2013 Songs of Ourselves Poetry (CIE IGCSE)

Song of Ourselves

A Different History


Hunting Snake



Pied Beauty

Composed upon a Westminster Bridge

Summer Farm

The planners

The City Planners

The Cockroach

The Woodspurge

A Birthday

Where I come from


"A Different History" by Sujata Bhatt

Part 1: Respect for education and learning. Sacred contrasted to sin in Indian religion

every tree is sacred /and it is a sin / to be rude to a book

Part 2: Description of the strange language of the oppressor and how it changes the culture it conquers

after the soul has been cropped
with the long scythe swooping out
of the conqueror’s face –
the unborn grandchildren
grow to love that strange language?

Striking metaphor for language/tongue as a long scythe: an instrument used to "crop the soul."

Final lines:  ironic contrast between the conquered and future generations response to the strange language.

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"Continuum" by Allen Curnow

Purpose: to highlight the dilemma between the opposing desires within the poet: the me who wants to sleep and the me who wants to write (and perhaps has writer's block). Poet seems to be battling insomnia and lack of poetic inspiration. Emotions are conflicted and confusing.

No formal structure/ no rhyme scheme. Free flowing thought.

Imagery: moon rolls over the roof and falls behind / my house

      washed-out creation  and   bright clouds dusted (query) by the moon

      the night sky empties / the whole of its contents down

Metaphors: moon compares to the sleepless poet, two racing clouds compares to two competing desires

Striking Final Lines:the author, cringing demiurge, who picks up/his litter and his tools and paces me back/ to bed, stealthily in step These lines clarify that there are two distinct personas being represented. The identity of the  adversary is internal. Interesting that the author persona is the one that sounds like "the other" and not "me".

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"Pied Beauty" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Structure: Curtal sonnet  

Sound:sprung rhythm, rhyme scheme, and loads of alliteration

Focus: Praising God for the quirky things in nature that bring variety and interest to life. The poet appreciates the freckled, spotted, dappled expressions of God's creativity. Then the poet contrasts the infinite variety and unpredictablity of creation to the Creator, God, who is unchanging, constant, and steadfast. 

Poem sounds like a Psalm from the Bible in the opening phrase: Glory be to God for dappled things

Final lines:With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;/He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change :/ Praise Him. 

Grammar is inverted to end with focus on God (symmetrical with the opening lines that focus on God) and his unchanging beauty after first listing all the contrasted variety in nature. Last half line is a powerful command to the reader to join the poet in praise of the Creator.

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"Pike" by Ted Hughes

3 parts: Stanzas1-2 physical description of the fish, stanzas 3-7 habitat and two anecdotes about predatory nature of pike, 8-11 pike in the pond where poet once fished when younger.

Focus: the pike as a perfect killing machine and an admirable, respected giant in its habitat of the pond.  Predatory nature is highlighed with lines like, "Killers from the egg: the malevolent aged grin." and "Suddenly there were two. Finally one." and "they spare no one."

Imagery: malevolent aged grin: fish is a crazed killer; green tigering the gold: colour and behaviour is tiger-like; hair frozen on my head: chill up the spine from fear. Words like Old , Legendary, Immense cause the reader to link the pike to ancient sea monsters. 

Sound: many references to quiet/silent setting of the underwater and above water: subdued, quietly, silently, hushed.

Striking final lines: the dream / Darkness beneath darkness had freed/ That rose slowly toward me, watching, The reader is left with an eerie, unsettled feeling at the end with the fish coming to the surface to watch the intruding fisherman (poet).

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"Hunting Snake" by Judith Wright

Purpose: Capturing a moment "snap shot" when a snake crosses the path of the poet on a beautiful autumn walk. Poet/environmentalist expressing a moment that shows human/ animal interaction as symbiotic.

Striking lines: sun glazed his curves of diamond scale / and we lost breath to see him pass.

Sibilance produces snake like sound, expression of admiration, response from poet to the snake: shock/ startled

Poet indicates the snake's single minded purpose (hunting) expressed in words/phrases:Quested, fierce intent, and track he followed, small food / fled living

Final lines: We took a deeper breath of day, / looked at each other, and went on

Sense of exhaling held breath, rhyme scheme altered to correspond with this.

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"Horses" by Edwin Muir

Main Idea: Poet recalling a team of farm plough horses of his childhood. His childhood impressions are expressed: a mix of admiration and fear

Powerful Imagery to express his childhood impressions of horses: And their great hulks were seraphims of gold / Or estatic monsters on the mould.

