Where does poetry come from?

I come from haunts of coot and hern, 

I make a sudden sally, 

And sparkle out among the fern, 

To bicker down a valley. 

Even before Freud, people would have observed that dreams are the result of our unfulfilled desires. This is plain common sense. Freud made this idea systematic without bothering to make it scientific. He resorted to speculations. 

Art and literature, especially poetry, seem to have the same origin as dreams when we considers the similarities in their form and content. We all have our instincts, mostly biological in nature. But our sense of self, the ego and our sensitivity to the world, the super ego, suppresses our instincts.

Finding no way to materialize, our instincts go for the second options, they ideate as dreams in our sleep when our guard is down,  and when we are watchful as daydreams  or art or poetry, good poetry that is. In dreams art and poetry our instincts go for two kind of disguises, condensation in which several instincts are all fused into one and displacement in which instead of hitting the bull’s eye we hit something else. 

Translated into poetry these disguises become metaphor and metonymy, two basic ways of symbolism. Metaphor which we also seen in homonyms and other figures of speech and metonymy as we see in sublimation. These are only convenient examples.  

Freud calls this wish fulfillment which is not the same as materializing our real instinctual desire. Needless to say it is not as good as the real, second best. So, when it comes to poetry, like a child who over decorates a toy house, we embellish the second best to more satisfactory for us and more enjoyable for others.  

For example, one may wish to have children but has only Dorothy as a companion. No chance there. The sexual instinct is here suppressed by the ego and super ego, and rightly so. This leads to an ideation of the instinct into an incestuous dream about the sister (more direct) day dream about a solitary reaper (less direct) or a poem on daffodils (symbol of fertility, disguised or indirect) 

We don’t have access to Wordsworth’s dream but his two poems are there for us. In Solitary Reaper we see several of the instincts fused into the form of a reaping girl, enjoyment, fertility, (“Reaping and singing by herself”) Thus the girl becomes a metaphor or the poet’s (and everyone else’s) biological instincts. 

In Daffodils, it is not only that the flowers being symbol of fertility is again a metaphor, it is also a sight the poet has often enjoyed watching with his sister as they went for long walks in Lake District. Perhaps, more than the symbolism, it is their association with his sister which prompted the poet.  The lines,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

say a lot.

Coming by Philip Larkin

How successful is Philip Larkin in depicting the transition between winter and summer?

Change of seasons, an uncommon theme in modern poetry, is explored beautifully in ComingPhilip Larkin, a poem by Philip Larkin. In its totality, it provides us with a real life experience of transition between two seasons.

The title itself refers to transition and in a subtle way points to the popular phrase ‘this too shall pass’. Moreover, time is a common topic of interest in modern poetry and season is all about time. Towards the end of the poem, the poet says,

And can understand nothing

But the unusual laughter

which is to suggest that the whole poem is more of an experience rather than an exercise in language.

Change of season is a metaphor of life itself. To endorse this idea, the poet brings up an image of a couple reconciling ,

Feel like a child

Who comes on a scene

Of adult reconciling

Such an incident will surely make people happy. It is also noticeable that he says ‘adult’ and not ‘adults’ thereby making it an adjective of reconciliation. Moreover, the warmth of the sun which has stayed away returns to the earth to make it fully blossom.

Bathes the serene

Foreheads of houses

The comparison is all the more significant since winter connotes not only hatred and being cold-shouldered but also frigidity as well, while spring entails warmth and warm-heartedness as well as fertility and potency by extension.

Imagery is what makes the poem very effective. By choosing a set of harmonious images which refer to the happiness and sunny days, the poet is able to convey the heart-warming effect of spring.

On longer evenings,

Light, chill and yellow

Bathes the serene

Foreheads of houses

Since the poem abounds in a wide variety of images, it can be classified as an imagist poem. TO depict the various appearance of both the seasons, the poet strings together some fresh visual images.

Images of melodious sounds are also heard in such phrases like ‘thrush sings’ ‘fresh-peeled voice’ and ‘unusual laughter’. Of these ‘fresh-peeled voice’ is double effective since the first word gives a visual image of a freshly peeled fruit and then the same image enhances the beauty of the bird’s song. Furthermore, this voice is contrasted with the stolid, solid ‘brickwork’ in the background.

