Unseen Poetry Preparation: The Road Not Take by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

road

Unseen Poetry: William Blake ‘Love’s Secret’ by Guled

This weekend, Guled has explored an unseen poem and written a terrific response to it. Here is his annotated poem:

GY - Blake annotations

It can also be dowloaded here: GY Blake poem annotations

Guled created his own question for the poem:

How does William Blake explore the theme of love in his poem ‘Love’s Secret’?
Here is his response:
The first thing that struck me as a reader was the short length of the poem, a mere 12 lines. I felt that this was a representation of the quick decline, from loving this woman to resenting the concept of love to the point of writing a poem on the subject. This is also shown through the use of words such as ‘wind’, ‘cold’ and ‘ghastly’, all which have almost airy and thin connotations, therefore representing the ephemeral joys of love.
I believe the poet does more exploration of the theme of unrequited love than he does the actual emotion love in the first two stanzas. This is represented in the very first line ‘never seek to tell thy love’. This line serves as a warning to all yet to experience love, and, to those that do but are not sure if the feeling is a mutual one. The next line continues this with ‘love that never told can be’. This line reinforces the fact that the feelings the poet had for this woman is either not shared or is still unknown to his love interest. Read together, the both lines represent William Blake telling the reader that one should ‘never seek’ to confess their love for someone as there is a chance that you will be rejected. In fact, this could be William Blake using his experience to downplay the beauty of love as he has never been in love with someone who shares the feeling, his selfishness is shown in the first two lines as he does not want anyone to experience true love because he has not, thus the warning. Alternatively, the first two lines can be interpreted as a reflection of his caring nature and that he is telling the reader to be wary of love as he has experienced it to be bittersweet. Furthermore, the use of inversion in line two of the poem is not only a reflection of the time period of the poem, but also allows the reader to see the text in a different way, for example allowing us to focus on the word ‘never’, which is a strong word representing his now strong emotions. However, not only does the use of inversion allow the readers to see it differently, it also symbolises how William Blake now sees love differently and how he has come to the realisation that love is no longer the beautifully ethereal emotion he once thought it to be.
The title of the poem reads ‘Love’s Secret’. The use of an apostrophe in the word ‘love’s’ can be deliberate to show it as an abbreviation of the words ‘Love is’. Hence, allowing the readers to read it as ‘Love is Secret’. This could be William Blake telling us from the start, before we even start the poem, that we should keep love secret.
In line 5 the phrase ‘I told my love’ is repeated twice, this highlights that he told his love interest a lot, how deep his love is. On the other hand, he may not have have confessed his love at all and this entire poem may not be about him revealing his love to this woman, he could in fact be confessing horrible things he has done in his life to her prompting her to leave, however, the next line says that he ‘told her all [his] heart’ this solidifies that he has confessed all his love to this woman.
In lines 7 and the beginning sentence in line 8, shows that the man is ‘trembling cold in ghastly fears’ this creates the sense that he is anticipating something, an air of suspense. Then on the next line it say ‘Ah!’ this definitely shows that he was indeed expecting a reaction to this confession, the reaction being her departure, almost like the ‘wind’ he describes in line 3.
The use of the phrase ‘Silently invisibly’ is repeated twice and it could be a representation of how suddenly and quietly ‘she did depart’. However, its second use in the last stanza could depict how he is watching her meet this ‘traveller’. This interpretation helps the reader to see the extent of his love that he is stalking her ‘silently invisibly’. Love has driven him to the point of insanity.
The poem ends with a ‘sigh’. This sigh could come from one of two people, if not both of them. The poet (or the man the poet is playing) or the traveller. If it were to come from the traveller it shows that this traveller also knows the dangerous nature of love, but it seems to be like an addiction to these men and they cannot keep themselves. This theme of the ‘dangerous addiction to love’ is prevalent throughout the poem and it could be William Blake using it to show how desperate some, if not all, men are to love to and to be loved. If the sigh were to come from the poet it could be him ‘silently [and] invisibly’ watching his love be taken by this ‘traveller’. Therefore forcing him to come to terms with the fact that she may no longer be in his life.
I’m sure that you’ll agree this is a very insightful and detailed response – it would definitely get an A* in the exam. Thanks, Guled!

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.

STRUCTURE

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.

Unseen Poetry Essentials

Poetry is a strong point in our class, we all feel quite confident about out ability to analyse poetry and this has been confirmed with some pleasing results in past papers. However, there is always room to improve, so take a look at some of the slides that we have used in class. They will help you with revising poetic techniques, planning and structuring your answer as well as the mark scheme (click images to enlarge)

In order to revise, why not attempt to explore one of the poems from a different cluster in your anthology. Attempt one of these questions:

How does Grace Nichols feel about her mother in ‘Praise song for my mother?’ (p. 56)

How does Ted Hughes present war in ‘Bayonet Charge?’ (p. 44)

How does William Blake present London in ‘London?’ (p. 28)