 Metaphors/similes: hooves like pistons, furrows like struggling snakes, eyes as brilliant and as wide as night, manes the leaping ire of the wind

Vivid Words and Phrases that convey fearful mystery: Magic power, steaming nostrils, glowing with mysterious fire, eyes...with a cruel apocalyptic light

Structure: Four line stanzas with rhymed couplets. Regular meter and paired rows connect to the up/down rhythm of "hooves like pistons" and pairs of ploughed rows. 

Final stanza: poet pines for the days of a childhood of "bright and fearful" memories. 

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"Composed upon Westminster Bridge" by William Word

Purpose: Poet is captured by the beauty and peacefulness of the City of London in the early morning light and he wants to celebrate it. Personification: This City now doth like a garment wear/ the beauty of the morning

Structure: sonnet- 14 lines with rhyme structure. Octave describes the view and the sestet focuses on poet's response.

Abnormal for WW who wrote about nature to praise urban setting. First line claims the "Earth has not anything to show more fair."  Two other negatively phrased comment about the superiority of the view: Never did the sun more beautifully steep  and  Ne'er saw I, never felt a calm so deep.

Words the convey glory of the view: majesty, beauty, bright and glittering, splendour 

Words and phrases that capture the peaceful tranquility of the sleeping city: silent, smokeless air, calm so deep, houses seem asleep, lying still

Personifications in final 3 lines: The river glideth at his own sweet will:/ Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; / And all that mighty heart is lying still! 

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"The Planners" by Boey Kim Cheng

Purpose: Poet wants to express anger against progress and mindless expansion without thought given to historical preservation. To overlook historical significance in the name of perfectly matched, planned engineering is to forget who you are. He wants to awaken people who are in stupors of apathy.

Imagery/metaphor: poet uses extended dentist metaphor to express the planners fixing and changing the city so that it puts forward a fake, souless smile. "they erase flaws...with dental dexterity...the country wears perfect rows of shining teeth."This progress costs them memory, identity, "Anaesthesia, amnesia, hypnosis./ They have the means./ They have it all so it will not hurt."

Structure: Three stanzas: first two  are describing his outrage at the practices of the planners. Third stanza is shorter and sarcastic. Idea is "don't let me bleed my poetry unto your blueprint which will transform our history into a thing we don't recognize, but looks good." No formal rhyme scheme, but poetic effect found in many alliterations. "dental dexterity", "permutations of possibility" , "all gas are plugged with gleaming gold.

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"The CIty Planners" by Margaret Atwood

Purpose: expressing dislike for suburbia: lacks imagination, everything looks alike and obsessivley tidy and sterile. She is "offend[ed]" by "the sanities", "pedantic rows, the planted / sanitary trees" and the "levelness". She is annoyed by the city planners' love of uniformity and monotony. Predicts when nature (presently subsued)  will reclaim the area.

Structure: Longer first two stanzas and shorter stanzas in second half. Free verse matches her protest against uniformity. 

Striking description: No shouting here, or / shatter of glass; nothing more abrupt / than the rational whine of a power mower / cutting  a straight swath in the discouraged grass. Silent, souless place where nothing unplanned happens. Lack of emotion, human element.

Striking imagery: when the houses, capsized will slide / obliquely into the clay seas, gradual as glaciers / that right now nobody notices. Prediction uses interesting sea / glacier images.

Words and Phrases used to describe the city planners: insane, political conspiritors, own private blizzard. Poet sustains blizzard /snow metaphor that suggests a blindness.

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"A Birthday" by Christina Rosetti

Purpose: to celebrate the pure joy the poet is feeling because her love is coming.

Structure: two octaves with rhyme scheme. Sound: first stanza has sing-song lilt and clear rhythm. Second stanza the rhythm is changed as the poet issues commands.

Stanza 1: repetition and similes. Poet's heart/gladness is compared to three different natural images: singing bird, apple tree and a rainbow shell...in a halcyon sea. Poet uses images from nature to capture her joy, but claims her "heart is gladder than all these."

