Poems for English Literature GCSE

These cards will include notes for the following poems for Unit 2 of English Literature:

-'Brothers' by Andrew Forster

-'Praise Song for My Mother' by Grace Nichols

-'Harmonium' by Simon Armitage

-'Sonnet 116' by William Shakespeare

-'Sonnet 43' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning'

-'Sister Maude' by Christina Georgina Rossetti

-'Nettles' by Vernon Scannell

-'Born Yesterday' by Philip Larkin

Not all the poems for this exam are here, only the ones I have done so far.


'Brothers' by Andrew Forster

-Speaker feels weighed down by the responsibility of looking after younger sibling. "Saddled with you for the afternoon" like a horse weighed down by rider.

-The verbs used for himself are quite constrasting to the ones used for younger sibling. "ambled", "talking", "stroll", "chased" and "ran" for them. "skipped", "spouting", "windmilled" and "spring" for younger sibling. This distances him from his brother, and the speaker wants to show that age difference, to show he is older and highlights the fact that he wants to be alone with his friend Paul.

-We can guess from the poem that Paul is most likely a friend of the speaker, and they have been asked to take the younger sibling with them to a football match ("Rotherham United" and "chances in the Cup"). 

-He and Paul want to act like adults, and see themselves as old enough to do "what grown-ups do" and this is supported with the verb "stroll".

-His annoyance with his brother is shown through quite common sibling arguments, such as the voice saying "your ridiculous tank top". This is him trying to find fault in his younger sibling, when really he knows he is just annoyed he has his company.

-"Unable to close the distance I'd set in motion" is important as he is not only talking about the physical distance of his brother being left behind, but is also maybe talking about emotional distance in the future as this event may have been the trigger of future differences.

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'Praise Song for My Mother' by Grace Nichols

-Her mother has most likely passed away, "you were" and this is a song to celebrate her life. In African Literatue, a praise song celebrates someone or something, comparing them to natural objects that share their characteristics.

-Grace Nichols compares her mother to all four elements (water, air, fire, earth) at different parts in the poem, showing her mother is necessary for her life, and she couldn't survive without these parts of her mother.

-Stanzas are like steps through her life, with her mother always being there. At first she was all-important, then she was "mantling", meaning giving out light and being responsible. Next she was "warm and streaming", telling us she was steadily flowing, so was constant and reliable.

-"Grained" tells us that she was rough on the surface and was really strong and hard, but underneath she was warm and loving.

-Repeats "replenishing" near the end, showing how refreshing her mother was, and how she gave her strength. Maybe got rid of worries/bad thoughts.

-"Go to your wide futures, you said" is the end of the poem. This is the only part of the poem that uses punctuation, maybe to make the reader dwell on it and to truly understand it's meaning. It may have been the last thing her mother said to her. The lack of punctuation in the main body of the poem, may have been uses to create the image of a strong, never faltering woman.

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'Harmonium' by Simon Armitage

-There is an extended metaphor used throughout this poem, of the father and the organ.

-The organ is old and in disrepair ("yellowed the fingernails of it's keys"). It is unloved ("gathering dust") and about to be thrown away. The speaker is deciding whether to keep it or not, and compares it to his father throughout. We know this as the organ is personified by "the fingernails of its keys" and "lost its tongue".

-Imagery is used well, with the long sentence "where father and son, each in their time, had opened their throats and gilded finches - like high notes - had streamed out" and allows you to imagine the happy times the organ had created for the son and his father.

-We learn the father is going to die "Smoker's fingers and dottled thumbs" leads us to believe he has lung cancer. He knows his dad well, as he says "and he, being him" like it was usual.

-The metaphor used about the stained glass windows "could beautify saints and raise the dead" is shown to be a positive view on death, and to show the power that Church had, and the organ was part of it.

-The father jokes about his own death, by saying the son will "bear the freight of his own dead weight" next. We know this makes the son panicky, as he says "mouth in reply, some sorry phrase too starved of breath to make itself heard" showing he doesn't know what to say as he knows his dad will die.

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'Sonnet 116' by William Shakespeare

-Firstly, sonnets use iambic pentameter, meaning you read some syllables with more emphasis than others. Every other syllable is stressed, so: "Let me not to the marriage of true minds" is how it's supposed to be read. This gives emphasis on particular words which changes the way people view the poem.

-He speaks about love in a way that makes it seem invincible, with words like "ever-fixed mark" and "never shaken". He says it's the "star to every wand'ring bark" meaning it guides ships to safety, so it is a saviour.

-"Love's not Time's fool" shows that love shouldn't change, or grow weaker over time, and the capital letters for Love and Time shows how important he thinks theses things are as capital letters are reserved for names and places. Similarly, he uses "love is not love which alters when it alteration finds" saying that love should not have to adjust itself to problems in life, that it should stay constant and strong.

-The words stressed from the iambic pentameter are words like "edge of doom" which are very powerful and tells us he is very passionate about love.

-"If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved" is the last  two lines. Here, Shakespeare is making a (somewhat arrogant) bet with himself, and saying that if love is not as true and ideal as he believes, then love does not truly exist at all and is just imagination. But he is so sure that his love is real, that he is betting that if it's not, then he "never writ" when obviously he did.

