What makes poetry poetry? There are as many different answers to that question as there are poets and readers. Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said that "poetry is the best words in the best order." You will explore poetry in the Language and Literature course. Before you write essays and analyse poems, it helps to know the terms that give you a better understanding of this medium.

  1. Study the example poem below, 'The Soldier' by Rupert Brooke, and the defining of features of poems as listed. Split up into 6 groups and assign each group one of the defining features that are listed (from alliteration to volta). Study the poem for analysis, 'Dulce et Decorum Est' by Wilfred Owen, in groups, focusing on the feature that your group has been assigned. Then conduct short group presentations in which you explain how your group's feature is used by the author, Wilfred Owen, to achieve a purpose that is different from Rupert Brooke's purpose in 'The Soldier'.  

  2. The Soldier
    Rupert Brooke

    If I should die, think only this of me:
    That there’s some corner of a foreign field
    That is for ever England. There shall be
    In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
    A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
    Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
    A body of England’s, breathing English air,
    Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

    And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
    A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
    Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
    Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
    And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
    In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

    Feature Example
    Alliteration: Poems should appeal to the ear. Alliteration is the repetition of a sound at the beginning of words in sequence. The repetition of the same vowel sound is known as assonance. The repetition of consonants in the middle of a word is know as consonance The 's' sound in line 12, "sights and sounds," and the 'l' sound in line 13 "laughter, learnt" create a singing, rhythmic sensation, which appeals to the reader's ears
    Imagery: Poems use imagery to engage the reader's senses. Imagery includes an appeal to sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. "Foreign fied," "rich earth" and "dust" help the reader imagine the soldiers death in the dirt, which is juxtaposed with the wet sensation of "washed by the rivers."
    Syllables and metric feet: A syllable is the unit of sound produced when speaking words, usually consisting of one vowel. Syllables create the rhythm of a poem. Some syllables are stressed, while others are naturally unstressed. When analysing poetry, you can look for the clusters and patterns of stresses in a line. Each unit of stressed and unstressed sound is known as a metric foot. The opening line consists of 5 iambic feet, meaning that there are 5 sets of unstressed and stressed syllables. The stressed syllables are in italics: "If I should die, think only this of me:" Iambic pentameter makes the poem lyrical. 
    Verse and metre: A line of poetry is called a ‘verse’, which should not be confused with sentences. When a sentence carries on over the end of a verse, it is called enjambement (or enjambment). The rhythmic structure of each verse is called metre. It may consist of any number of metric feet Each verse of 'The Soldier' consists of 5 iambic feet, also known as iambic pentameter. This is the traditional meter for English sonnets.
    Stanza and rhyming scheme: Studying poetry is a study of 'prosody,' which is the patterns of rhythm and sounds used in poetry. To find patterns look to the 'stanzas', which are sets of verses that give the reader a sense of structure. When studying a poem's stanzas, you may rhyming at the middle or end of each verse. Many poems, however, do not rhyme at all. Free verse does not rhyme. Blank verse, which follows a certain meter, also does not rhyme. Notice how the last word of the 1st verse, "me," rhymes with the last word of the 3rd verse, "be." Similarly the last words of the 2nd and 4th verse rhyme. This pattern of 'ABAB' (verses 1-4), 'CDCD' (verses 5-8), EFGEFG (verses 9-14) an English sonnet. Two verses that rhyme in seccession are known as 'couplets'. There are many different rhyming schemes in poetry, such as sonnets, odes, ballads, villanelles or chain rhymes.
    Volta: Sonnets sometimes take a turn or shift in their message or argument, which is known as a volta. While the first 8 verses of 'The Soldier' are about dying and death, the final 6 verses are about the beauty of life in England. This contrast suggests that the The Soldier is a martyr for England, dying to preserve the good life in England.

    Dolce et Decorum Est
    Wilfred Owen

    Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
    Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
    Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
    And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
    Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
    But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
    Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
    Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

    Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
    Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
    But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
    And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
    Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
    As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

    In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
    He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

    If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
    Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

  3. At what point can we say that language becomes literary or poetic? Below are several lines for analysis and a list of stylistic devices. Assign each student or pair of students in your class a line. Study the list of stylistic devices and find one or more that are relevant to your line. Then research the line, its author and the text in which it was used. In small presentations explain to your class why you think the writers used these stylistic devices to convey their message. To what extent do you think your line is 'poetic' explain this to your classmates.  

    1. "She lowered her standards by raising her glass, her courage, her eyes and his hopes." - from Have some Madeira M'Dear by Flanders and Swann, 1959

    2. "I am not young enough to know everything." - from The Admirable Chrichton by J.M. Barrie, 1902

    3. "Consciousness of place came ebbing back to him slowly over a vast tract of time unlit, unfelt, unlived." from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, 1916

    4. "You try to scream but terror takes the sound before you make it. You start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes." - from Thriller by Michael Jackson, 1982

    5. "How they clang, and clash, and roar! Yet the ear it fully knows, By the twanging, And the clanging, How the danger ebbs and flows " - from The Bells by Edgar Allen Poe, 1844

    6. "Hear my words that I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you" - from The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel, 1966

    7. "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see." - Mohammed Ali, 1964

    8. "Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind." - from Address before the UN General Assembly by John F. Kennedy, 1961

    9. "We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields, and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender." – from Fight on the Beaches by Winston Churchill, 1940

    10. "Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice." - from I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, 1963
    Definition Example
    Anaphora: the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of two or more successive clauses or sentence.  "Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed." - from I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, 1963
    Antithesis: an intentional absence of conjunctions between phrases. "That's one small step for a manone giant leap for mankind." - by Neil Armstrong, 1969
    Asyndetone: the intentional absence of conjunctions in a phrase.  "Call up her father. Rouse him. Make after him, Poison his delight, Proclaim him in the streets." - from Othello by William Shakespeare, 1603 
    Chiasmus: the inversion of two words or phrases across two phrases or sentences.  "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." - from John F. Kennedy's Inauguration speech, 1961
    Onomatopoeia: a word that phonetically mimics the sound of the thing it describes "He saw nothing and heard nothing but he could feel his heart pounding and then he heard the clack on stone and the leaping, dropping clicks of a small rock falling."- from For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemmingway, 1940
    Paradox: the juxtaposition of seemingly contradictory concepts, which reveals a hidden or unexpected truth. "I can resist everything expect temptation."- from Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde, 1892
    Personification: the projection of human characteristics onto inanimate objects or abstract ideas. . “Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me" - from Because I could not stop for Deathby Emily Dickenson, 1890
    Simile: a comparison of ideas, which uses the words 'like' or 'as'. “I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills.” - from Daffodilsby William Wordsworth, 1807
    Synecdoche: a figure of speech in which a word for a part of something stands for the whole thing or concept. “His eye met hers as she sat there paler and whiter than anyone in the vast ocean of anxious faces about her.” - from The Lady or the Tiger?by Frank R. Stockton, 1882
    Zeugma: a figure of speech where one verb applies to multiple objects. “[They] covered themselves with dust and glory.” - from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, 1876
Last modified: Monday, 13 January 2020, 3:37 PM