Poetry Analysis

On this page I’m going to look at poems-particularly the Poetry of Other Cultures Poems from Key Stage 4. I’m going to upload all my notes regarding each poem including structure, themes, content, language and so on.

Hopefully this’ll be of some help to some people especially for those studying these poems at the moment.

The poems I’m going to look at are:

  • Limbo by Edward Kamau Brathwaite
  • Nothing’s Changed by Tatamkhulu Afrika
  • Island Man by Grace Nichols
  • Blessing by Imtiaz Dharker
  • Two Scavengers in a Truck by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  • Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel
  • Vultures by Chinua Achebe
  • What Were They Like? by Denise Levertov

Although I warn you, I probably won’t do them in that order. Sorry.

Blessing by Imtiaz Dharker

I’m afraid I’m not going to put a copy of poem on here but if you don’t have access to one then here’s a link to it.


The first thing to look at is the title because it has a bearing over the rest of the poem. An important tip to remember is that the title is the poem surmised in one or two words. In this case, the subject that the poem talks about (we’ll look at it later) is a blessing. This means that this subject for these people (the people in the poem) is a miracle, something that has been bestowed upon them and something that they haven’t/didn’t have any influence over. Remember that.

Next, look at the main subject or the content. The poem is talking about water. It’s talking about how a pipe that carries water to the main city, burst in the slums and so now the people in the slums have water to drink (this is where the definition of blessing comes in-water for these people is a miracle and they have no control upon it, it has been bestowed upon them).

An important point to remember here is just how much of a miracle/blessing water is for these people.

Now look at the structure. It is a physical representation of the pipe bursting. Look at the verses. They start of very small, get larger and then slim down again. This is like the pipe because the pipe would drip, then there would be a steady little stream, then a huge burst of water as the pipe completely split, but there would be less and less water as the water ran out, onto the floor, there would be none left in the pipe.  Also, look at the actually verses, the smaller ones, have nothing but facts, short sentences, a little “dry”. The largest verse, symbolising the rush of water has the most description, long sentences and then the verses “dry up” again.

Now, looking closer at the actually words used, you can eek out the story behind this poem. The “skin” that’s mentioned in the first line is the skin of the pipe, the casing. Saying the skin cracks like a pod means the reader can see a crack in the copper casing of this large pipe, water welling up a little and drips landing on the dry ground beneath. This line is also a simile which is how the writer is giving the reader a better “minds-eye” picture, by giving the reader something to compare the words with.  The next line suggests the slums, and with that, poor, overcrowded living conditions.

The first line of the next verse is full of onomatopoeia, again helping the reader to experience the scene that the poet is creating, but this time with their ears as well as their eyes. This is a way of the poet bringing the reader into the poem and also creating more of an impact because the reader is meant to graft themselves into this scene and imagine what it would be like without water etc and by imagining themselves in such a situation makes the reader have a far greater sympathy for those who don’t have to imagine because such a thing forces people’s eyes to open to things they don’t really want to see.

The last two lines to this verse, the “tin mug” again suggests poverty and the voice of a kindly God suggests two things. Firstly that perhaps these people are Hindu as the word is a not the which suggests they believe in more than one God.  It also suggests that obviously that water is a life-giver or saver and of course only God has the power to do such things.

The third verse is very interesting. The “sudden rush of fortune” is obviously the water but the fact that the water is called fortune (a metaphor) shows that these people consider water to be worth much in monetary terms but also that it is unbelievable luck that as given them this unexpected gift ( the water). The comparing of water to silver is again showing how much these people believe the water is worth.  The idea of the “roar of tongues” shows that perhaps the people were all shouting and screaming when they saw the water, this is backed up by the idea that every “man woman child” came with things in which to store the water. The fact that there are no commas in that quote suggests that the people all moved as one, with one common goal at this point.

The last verse, the puddle once the water has stopped flowing uses the most language devices. the metaphor of “liquid sun” suggests that the sun is so hot that it’s melting itself and the alliteration of “polished to perfection” emphasises the fact that these children have been in the sun so long that their hair has bleached but the last two lines suggest that these children now have a better chance of surviving because they have access to clean water-and saving lives is a blessing.

Island Man by Grace Nichols

Here’s the link to a site with the poem – http://tinyurl.com/33wqoz8 although I suggest that you view the PowerPoint version because here, the lines are a little confused.

The first thing to notice here is the title. “Island Man” means two things. Firstly, and obviously, that the man/persona is from an island and secondly that the man is an island man, as in, the man loves the island he hails from sees it as part of his identity and therefore longs for his home. This title indicates the poems main message-You can take the man out of the island but you can’t take the island out of the man.