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'Sonnet 43' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

-Firstly, sonnets use iambic pentameter, meaning you read some syllables with more emphasis than others. Every other syllable is stressed, so: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways!"

-"I love thee" is repeated often, and in her time "thee" was much more personal than "you" which shows her feelings for her lover.

-In the second line, she emphasis the use of "depth", "breadth" and "height" as measurements for her love for him, which makes it seem like her love is so overwhelming that one measure is not enough.

-Religious words are used often, such as "Being and Ideal Grace", "Praise" and "lost Saints" all with capital letters. Religion must have been important back then, so her comparing him to all these holy words must have been a big deal, and is her telling him she will love him to the "ends of Being".

-If you read background information about E.B.B, you will find out her father was a possessive and controlling man, who forbade her marrying the subject of the poem. The sonnet was written in secret and we can infer that this is what she is talking about when she says "my old griefs", and she saying that she is defying her father to be with him. 

-Finally, she says "I will love thee better after death" which shows she was not afraid of dying, and believed that God will care for her. Maybe she also believed that she would be purer away from the sin of Earth, and that she can love him better when her oppressive father can't reach her.

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'Sister Maude' by Christina Georgina Rossetti

-There are three main themes for this poem: 1. Royal/Regal ("golden gown", "queen's embrace" and "crown") 2. Death ("cold he lies, as cold as stone" and "comeliest corpse") 3. Religion ("soul", "Paradise" and "Heaven-gate")

-We get the impression of a love triangle between the the two sisters and the speakers lover. "You might have spared his soul, spared my soul, your own soul too" shows us that the sisters actions have caused misery for all of them, but it was intentional.

-Maude is jealous of the speaker, and has killed her lover. We know this as it says "cold he lies, as cold as stone". Maude told her their parents of "my dear" and Maude was seen as sneaky as it the speaker says she "lurked to spy and peer".

-Its not an autobiographical poem, and links strongly to 'The Sisters' Shame' by Alfred Lord Tennyson, which is written from the viewpoint of "Maude" or the other sister. This poem shows that the sister was clearly mad, which links to 'Sister Maude' as she killed the lover.

-I think that the second half of the poem was mean't to be seen as in the future, when her mother and father are dead, and the speaker still hasn't forgiven Maude. I think this because it says "My father may sleep in Paradise, my mother at Heaven-gate" while the voice says "sister Maude will get no sleep" showing she thinks that when she dies, she will go to hell. This makes her different from her sister as she says "If my dear and I knocked on Heaven-gate, perhaps they'd let us in" showing she thought she was worthy of heaven.

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'Nettles' by Vernon Scannell

-This poem uses an extended metaphor throughout, comparing the nettles in his garden to soldiers at war. "regiment of spite behind the shed" shows this.

-The nettles are personified throughout, being described as "green spears" and "fierce parade" and martial imagery are used quite effectively. The nettles are presented as a violent opposing force, which reflects the speakers need to protect his child.

-The speaker takes revenge on the nettles, and "slashed in fury" to cut them all down. His protective attitude for his son may be because of him reliving memories of the war, and wanting to stop his son feeling any hurt from the real world. Although getting stung by nettles is not that bigger deal, to the voice, his son is so helpless that it's as bad as soldiers getting killed in the war.

-"I lit a funeral pyre to burn the fallen dead" is a more obvious reference to war, and personifies the plants more which makes you think  of actual men attacking the small child.  I think the language chosen is very effective, as it is talking about his fierce instinct to protect his child, even though after all his efforts (like efforts to prevent wars), they always happen again: "the busy sun and rain had called up tall recruits behind the shed".

-Where it says "But in two weeks the busy sun and rain had called up tall recruits behind the shed" is his saying that despite him cutting down all the nettles, in a mere two weeks more have grown and are laying in wait for his son. This links to the war also, as when soldiers are killed in the war, more replace them on the field.

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'Born Yesterday' by Philip Larkin

-The poem was written for Sally Amis, who was Larkin's fellow writers newborn daughter. He says in the second/third line "I have wished you something none of the others would" which is not only talking about his actual wish, but about the fact he has written her a poem when it is common to send a card, or flowers.

-He says he is not going to wish her to be "running off a spring of innocence", and the way he says it makes us believe that he thinks other people waste their wishes for children on superficial things, like beauty. He also says, "should it prove possible, well you're a lucky girl" which tells us he thinks they are unlikely to happen as most people are ordinary.

-The tone of the poem is quite informal, as he says "Well" and "In fact", as if he's speaking directly to her. This makes it more personal, and again distances himself from the less personal things like cards and average wishes.

-He wishes her to "be ordinary; have... an average of talents" meaning he wants her to be average/mildly good at everything. He wants "nothing uncustomary" as he thinks it will dim her sight to her other talents. "Stops all the rest from working" shows us that he thinks being "dull" is much better than being vain, or arrogant if you're overly good at something.

-The end of the poem is quite warm and personal, as he is telling her that he believes she can be all these things: "skilled", "vigilant", "flexible" if she wants it. "Enthralled catching of happiness" is like him telling her to make her own happiness by not being superficial about her looks.

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This was really helpful. :) Thanks so much

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