After a time of inactive winter, it is time for some dynamic movements in summer. All will be up and about. The kinesthetic images (those of movement) make the poem more dynamically energetic. ‘Coming’ and ‘reconciling’ are dynamic verbs while ‘spring’ echoes of movement.

In the second half, the repetition of the first line,

It will be spring soon—

It will be spring soon

suggests the skipping spirit of a young child and soon the poem moves from ‘forgotten boredom’ to ‘unusual laughter’.

The poet also uses his keen sense of sound all through the poem. The first stanza begins with a lot of soft consonants and ends with hard and hard sounds

Thus from

Light, chill and yellow

we move over to

Laurel- surrounded

deep bare garden

Thus the poem in its deceptive simplicity, manages to highlight in very subtle ways, the transition between winter and spring. Philip Larkin has successfully employed his skill at creating a very precise effect of his choice.

Afternoon with Irish Cows

2015 PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature: On Africa © Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center


Scientists mostly ask questions about the world outside themselves. It is very rare that they question themselves or try to learn about themselves. There is no subjectivity here.

But artists, on the other hand, keep questioning themselves and ask questions to themselves. They are introspective and want to know more about themselves. Poetry, for example, is mostly one way of doing this. Thus, a poem becomes an attempt to answer the question: Who am I?

The poem “Afternoon with Irish Cows” by Billy Collins is a typical example for such introspections. The poet does look out and sees cows and observes their behaviour which is in contrast with his.

This contrast can be seen all over the poem. In a beautiful country, the poet prefers to be indoors while the cows prefer to be outdoors,

Stepping all day from tuft to tuft

their big heads down in the soft grass,.

The distinction starts there and continues in different ways. The cows live from moment to moment, in the real world of the meadows which provides them with food while the poet lives in a world of imagination too. He describes himself realistically

I would sometimes pass a window
and look out to see the field suddenly empty

But then reveals his world of imagination with he says,

as if they had taken wing, flown off to another country.

But imagination cannot provide a realistic answer and the poet continues to observe them with a view to understand them which by contrast may help him understand himself. So, he does not believe that they have flown away but opens the front door to look for them and there they are going ahead with their routine mundane things like eating, chewing the cud and lying down on their sides, completely relaxed.

Then later, I would open the blue front door,
and again the field would be full of their munching
or they would be lying down
on the black-and-white maps of their sides,

The black and while patterns that the poet refers to as a map is of importance here. These patterns which only roughly resemble maps still remind the poet of maps because of his interest in the world and its affairs. But for the cow it is just a pattern on their body and they don’t mind getting them dirty by lying on their sides. It is nothing to be proud of or flaunt.

We pride ourselves as social animals, but we commit uncivil and unsocial acts. The newspaper, the stone wall and the knife are symbols from such a world. But the cows, which do not seem to communicate like we do, are also social animals and when they rest lies down in different direction to guard one another.

facing in all directions, waiting for rain.

After such an observation the poet’s interest in the cow comes out in the open when he says,

How mysterious, how patient and dumbfounded
they appear in the long quiet of the afternoon.

They only “appear” dumbfounded, mysterious and patient. They are not to take things lying down, for,

… every once in a while, one of them
would let out a sound so phenomenal


Given the kind of world he lives in, this noise brings only memories of torture and pain to the poet’s mind.

… which one of them was being torched
or pierced through the side with a long spear.

But looking at the cow, the poet finds that the cow was only being self-assertive.

… it sounded like pain until I could see
the noisy one

Through mooing, the cow was only asserting its nature, voice and behaviour and it is not ashamed of its ‘unadulterated cowness’ but rather proud of its self.                       

The cow’s self expression does not come from its soul or mind as some poet deem their poems to do. It is a product of its body.

… she gave voice
to the rising, full-bodied cry
that began in the darkness of her belly
and echoed up through her bowed ribs into her gaping mouth.

The cows have been here long before us and they have been trampling the hills, munching away the grass, polluting bays and cursing the rain. But unlike humans they were always apologetic about their atrocities and the poet believes that every mooing of a cow is only its apology for what its race did. The poet’s face coming up behind the wall is a later incident in history and shocks the cow with a premonition about the worse things the new race can do to the world.

