Poetry Revision (Love Through the Ages -Focussed)

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Approaching Poetry

  • Always ask why the poet decided to use a particular form: ode, ballad, sonnet. To appreciate the appropiateness of one form, we need to be aware of a range of options available to that particular writer at that particular time.
  • Pay attention to the word choice - Why was this particular word chosen from a whole range of words that might have the same meaning (connotations behind it?)
  • Choice of words to emphasis/evoke certain feelings
  • Remember to require some background knowledge e.g - what was happening at the time? Have an awareness of constraints and conventions within which poets have written through different periods of history.  
  • The idiom and register of a poem written in the 18th century will usually be quite different from one written in the 20th century. Different verse forms are popular at different times while sonnets have been written for centuries, they were especially fashionable in Elizabethan times, for example. Don’t expect to find free verse written much before the 20th century.
  •  Always ask yourself what is the effect of a particular technique that you identify is. Noticing an unusual choice of words, a particular rhyme scheme or use of alliteration is an important first step. Go on to say why what you have noticed is effect, what it contributed to the rest of the poem, how it endorses or changes things. 
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Rhythm Part 1/3

  • All speech has rhythm we naturally stress some words or syllables more than others.The rhythm can be sometimes be very regular and pronounced but even in the most ordinary sentence the important words are given more stress. In poetry, rhythm is extremely important: patterns are deliberately created and repeated for varying effects.
  • The rhythmical pattern of a poem is called its metre, and we can analysis or “scan” lines of poetry to identify stressed and unstressed syllables.
  • / stressed syllable x  indicate unstressed syllable
  • Each complete unit of stressed and unstressed syllables is called a “foot” which usually has one stressed and one or two unstressed syllables.
  • The most common foot in English is known as the iamb, which is an unstressed syllabled follow by a stressed one (x,/) Many words in English are iambic: a simple example is the word “forgot”. When we say this the stresses naturally fall in the sequence. Iambic rhythm is in fact the basic sound pattern in ordinary English speech.
  • Next common foot is the trochee a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one. (/,x) “mountain”
  • Both iamb and the trochee have two syllables, the iamb being a “rising” rhythm and the trochee a “falling” rhythm.
  • Another two-syllable foot known as the spondee has two equally stressed beats (ii) as in “blue spurt”
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Rhythm Part 2/3

  • Other important feet have three syllables. The most common are the anapest (**/) “un-im-pressed” and the dactyl (/**) “prob-ab-ly”
  • The four main kinds of metre used in poetry:
    Iambic Metre: x/x/x/x/x/ The curfew tools the knell of parting day
    Trochaic Metre: /x/x/x/ Tiger Tiger burning bright
    Anapestic Metre: **/**/**/**/ She is far from the where hero sleeps~
    Dactylic Metre: /**/**/**/** Woman much missed how you call to me, call to me
  • The way lengths of lines of verse are described. This is done according to the number of feet they contain, and the names given to different lengths of lines are as follows:
    tetrameter: a line of four feet  {widely used,
    pentameter: a line of five feet       Both of these}
    hexameter: a line of six feet
    heptameter: a line of seven feet
    octameter: a line of eight feet
  • Lines do not always have exactly the “right” number of beats. Sometimes a pentameter line will have an extra “beat” as in the famous line from Hamlet “to be or not to be, that is the question” where the “tion” of the question is an eleventh, unstressed beat. Why Shakespeare write in this particular way?
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Rhythm Part 3/3

