Select Poems

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N.B.These “notes” are by no means exhaustive and should not be used independent of your own reading and study of the poems. (NATE & W.B.S)


Preamble: Please be mindful of the fact that poetry makes up a third of this syllabus and that for the Paper II (the essay-writing paper) students are required to demonstrate their understanding of how the poets’ techniques are used to convey and shape meaning (including the tone and mood) in the respective poems. For every poem on the list you should be able to describe the literal situation, discuss the thematic importance and show how various poetic techniques including verse form and structure, diction and imagery, are used to convey meaning.

1. “A Contemplation Upon Flowers” - Henry King (Britain 1592-1669)

This poem written in the early 17th Century utilizes an apostrophe and is written in the form of an ode, that is, a very formal poem addressed to someone or something. The poem is structured into 3 regular stanzas, making it an Horatian ode and is addressed to the ‘brave flowers’ which are personified throughout the poem.

The poet conveys and admiringand enviable attitude towards flowers for qualities he perceives in them which he feels is absent from mankind in general and himself in particular.

The six-line stanzas have the rhyme scheme ababcc. Please note that ‘you’ and ‘show’ in lines 1 and 3 would have rhymed perfectly in 17th century speech. In each stanza the final couplet seems to sum up the idea presented in the first four.

Words explained

The titleContemplation - meditation; thinking about what one can learn from something l.1gallant it- be charming and stylish (like chivalrous men impressing ladies

1.2as little vain- as little conceited; in other words, as modest

1.3abroad- out into the open

1.4to your beds- go back to

1.5your birth- your origins; where you come from

1.7months and times- the natural order (of seasons, etc.)

1.8ever- always

1.9My fate would know- I would like my future to have

1.11 Oh that I could…but view - If only I could see my grave – like your flower-bed)

1.14to take truce- come to terms (with death); accept it as natural

1.15bier- coffin-stand

1.16spruce- smart

ll.17-18 You fragrant flowers then teach me that my breath like yours may sweeten and perfume my death. Teach me: (1) to understand that my breath may…(2) so that my breath …may From the flowers, the persona learns that a fragrant life (‘breath’) cheerfully accepting the nature of the human condition, will make death ‘sweet’ and not something to be feared.

Subject & Thematic issues: attitudes to death; man’s difficulty in coming to term’s with his own mortality; human nature contrasted with the qualities of the perceived qualities of flowers: note the persona’s admiration and envy of the qualities he perceives in flowers. Note the yearning tone ‘…that I…’; ‘Oh that I…’; ‘Oh teach me…’; ‘…then teach me…’

2.“Traveling Through the Dark” - William Stafford (U.S.A.1914-1993)

In this poem the persona recounts an incident in which an awkward choice is made. The poem reads almost like a narrative or short story. The verse form is best described as free verse as there is no regular rhythmic or rhyming pattern; however, it is arranged in four-line stanzas. There is tension and suspense developed, particularly in the fourth stanza as we wait to discover what decision/choice is made.

Dark- plays on two meanings: (1) the night as in used in line 1; (2) ignorance of what to do (‘in the drak’). Might it also represent awareness of death?

1.4to swerve- (1) around the deer; (2) from the expected/rule: what is ‘usually best’?

1.5I stumbled- (1) walked unsteadily; (2) made a mistake?

1.7stffened already,/ almost cold- still some warmth/life

1.11still- possible pun: (1) still alive; (2) not moving (as in stillborn)

1.12I hesitated-...
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