Choose two poems from your reading on the theme of childhood. Compare and contrast the experiences described in each poem showing clearly why each poem affected you the way it did and with close reference to the poet’s use of language show how he/she conveys these feeling to you.
A person is affected by life occurrences differently as a child than as an adult. Childhood is a period of life every person experiences and therefore can relate to. In the selection of poems that I have studied the poet attempts to stir feelings and emotions of childhood in the reader. The two poems that I have chosen to compare and contrast are “In Mrs Tilscher’s class” by Carol Ann Duffy and “Mid-term Break” by Seamus Heaney.
Carol Ann Duffy was born in Glasgow, 1955. She grew up in Scotland attending local catholic schools before going to Liverpool University to study Philosophy. She later worked as a free lance writer in London and Manchester. She decided to become a poet when she was fourteen and felt that was her vocation. She won all the major poetry prizes and awards. In 1995 she was presented with an OBE and in 2001 she was presented with a CBE. She also writes plays, radio plays, edits poetry and teaches creative writing.
Seamus Heaney was born in 1939 to a Catholic family and spent his childhood on the family farm in County Londonderry. He won a scholarship to St. Colomb’s College and then went to Queen’s University, Belfast. He lectured in Queens’ for 6 years. He began publishing poetry in 1966 and he wrote a lot in the years that followed. He became a Professor of poetry at the University of Oxford 1989-1994 and he was awarded the Noble Prize for literature in 1995. He now lives in Ireland.
“In Mrs Tilscher’s class” is about Duffy’s childhood experiences at primary school. It is autobiographical in the sense that Mrs Tilscher is a real person who taught Duffy when she was at Primary School. The theme of the poem describes the transition from childhood to adolescence and it reflects the lessons we learn at school from our teachers and peers.
Duffy uses sensory poetry – images which we feel, smell, taste and hear. She brings life to the classroom; we sense the excitement of the children as they sit captivated by Mrs Tilscher’s lesson.
‘You could travel up the Blue Nile
With your finger, tracing the route
While Mrs Tilscher chanted the scenery’
Later we feel the change in the children.
‘A tangible alarm made you always, untidy,
Hot fractious under the heavy, sexy sky.’
Duffy is effective in creating snapshot images so we really get a sense of the environment she creates, she picks up her own memories and also taps into the readers.
The language Duffy uses reflects the happy trusting relationship between teachers and students in early primary school years and then highlights the difficult transition through hormonal teenage years.
Figurative language is used to transcribe these experiences to the reader. The first two stanzas contain positive images.
‘The laugh of a bell swung by a running child’
The bell is personified so that we get a clear sense of the children’s laughter and excitement. Mrs Tilscher ‘chants’ the lesson adding a ‘sing-song’ feel to the poem which contributes with the ‘enthralling books’, classroom that ‘glowed like a sweet shop’, ‘sugar paper. Coloured shapes’ and ‘gold stars’
There is a sense of time passing in the second half of the poem. The seasons and the weather are changing ‘Over the Easter term’, ‘That feverish July.’
Duffy uses a punctuation metaphor, “the inky tadpoles changed from commas into exclamation marks”, to indicate the growth of tadpoles and then extends the metaphor. She compares the release of the frogs in the playground to the changes taking place in the growing children.
The language becomes uncomfortable filled with unrest. Duffy hints at the uncomfortable effects of hormones which make the children ‘feverish’, ‘untidy’, ‘hot’, ‘fractious.’ Duffy...
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