  • Very few poems however would ever conform to a perfectly regular metrical pattern. The effect of that would be very boring: being only restricted to using iambic words, or trying to keep up a regular trochaic rhythm. Therefore Poets often include trochaic or anapaestic or dactylic words or phrases within what are basically iambic lines, in order to make them more interesting and suggestive and to retain normal pronunciation.
  • With the “apparition of these faces in the crowd/Petals on a wet, black bough” there is no fixed metre: like much twentieth-century poetry, this poem is in “free verse”.
  • Here you can see that the rhythm plays a subtle part in conveying the meaning. The rhythm not only highlights the key words in each line, but produces much of the emotional feeling of the poem by slowing down the middle words of the first line and the final three words of the second.
  • Pope here uses a basic structure of iambic pentameters with variations, so that the lines sound as if they have a different pace, faster or slower, depending on what is being described. It is not just rhythm that contributes to the effect here: rhyme and alliteration (sucesssive words beginning with the same sound) recreate smooth, rough, slow and swift movement. Rhythm is entirely dependent on word choice, but it is also influenced by other interdependent stylistic devices. 
  • characteristic of 18th century heroic couplets (iambic pentameter lines rhyming in pairs) where the aim was to reproduce classical qualities of balance, harmony, and proportion.
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  • What is the single most striking technique used, and what are the effects?
  • The use of alliteration is striking.
  • Focus on paying attention to the physical business of articulating the words (sound them in your head) who fast/slow is the imagery? Discriminate between the rapidity and the heavier movement and talk about how tactile the language is.
  • The effect usually is to create sensuality in the stanza
  • Ask yourself how would you describe the imagery and what does it contribute to the overall effect?
  • Look at the overall structure of the piece, do some images change to other images - why? What are the connotations? Why has the writer used this alliteration for imagery to explain the feelings about the speaker
  • The use of alliteration makes the image more effective because alliteration emphasises it.
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  • If a poem rhymes, consider how the rhyme works. "The form of the poem is very simple, the second and fourth lines of each of the eight 4-line stanzas rhyme. Is there internal rhymes, relying on the same repeated sound?
  • What is the effect of repeating rhyming words like "nay" "say" "nay" "say"? To over simplify the story. Language may be simple and if the form is 8 quatrains. Is it quite ambigious? Do we always know exactly what we want or how we feel about relationships? Even if we do, is it always possible to put such feelings into words?Aren't feelings often ambivalent rather than straightforward?If a poem is written in a ballad form it tells a story but it does only recount events - part of the convention is that ballads dont go into pyschological complexities.
  • Comparing rhyme schemes - simple/complex. For example complex rhymes like "was/grass" do not quite produce the full rhyme.
  • aabbccdc this diagrammatic formula of a letter for each new rhyme sound is useful. This is a useful tip on how often the same sounds recur, and how complicated or not the poem is. 
  • You might notice too that indentations at the beginning of each line emphasize lines the rhyme with each other usually the identations at the beginning of each line rhymes with other: usualy the indentations are alternate, however in some cases they are not like forming a couplet in the middle of the stanza. 
  • Sometimes ends with a variation of the line (this is a refrain) A dominant sound or series of sounds throughout helps to control the mood of the poem.It is always worth considering what settings contribute to the overall mood of a poem
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Poetic Inversion

  • reversing the order of normal speech in order to make the words fit a particular rhythm, or rhyme, or both. For example, "There'll be dacning in the street/A chance new folk to meet" however in this came because the words are sung to a driving rhythm we are unlikely to notice how awkward it is. 
  • There's a convention that we recognize however unconciously that prevents us from mentally re-writing the line as "a chnce to meet new people" "People" rather than "fold" would be a more usual usage but this would mean that the rhythm would be lost and the rhyme
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Poems that don't rhyme