Now the afternoon is no afternoon but the second half of the earth’s own life as it is unapologetically hurriedly pushed into its grave by the human race. And Ireland, though a land of great writers, is also famed to be a land of faction and civil wars where people pride in killing their own siblings in the name of God and faith.

But the cows are the same anywhere, anytime. They don’t kill one another or damage the environment in any serious way. Yet they are apologetic.

At the same time, through a series of concrete images, mostly visual and kinaesthetic but auditory and tactile too, the poet has managed to give us an almost direct experience of his surroundings. The visual imagery, like

the field would be full of their munching
or they would be lying down
on the black-and-white maps of their sides,
facing in all directions

recreates the scene in our mind while the kinaesthetic images, like

her bellowing head
laboring upward as she gave voice

make us feel how dynamic the scene is.

Thus in highly subtle ways the poet is able to suggests what he learns from watching some Irish cows one afternoon, without being preachy or overtly didactic. Even we set aside the philosophic content of the poem, there is still enough in the poem to enrich us in a pleasing way because of the skill employed by the poet.

The Lady of Shalott

The Lady Of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson is a beautiful poem in which the poet catches the true spirit of Romanticism. The poem has plenty of exquisite images and presents different tones and moods.

The poem begins with a beautiful description of the island of Shalott . Water lilies grow around the island and on either side of the river there are fields of barley and rye. Along the river there is a road that runs ‘to the many-towered Camelot’. Here we get a picture that matches the descriptions in King Arthur’s legends. However, the images of flowers and grains as well as the movements around serve as a contrasting back drop for the barren life of a lady who lives on the island.  She is generally known as Lady of Shalott. Nobody knows whether she has any other name. She lives a cloistered life in a castle with ‘four grey walls and four grey towers’.

But who has seen her wave her hand?

Or at the casement seen her stand?

Only the reapers reaping early in the morning or late at night hear her singing a song. Then they whisper to each other that it is the Lady of Shalott. She stays in her bower by day and night and weaves  a magic web in bright colours.

She has heard a whisper say,

A curse is on her if she stay

To look down to Camelot.

However, she has no idea what the curse is. So weaves on, without thinking of anything else. She sees the world only as the reflection on a mirror hanging in front of her. For years, she has not looked directly down the road to Camelot. Here the poet not only depicts what happened long ago and far away but also sustains the mystery by leaving a few things unsaid. Sadly, all the images that get reflected on her mirror are happy ones unlike her own life. She sees market girls in their bright dress, group of girls who are all happy, abbots passing by, shepherds tending their sheep, and boys on errands. She also sees the reflection of knights but she has no favourites among them.

She, however, weaves onto her web things that she sees. She weaves the images of a funeral and two loves in the moonlight and laments, ‘I am sick of shadows.’

One day, a handsome and bold knight comes riding down the road to Camelot. His attire and appearance are remarkable. The bridle with gems glitters like a string of stars; the bridle bells make sweet music, and on his bright dress hangs a silver bugle. The jewel on his saddle shines brightly and the helmet and the plume are as bright as a flame. His whole appearance is like that of a meteor burning bright. His curly hair is coal-black in colour and,

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;

On burnished hooves his war-horse trod;

He sings a merry tune as he rides and the mirror in front of Lady of Shalott reflects him for her. This sight is too much for her to resist. She leaves her web and the loom. She walks up and down in her room three times. She dares to look out at the water lilies and she sees the knight’s helmet and plume. She looks down to Camelot. In that instant her web flies away and her mirror cracks from side to side. She now realizes that ‘the curse is come upon’ her.

Nature changes immediately to foreshadow her tragedy. Everything merry becomes sad, a storm brews and it starts raining heavily. Lady of Shalott comes down from her tower and finds a boat beneath a willow tree. She writes her name on the prow of the boat. She looks towards Camelot, with no expression on her face, like a seer who looks at his own grim future. At the end of the day she loosens the chain that stays the boat and lie in it. The broad river takes her away down to Camelot. She is wearing a snowy white dress, giving her the appearance of a bride. Leaves fall on her like the nature’s tears.

As she drifts towards Camelot, they hear her sing her last song. She sings a carol in a low voice till her blood is completely frozen. She dies even before she reaches the first house in Camelot. Her dark eyes are still turned towards Camelot. She floats like a gleaming shape by the garden and galleries of houses in Camelot.

