In this section we are going to look closely at three short poems of increasing difficulty. By setting you ten questions on each poem, it is hoped that you will begin to deal with how questions as a preface to considering the more important why questions later in the chapter.
The questions will not be the same for each poem, to help you with applying different approaches depending on the circumstances of the poem concerned. The answers will follow and will go beyond the straightforward brief answer to explore how the literary and linguistic devices used in the poems contribute to meaning. It is in writing about these effects that the real business of critical analysis will really start.
Poem 1: The Rainbow by William Wordsworth
Let’s begin by looking closely at this very famous short poem by William
Wordsworth. It’s usually called The Rainbow although it was actually never given a title by Wordsworth himself.
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a Man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
For each of the answers below, the answer to the question so what? is implied at the end. You can see very quickly that the answer to the question has very little importance if there is no attempt to answer the so what? question.
1. What is the poem about? (maximum of three words)
The poem is about ‘a rainbow’ or ‘love of nature’. The first answer, ‘a rainbow’, is the subject of the poem and it is useful to focus on this but ‘love of nature’ is really the theme of the poem. When making the distinction between the subject and the theme, you are distinguishing between two ways of looking at the poem. The subject of a poem is very often a metaphorical expression of an abstract idea. By