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English SL/HL: Example of poetry analysis

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SL/HL English Literature: Pick out as many literary features or general points of analysis as you can spot in the following verse and post them below - once we've got enough we'll share all the ones we found and give you some of our tips for analysing poetry!

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew,
And I was unaware.

(last verse from the Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy)

Obviously you'd never get a single verse, but we're going to do a single verse because it's conveniently short. My suggestion for approaching this would be:

1. Read it through and see what impression you get re: what it's trying to say

2. Read it again with that impression in mind and see if it seems to be confirmed

3. Keep reading it until you're happy that you've got the right idea from it and understand what it's going on about - hopefully you'll have nailed it by read-through 2 or 3!

My first impression is roughly:

Thomas Hardy is listening to the song of the 'Darkling Thrush' in amazement that a creature can sound so happy and hopeful when the circumstances do not suggest to Hardy that he should be happy and hopeful.

My second impression is:

Same again. To me the poem can safely be said to be about 1. the contrast between the environment and the tune of the thrush and 2. the contrast between Hardy and the thrush.


Okay, so impression is sorted. Now, I suggest reading it through in your head as if you were listening to somebody say it out loud. Think about where the emphasis goes and how things sound. A few things immediately jump out about the structure:

1. It rhymes on alternate lines, so you can see the structure and how this ties the whole poem together and gives it a rhythm and flow

2. Looking at the structure of the lines, you can see there's a run-on of one line to the next without a comma at the end of the line - so the ideas flow between one line and the next and it's broken up just to show the pattern of the rhyme. This is known as enjambment and wins you literary feature brownie points.

3. The second to last line doesn't flow like the others. ",whereof he knew," breaks the line. You can tell this because suddenly when imagining you're reading the poem out loud, it slows the pace of the whole thing down and breaks it up. What's the effect of this? Well, just think to yourself how it sounds to read it. It puts a lot of emphasis on this final section and brings your attention to that final line and a half - and that final line and a half more or less sums up the whole poem. "Whereof he knew, and I was unaware" is the contrast between Hardy and the Thrush.


Going chronologically through the poem I'll pull out some literary features that I've spotted, including...

1. alliteration in the first line cause and carolings

2. terrestrial and things also alliterate in the 3rd line

3. you can make some small argument for assonance or alliteration of afar and around

4. there trembled through more alliteration

5. personification of the thrush "his happy good-night air"

6. not exactly a feature but the use of "Hope" as a proper noun with a capital letter is definitely impactful


My favourite section and this is a BRILLIANT poem to look at word choice. Always ask yourself as you read the poem through very slowly thinking of what to say "WHY did the author pick that word?". Often it doesn't occur to you immediately until you actually mentally ask yourself the question and you'd be surprised how much stuff you can pick out!

Line 1 - "carolings" = when are there carols? Christmas time. What does it make you think of? Well, the winter which highlights again the harsh and generally hope-less environment Hardy is in. Secondly caroling is about celebration and cheerfulness and to some degree about Hope. So, the choice of the word 'caroling' brings so much more with it than if he'd just said 'singing'.

Line 2 - "ecstatic" = not just happy but the ULTIMATE degree of happiness. The fact he chose the word 'ecstatic' gives a really vivid idea of what it was like and also just how sharp the contrast is with the degree of happiness vs. the environment.

Line 3 - "terrestrial" = why would you use the word terrestrial? To differentiate things from extra-terrestrial. What things are extra-terrestrial? Well nowadays we might think of aliens but it's safe to say Hardy was thinking of heaven and generally things associated with god. The use of the word 'terrestrial' in contrast with the thrush's song makes it seem as if the thrush's song was somehow heavenly and above the normal world. It's a powerfully chosen word because it associates the thrush's music with something heavenly and not of this world.

Line 4 - personally I find that "was written" in line 3 and "afar or nigh around" remind me a lot of a biblical/hymnal style of speech but it's a bit of a weak point and I'm not 100% I'd bother to make it. Scrap line 4 :P

Line 5 - "there trembled through" = to be honest even just saying "there trembled through" seems to me to conjure up the sound of trembling just with how it sounds. Anyway, 'trembled'. Why would he use that word, what does it do? Well it makes the thrush suddenly somehow seem delicate and weak - and also perhaps a hint of being frightened or intimidated by the environment yet bravely singing anyway. It reminds you of the insignificance of the physical thrush (which is a tiny bird, in case nobody knew) and creates a contrast with this heavenly sound the thrush has been making - it is beautiful but also small, frightened and easily crushed.

Line 6 - "good-night" = he could have just said "evening" but he said "good-night" which links back to the personification of the thrush from earlier.

Line 7 & 8 - "he knew... and I was unaware" = typically we'd say that HUMANS know and it is animals which lack awareness. I think it's entirely reasonable to say that this is a powerful word choice because it turns on its head the conventional way of thinking of it and suggests that perhaps animals can know something humans can't even really begin to identify. I happen to know Hardy is big on the power and timelessness of nature but I think you could draw that conclusion even without that previous knowledge: animals know the natural world and way of things. You could even say that perhaps he's referring to the coming of spring which animals seem to know before us - really, argue whatever you like.

The above is not exhaustive and there's loads more you could write. Having identified all of this stuff, you've got plenty to keep you going, though. However I hope it helps demonstrate the sort of stuff you can pick out of even just a small segment of a poem and also shows the power of looking at things like word choice and asking "Why?". Also just how easy it is to spot literary features - just always make sure you have something to say about the effect the feature has. Plus, never overlook structure of the poem and thinking about how it would sound if you read it out loud. Lots of much more subtle things could have been pulled out about structure. Often long vowel sounds can seem to really slow down the pace, lots of consonants to quicken it and so on - and these have small but meaningful impacts all of their own if you look for them :P

Good luck.

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