People come to the wharf to see her dead body. There were knights, burghers, lords and dames among them. They all read her name on the prow of the boat. They were all sad and silent and wondered who it was. Nobody spoke a word but crossed themselves out of fear. But Lancelot looked at her dead body and thought for a while. Then he said,

She has a lovely face;

God in his mercy lend her grace

The Lady of Shalott

The poem ends there but it leaves a long lasting impression on the reader. We still don’t know who she is but we empathize with her in her tragedy. The images the poet painted are so clear and awe-inspiring that they haunt every reader. They rhyme scheme and the refrains add to the beauty of the poem. The rhythm makes the poem read like a folk song. This is indeed one of the greatest poems of all time.

The Tintern Abbey

In  The Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth we see a romantic poet at his best. The poet goes beyond the common romantic themes of ‘far away and long ago’ and looks deeper into himself by reflecting on his own relationship with nature and that of his sister’s. He argues that the pleasure derived from being in the presence of nature is more sublime than other everyday pleasures and that such a pleasure goes beyond sensual pleasures. For Wordsworth, poetry was the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquility. Most of his poems on nature are recordings of his reflections on visits to landscapes he had done much after the actual visit.
Tintern Abbey even more so, since it was written after his second visit to the beautiful landscapes around the river Wye beside which there is an old place of worship called the Tintern Abbey. The abbey is now deserted and it suggests how religion has failed to console the poet during his most disturbed days and how nature took its place and successfully kept him happy and contended.
The poem begins with a graphically rich description of nature. Using beautiful images and melodious expressions the poet conjures up a beautiful image about the river.
These waters rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur

He looks higher up and sees the mountains that set forth the springs.
Once again
I behold these steep and lofty hills
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of a more deep seclusion;
The lines that follow appeal to our senses so much that they could be easily mistaken for those written by John Keats. The poet speaks of orchard-tufts which, with their unripe fruits, are clad in one great hue and lose themselves among other trees. He continues in the same mellifluous tone
These hedge rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild:
and then about movements and silence,
wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees
Having displayed his skills to describe nature, he starts to explore his own being and share his thoughts with us. He had seen that same landscape five years ago and it has changed very little. During all those years, it lingered in his memory and continued to please him.
I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensation sweet
and gave him ‘tranquil restoration’. It also gave him a serene and blessed mood in which his existence and ‘even the motion of his human blood’ were ‘almost suspended’ and he became nothing more than a pure ‘living soul’. His thoughts were settled and by the power of harmony he was able to see into the life of things. He often recalled the memory of this landscape when he was troubled by the fretful stir and the unprofitable fever of the world.
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods,
How often has my spirit tuned to thee!
The poet recalls and compares how he behaved and felt during his first visit when he was much younger and less insightful and rather inexperienced. Then ‘like a roe’ he ‘bounded over the mountains by the side /Of the deep rivers’ and ‘wherever nature led’ him. Those were the ‘boyish days’ and he derived ‘coarser pleasures’ from his immediate experiences. The physical sensation and pleasure he enjoyed in the lap of nature from the ‘colours and forms’ did not make him think about or look for anything beyond the ‘here and now’.
But ‘that time is past’. During his second visit after five long years he feels ‘a pleasure that disturbs’ him,
with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused
with his being. He is still,
A lover of the meadows and the woods
And the mountains; and of all we behold
But now, nature has risen from that which speaks ‘the language of the senses’ in order to please the human mind to the level of,
a nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being
Paganism or acknowledging and worshipping God in everything around us is not a philosophy favoured in the west. The monotheistic concept of the western religions does not allow the worship of any other God. So, nature poems in English, unlike those in the eastern languages, remained for long as description of nature’s beauty. Wordsworth, along with S. T. Coleridge, risked being called ‘a pagan’ and dared to call himself
A worshipper of nature …
Unwearied in that service…
making a personification of nature leading to its deification by using the word worship along with it.
The poet says that in the recent years when his life has been one of ‘sad perplexity’ and disillusionment he has learned to look on nature,
Not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity
Nor harsh or grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.
He has seen how nature can stay in one’s mind and continue to guide, help and raise one above the common din of life. Here the poet is referring to his disillusionment in his private life as well has the hope and despair that the French revolution gave him.
Now that he is aware of the immediate and long term benefits of being in the presence of nature, the poet wants to initiate into such a life his sister Dorothy who is accompanying him on this second visit. He sees in her, an image of what he used to be long ago. He assures her that no evil shall prevail on them, no rash thoughts shall come to them, no sneer of selfish men shall ever touch them and no unkind men can hurt them if they have faith in the powers of nature. It is her privilege to help men like that.
Knowing that nature never did betray
The heart that loved her
He hopes that his sister will take heed to remember this lesson that he is teaching him now.
If solitude , or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
She asks her whether she will ever forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together; ………….
With warmer love – oh! With far deeper zeal
Of holier love.
He tells his sister that this second visit is dearer to him, both because of the beauty of nature and also because of his sister’s companionship. Thus we see how Wordsworth creates an atmosphere of affection, beauty, nostalgia, scenic beauty, and divinity to convey to us the embalming power of nature that raised man to sublime levels.

