Unseen Poetry: W H Auden by Amelia and Mariam

Again, we began the lesson by reading an unseen poem: If I Could Tell You by W H Auden. In just 15 minutes, were able to make some very original and imaginative interpretations.

W H Auden

Amelia and Mariam have very kindly compiled the ideas from the lesson and have written some thoughtful interpretations of key lines from the poem:

“Time will say nothing but I told you so”

The use of this phrase repeated throughout the poem indicates how time is always there right in front of us, also it shows how he wants to get his point across as he keeps repeating it. Another interpretation of this quote is that time is being secretive as it knows what is written for our future. Therefore this makes the reader feel curious because ‘time’ knows everything, however we don’t. This can also be seen as ‘time’ mocking us by knowing our deepest secrets or it can be seen as time protecting us by hiding it.

“If we should weep when clowns put on their show”

The use of the oxymoron connotes that time delivers more bad than good as clowns are represented to be a happy symbol which contrasts with the idea of weeping. It also shows that time knows about the bad events of our future which is why it might not let us enjoy the good times. Another connotation of this quote is that the theme of ‘regret’ presents how weeping was wasted, making us as the reader aware that time should be cherished.

“Perhaps the roses really want to grow”

​The literal point is that ‘roses’ want to grow however are being prevented or cut off from growing as time is disrupting it. On the other hand the ‘roses’ can be seen metaphorically as a relationship not being able to develop.

“Will time say nothing but I told you so?”

The most frequent line in the poem is used, however in the last stanza it has been turned into a question. This shows that there is uncertainty in the writer’s tone which portrays that time is confused. ‘Time’ has a capital letter which emphasizes that it is a personified figure, much like a conscience. His conscience is a constant reminder of regret. The regret could be the result of fear presented throughout the poem.


The poem is written in iambic pentameter. All the stanzas have 3 lines except the last stanza which has 4 lines. This suggests that the last stanza is a summary of his feelings and adding one extra line is a use of dramatic effect. The use of natural imagery throughout the poem suggests a kinder view however the use of the words ‘brooks’ and ‘soldiers’ in the last stanza depicts how harsh he has become, just wanting to get his point across. As each stanza only has 3 lines it infers that the writer is stuck in time however in the last stanza it shows that he is finally letting go of time as well as his fears.

Unseen Poetry – Brian Patten

At the start of our last lesson, we revised our unseen poetry skills by reading In the Orchard After Midnight by Brian Patten. We were asked to look at the presentation of the narrator and his relationship with the ghost (his dead friend).

unseen patten

We were able to make some insightful comments in the short time given:

“whiskey on the table”

This could connote two things. Firstly, his reliance upon alcohol may represent a sign of his grief. This could also be an explanation for the appearance of the ‘ghost’ – a drunken hallucination. Additionally, it could signify an invite or welcome to call upon the ghost of his best friend.

“I raise a glass to him- two months dead now-“

The two separate statements seem to juxtapose each other as to ‘raise a glass’ suggests a toast in celebration, but the stark reality of ‘two months dead’ contradicts a celebratory tone. We could infer that the ‘glass to him’ is a sign of his acceptance of the death of his friend or perhaps he has relied on alcohol to mourn and is not yet over his grief.

“- who cares if we get smashed now?
Celia’s up in London-“

When he sits with his friend, we get the impression that their relationship is unchanged despite death. The use of colloquial language ‘smashed’ reinforces an informal and relaxed exchange. The humour in their ‘banter’ about ‘Celia’ (who we assume to be a wife) also shows that they had a strong bond both before and after death,

“Tendrils of river mist drift through him.
Somewhere an owl takes out its oboe.”

Despite their relaxed tone, the use of natural imagery adds a magical element to the poem – reminding us that this isn’t an ordinary encounter between two old friends. The fact that ‘tendrils of river mist drift though him’ evokes a typical image of a cloudy, white ghost. The subtle assonance in ‘river mist drift’ enhances the mysterious but nonthreatening nature of the ghost. The reference to an ‘owl’ who ‘takes out his oboe’ is an unlikely image; perhaps a metaphor for the deep hoot of an owl, or perhaps a literal depiction which adds to the magic of this unusual night.

These are just some of our thoughts. We have been asked to write a timed response to the question for homework this week. As well as making considerations about the structure, we could also look at these quotations:

He smiles, takes a chair opposite,

Falls through it, grimaces, nods OK, tries again.
“Not used to this being dead stuff,” he says.

The grass white, crunchy as sugar,

We exchange banter, his ghost and I, the best of mates still.

Hopefully we will update this blog with an example answer soon.

What do you need?

With just three weeks to go until the exams are in full flow, your revision should be well underway and we hope that the blog is proving to be useful. However, if you find that there is an area where you are struggling and you would like extra help, please let us know.

We are looking at these areas:

  • The Crucible
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Character and Voice Poetry
  • Unseen Poetry
  • Language Exam – Reading
  • Language Exam – Writing

Please be specific with you requests. For example, don’t just ask for Crucible revision – make it clear what you need: perhaps language techniques or how themes are presented?

We will write a post on the most popular requests, so tell us what you want in the comments box below:

finger down

Question 4 – Comparing Language: Part Two

This is a very short post with prompts for comparison between the two articles we looked at in class today. The two articles can be found here and here.

Here are some of the language comparisons we made today. Can you write one or two up as comparative paragraphs then make some more of your own?


Lesson Preparation: Question Four – Comparing Language

Good evening. Tomorrow we will read two articles and compare how language has been used for effect in each article. You may wish to prepare for this by reading the articles prior to the lesson:

I was a Lampedusa refugee. Here’s my story of fleeing Libya – and surviving


The young just don’t care about politics

Happy reading!

On Poetry

Here’s a opinion about poetry written by James Baldwin, a C20th American writer. It considers the relationship between the poet and the reader and essentially articulates the point that I was trying to get across today; poetry can only come alive if the reader is ready to embrace it.

James baldwin

I also like this one from a speech he presented at New York’s Community Church in 1963:

“The poets (by which I mean all artists) are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers don’t. Priests don’t. Union leaders don’t. Only poets.”

The poets in your anthology have been selected precisely because they represent characters and voices. It’s your aim to explore how these voices are represented by the poets, how their stories make you feel. Read them regularly. Ask questions about them and seek the answers (notice the plural – there is no one answer). Talk to each other about them.

Revision guides are good, but they should only serve as a prompt for you do delve deeper and seek personal interpretations. My experience of marking exam scripts taught me that the students who spoke knowledgeably and fondly of the poems tended to do better than those who recited memorized and shallow interpretations.

That being said, we still have class time to revise the poems. If you have a particular poem/aspect of the exam where you feel less confident, talk to me or leave a comment below.

Comparing ‘Checking out me History’ and ‘Singh Song!’: Part Two

Today we recapped two poems from the anthology; Checking out me History (Agard) and Singh Song! (Nagra). First we listened to Singh Song! being read by Daljit Nagra then we worked through it line by line. We repeated the process with Checking out me History. As we did this, we were able draw out direct comparisons and contrasts regarding the structure and tone in the poems.

Here are some slides from the lesson with detailed interpretations of the poems and prompts for language analysis:

Singh Song!:

singh 1

singh 2

Singh 3

Checking out me History:

history 1

history 2

history 3

After this close reading, we began to search for evidence to compare the two poems. Students are asked to Go for Gold by completing this and writing a detailed comparison of the structure and tone of each poem. The prompts on this slide will help:

singh history compare

Student responses to this question will be displayed on this site soon.