The next thing to note is the tone of the poem. It’s quite resigned and perhaps a little resentful and full of longing. Again, this points towards the main message/theme of the poem. This can be ascertained from the lines “island man heaves himself” as heaving yourself out of bed generally means that you don’t want to get up and do something but you know you have to.

Next, the main content and the actual story of the poem has to be looked at. The man is clearly asleep in his room in London and is dreaming. When he’s dreaming, he dreams of his home, with vivid colours and sounds. This shows us that the man feels that the world which he dreams about feels far more real to him than the grey and boring London.

The idea of his preference for the island comes from the poet’s use of colours and language. The island in the persona’s dream is described with vivid colours such as emerald-green and blue, both colours have a calm connotation but the idea of the “emerald island” suggests that the man feels that his island is rich and when he’s there he feels rich and wealthy and lucky. This is because emeralds are obvious very valuable and the persona describes his island as this. By doing this he also tells the reader that the island is very valuable to him. The poet also uses the phrase “breaking and wombing”, again calm words with a calm connotation – listening to the sea are meant to be calming. Also, the idea that “he always comes back” instils the idea that the persona is longing for the island as he always returns to it in his dreams and the tone here is quite calm and happy which suggests that the persona felt happy on the island when he was and is there in both dreams and reality.

The opposite is shown in relation to London. The impression given by the poet that the persona doesn’t like London comes not only form the second to last line but also from the use of words such as “grey” and “dull”. These are not words someone usually uses to describe a place they like. One other phrase worth mentioning is the phrase “muffling muffling”. It shows that the persona feels he must remain in London. The man wakes from his dreams and then muffles them, hiding them away in order to face “Another London day” rather than just return to the island he obviously loves. Why would he do this unless he felt he had to remain where he was?

A final thing to look at is the structure of the poem. Obviously the poem is separated into two sections. The first describing the island and the dream and the second describing London. Again this shows, the persona’s distaste for London, he dedicates less time and words to the section describing London. However, the main structural point is the separate piece of writing “groggily groggily”, this seems unimportant but it tells us something about the persona. Firstly it shows he wishes to remain in the dream or else he would have woken up straight away but structurally it is the link between the two sections-a bridge if you like.

Hope you understand the poem better now.


Sample Essay Extract

Compare the ways people are presented in “Vultures” with the ways people are presented in any other poem.

People are presented in various ways in Vultures and Night of the Scorpion. Some of these ways are the same in both poems but others differ between the two. For example in Vultures the “Commandant” is presented through a split in the structure. In the first stanza, the Commandant is presented in a very negative way, using phrases such as “fumes of human roast clinging…to his hairy nostrils”. This suggests the man is the epitome of evil; that even though he has been gassing innocent people in the gas chambers he isn’t affected. The worst thing for him is the smell that lingers around his nose. This makes the audience immediately dislike the man and also fear him because he is unpredictable; he kills the innocent as well as the guilty. However, the next stanza presents the Commandant in a very positive light, using phrases such as “…pick up a chocolate for his tender offspring…” This suggests that the man is actually a father, who cares about his child, stopping at the sweet shop on his way home. This is a demonstration of love and confuses the reader as they are confronted by both evil and love within the one person. They are unsure of who this person is therefore they think. The poet is trying to put across that the man is complicated, and he is very successful as a complicated person is one who often confuses others (as the Commandant has the readers), and is trying to show that the man has both evil and goodness within him. Personally, the structure of this extract also helps present the character as the two very different “personalities” suggest that the Commandant is two-faced; showing one side at work and the other at home. This suggests to me that the man dislikes his work intensely, so much so that he has had to create a “face” for his work because otherwise something awful would happen to him. This again speaks for the character and his personality.

There are similarities between the two poems however. In both “Vultures” and “Night of the Scorpion” the poets use the tone of the persona to present people. For example, in Night of the Scorpion the poet describes the peasants “…like swarms of flies…buzzed the name of God…” These are derogatory statements as flies are a nuisance and the fact that he describes their prayers as buzzing suggests that he believes what they were doing was a pointless exercise, that they are communicating with no-one but each other. This gives the reader the impression that the peasants are doing nothing but milling about doing nothing practical and helpful. They are merely a nuisance come to feed off the carcass. The poet is trying to impress upon the reader that in this third-world country more often than not the only “medical” treatment you get is prayer and that in his opinion this is useless. It is also the idea that the peasants are so poor that they fight to be there when the victim dies so when the family is distracted and distressed they can take what they can in order for themselves to survive.

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