Stanza 2: Commands to given by the poet to create a setting for her celebration to receive her love. Setting is marked with items that are replicas of natural items, but show luxury and wealth: silk, down, vair, purple dye, gold and silver

Sensory appeal: all 5 senses are touched by images Tone: Celebration (birthday)

Closing lines: Because the birthday of my life / Is come,my love is come to me. Suspense is built from title for the connection to birthday. revealed at the end that this love has made the poet feel "reborn". This love/his arrival is a defining moment. Ideas about identity found in relationship being touched on. 

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"The Woodspurge" by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

Purpose: Focus on intense grief and turmoil experienced by the poet over an unstated reason. Grief drives him out doors where he spends a grief stricken day with nature as a vague backdrop. Preoccupied with grief and doesn't know where he's going.

Imagery: Shaken out dead from tree and hill: / I had walked on at the wind's will./...Between my knees my forehead was, /...my naked ears heard the day pass. Poet describes himself as wind tossed, dejected in posture, and the day goes on without him.

Structure: 4 stanzas of 4 rhyming lines. Sound: groups of 4 rhymed lines, monosyllabic diction slows the pace of the poem.

Striking lines (final stanza): From perfect grief there need not be / Wisdom or even memory: / One thing then learnt remains to me,- / The woodspurge has a cup of three.

 Poet asserts that there doesn't need to be a lesson learned from deep grief, and the only thing he remembers of this terrible day of grief is the form of a plant he stared at that day, the woodspurge. Reader can contemplate the truth/reality of this idea and if they agree. Reader can evaluate if this is an expression of denial or defense mechanism to protect from the pain of grief. Perhaps an example of shock and how it affects memory.

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"The Cockroach" by Kevin Halligan

Purpose: Poet describes the action of a giant cockroach he observes and draws comparisons between himself and the insect. He sees it as a metaphor for his own life: aimlessness, self indulgence, lack of purpose, past sins affecting his future

Structure: 14 lines like a sonnet but without classical structure. Rhyme scheme.

Sound: movement words and stop and start punctuation that reflects the motion of cockroaches: turned, jog, circling, flipping, scratch, climbed, stopped, looked

Striking lines: As if the victim of a mild attack / Of restlessness that worsened over time.

Final lines: Was this due payment for some vicious crime/ A former life had led to? I don't know/ Except I thought I recognised myself.

Poet waits until the final line to signal the reader that the poem is allegorical. Reader has been questioning the meaning while reading and then once the final line is read, the reader wants to read through again to make connections. Somewhat like "Circling the rusty table leg and back" the poet leads the reader in a circle.

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"Where I come from" by Elizabeth Brewster

Purpose: to contrast the city and the country working on the premise that places have a big influence in our lives. The very smells of a city are different from that of the country. The city has an absence of nature except in carefully tended plots. The Country is described in realistic language that does not paint it as perfect, but rather natural 

Tone: Poet speaks approvingly of the country but of the city, she has reservations. The narrator believes that we are shaped by the places where we live. Heavy focus on the smells associated with place. This connects with smell as a strong memory trigger.

Structure: Free verse divided in two broad stanzas with a pair of lines at the end. First stanza focuses on City and has a faster pace, and second stanza is about the country and is slowed in pace.

Memorable lines: Where I come from, people/ carry woods in their minds, acres of pine woods; this contrasts to the "nature tidily plotted in little squares" in the city. 

Final striking lines: Spring and winter/ are the mind's chief seasons: ice and the breaking of ice./ A door in the mind blows open, and there blows/ a frosty wind from the field of snow.

The poem ends on this unsettling note that in the midst of her nostalgic memories something unpleasant, unwelcome enters her mind. And she doesn't tell what that is.

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"Summer Farm" by Norman MacCaig

Purpose: Poet describes wandering thoughts and is not concerned with the analysis of life but with its description.He is "afraid of where a thought might take me" as he ponders his role in the world, his position in the scheme of things. "Self under self, a pile of selves I stand/threaded on time"He feels that in the centre of the world but an insignificant part.

Tone: contemplative Theme: identity and self- definition. Existentialism philosophy being explored. "with a metaphysical hand/ lift the farm like a lid and see/ Farm within farm, and in the centre, me."

Existentialism focuses the individual's experience in the unfathomable universe where they are responsible to define morals (uncertainty of right and wrong) and for the consequences of their choices. The individual is a universe within the universe. In this poem the farm is being used as a metaphor for life. The reader can draw comparisons from farm imagery to connect to bigger, abstract ideas. Poem is difficult to pin meaning to, which compliments the philosophical ideas being presented, and perhaps the ambiguity is purposeful.

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