what is the poem actually about?

How can you structure your essay so that it fits the poem?

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Who wrote the poem? What is it called?

What is the poem about?

How does the writer use literary devices to do this? The rule of three may be useful here.

Briefly introduce the poem's structure, narrative and any assumptions you made at first glance.

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Elaborating on the discussion of narrative from the introduction, mention the poem's tone in relation to the author, the narrator and the reader.

What is the narrator's attitude? How would you read the poem out loud?

As well as quotes, use the poem's imagery, lexical choice (word choice) and ideas, including those from your initial presumptions.

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How does the form relate to the content? For example, a poem criticising Britain might have the form of rhyming couplets, which is an ironic link to Shakespeare's rhyming couplets.

How does the poem develop? Is there a change of attitude or idea? Is there a chronological order?

Are the sentences simple or complex? Is there enjambement? Why might the author play on words or change sentence structures? (The literary device of sentence structure is called syntax.)

What kind of punctuation is present? Is there any at all? Why?

Thinking back to your essay's introduction, what does the title mean in relation to the poem?

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What's the diction (word choice) like? Simple, complex, colloquial, bizarre?

Is there rhyme or rhythm? What does this emphasize?

Is there...


"five fat frogs"


"mellow wedding bells"


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Poetic/ Literary Devices

Here are some important literary devices you might want to use:

Imagery - Remember to think of aural imagery, as well as visual

Metaphor - When something is said to be something else

Meter - The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables

Onomatopoeia - The word for a sound, i.e. quack

Personification - Giving inanimate objects human features

Simile - "it was as big as a house"

Stanza - Use this term instead of 'verse'

Also consider alliteration, assonance, point of view, repetition, rhyme etc.

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Spend roughly 15-20 minutes planning beforehand.

When there's 15 minutes left at the end of the exam, finish writing your essay's body and conclude, then check over your work.

Link paragraphs explicitly and use precise language.

Structure your essay as an argument based on the poem's structure.

Mould form and content together, and merge quotes into your paragraphs.

Refer to yourself as 'the reader'.

In the conclusion, tie your ideas together, add a quote and give your opinion on the poem.

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