  • T.S Elliot (1888-1965) known particularly for his poetry both wrote descriptive pieces best described as "prose poems". These look like short prose passages since there is no attention to line lengths or layout on the page.
  • When you study Shakespeare you will come across blank verse "blank" here means "not rhyming" but the term "blank verse" is used specifically to describe verse in unrhyming iambic pentameters.
  • Although iambic pentameters resemble our normal speech patterns, in ordinary life we speak in prose. 
  • You'll notice if you look through Skahespeare's play that blank verse is reserved for king, nobles, heroes, and heroines. They may also speak in prose, as lesser characters do, but commoners don't ever have speeches in blank verse. Shakespeare - and other playwrites like him - used the form to indicate status. It is important to recognize this convention, which would have been understood by his contempories - writers, readers and audiences alike. 
  • So choosing to write a poem in blank verse is an important decision: it will elevate the subject.
  • Diction - writer's choice of words. Poetic diction might be described, for instance as formal or informal, elevated or colloquial. 
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  • Wordworth's The Prelude was written as an autobiographical poem, 
  • Charlotte Mew in "The Farmer's Bride" invents a male character here (as the voice) and clearly seperates herself as a writer from the voice in her poem. Some of the most-well-known created characters or personae in poetry are Browning's dramatic monologues.
  • Note for what person the poem is written in "My" "I" "Her"
  • Dramatic monologues is the creation of a character who is most definitely not the poet. 
  • DO NOT assume that whenever written in first person that the speaker of a poem is to be identified in the author, if obviously you do know the author then mention it. 
  • Poems written in the first person are just as llikely to be fiction as poems written in the third person. It is important never to assume that the "I" of any poem is the direct voice of the poet.
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Line lengths and line endings

  • Using a conjunction like "And" at the beginning of a line in a poem, with the capital letter, draws sometimes to its repetitions in the poem and also emphasizing the way the clauses pile up, defining and redifing. 
  • Enjambment - where a line runs on to the next one, this effect is interesting interaction between eyes and ears. While we may be tempted to read on without pausing to find the sense, the line endings and white space of page impose pauses on our reading, less than the commas and semi-colons that mark off the other lines, but significant nevertheless.
  • Always think about the form and structure even when a poem does not appear to follow a conventional pattern. 
  • Consider the importance of decisions about where exactly to place a word for maximum effect, and how patterns can emerge which will control our reading when, succesive lines begin with repetitions. 
  • Think about the importance of the beginnings of lines, as well as line endings. 
  • What has achieved by using a short line here, a longer one there? How do these decisions relate to what is being said?
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Comparing and Contrasting

  • There's a good reason for comparing and contrasting poems, by considering the different treatments of similar subjects that we become aware of range of possibilities, and begin to understand why particular choices have been made. 
  • The is that by comparing and contrasting the tone of the opening lines and the titles, and considering when the poems were written.
  • Thinking about the straightforward question of who is being addressed take us into a an important critical debate - Each one of us reads the poem as an individual, but the poem itself constructs a reader who is not identical to any of us. We are so used to adopting "reading" roles dictated by texts like this that often we don't even notice the way in which the text has manipulated us.
  • If the first half of the poem is characterized by the repition of "you" and the sense of an audience that pronoun creates, then the second half seems quite different in content and tone. The speaker is trying to find a parallel in his experience to make sense of and explain his deeling of awe; the change of tone is subtle. Whereas someone is undoubtedly being addressed directly in the first stanza, in the third and fourt, readers overhear as if the speaker is talking to himself.
  • In order to come understanding of the poem, and to see how the sense of areader in the text is constructed, discuss - reptition, rhyme, rhythm, structure, alliteration, tone and visual imagery. 
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  • Read poems carefully several times. Once you have some idea of what the poems are about, think back to the question. What are the key words? 
  • It is vital for you first to identify poetic devices, such as rhyme, alliteration, imagery, enjambment, and son on, and then consider whether they trivalize emotions or treat them seriously.
  • Also consider how form and structure contribute to the meaning.. 
  • Avoid repeitions
  • Ask yourself which key words from the stanza/poem contribute to your argument - quote only the essential word or phrase, and then comment on and analyse your quotation to show your reader how the quotation illustrates your point.
  • You are writing for an informed reader who knows th texts. There is no need to explain what happens in the poem. As far as Don Juan is converned "these stanzas are about first love" would be sufficient. 
  • Remembering who you are writing for will help. Often weak essays spend too long telling the story. 
  • REMEMBER DAA - discussion, argument, analysis
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