Frost at Midnight by S T Coleridge

It is a calm and quiet night and the poet is in his cottage.  His infant son is sleeping silently in his cradle. It is winter and the frost seems to be performing a secret duty without the help of the wind. The only sound is an owl hooting repeatedly. The inmates of the cottage have all retired to rest, leaving the poet to his solitude so that he could ponder over his incomprehensible thoughts. The only person near him is his infant son who is so silent in his cradle. The calmness is such that its extreme silence disturbs the poet in his meditation. The sea, the hill, the woods which are all abuzz with activities during the day time are all quiet now. They are as inaudible as someone else’s dreams.

The poet spies a thin blue flame on the grate in the fireplace. It flutters all over the dying embers. It is so thin it doesn’t quiver like normal flames. The poet sees in the thin unquiet flame a clear reflection of his inner self. It is a companionable form to the poet’s soul. His quiet soul is able to interpret the weak and mild movements of the thin blue flame in the grate. He finds parallels between himself and the flame. The poet has the habit of thinking deeply about the things around him and seeing himself in them. This helps him have a better look into his own soul. The poet says that this is exactly what the flame also does. It reflects on the various things around it so as to see itself.
The poet suddenly goes back to his childhood memories and says how often he has seen the same flame do the same thing in fireplaces in his school. While in school he used to see day dreams about his birthplace and the old church tower there. He remembers the church bell which was the only music the poor men in his village heard. On hot Fair days it would sing from morning to evening. It was so sweet that it always gave him a wild pleasure. It told him of the things that were to come in his life. He would stare at the thin blue flame in the school fireplace till the soothing things he dreamt would put him to sleep. In his sleep the day-dream would continue as a real dream. He would further think about it the following morning in his class while at school. This would infuriate his stern teacher. But the poet would still pretend to be studying his books while in fact the book too floats around in his dream. Whenever the door opened he hoped to find a stranger’s face or a man from his own town or an aunt or his favourite sister or a play mate wearing the same dress as he did.
The poet now addresses his baby. The gentle breathing of his baby is heard in that deep calmness. It fills the vacant moments in between his thoughts. He finds his baby beautiful and it makes him very happy. When he looks at his infant son he thinks that he may grow up different. He may grow up listening to stories which are different from the ones he had heard. He may spend his childhood in places which are different from the ones his father, the poet, grew up in. The poet grew up in cloistered surroundings and saw not much of the beautiful nature. He saw nothing lovely except the stars and the sky. But he hopes his son may wander like a breeze by lakes, on sandy shores, in the valleys of ancient mountains and under clouds that look like lakes, shores and mountain crags. He will see the lovely shapes and hear the lovely sounds intelligible only to those who speak the eternal and divine language that God utters. Through everything around us God teaches us about Himself and about all things in Him. The Almighty will mould his son’s spirit and, by satisfying his curiosity, make him ask for more knowledge.
All seasons would be sweet to his son. He will be happy when the summer clothes the earth with greenness or the winter makes the redbreast sing lovely songs sitting between tufts of snow on the branches of mossy apple trees while the roof seems to emit vapour when the sun falls on its wet thatches. He will enjoy the soft sounds of water drops as they fall off eaves, though this sound can be heard only when the general din of the day subsides to quietness. It will please his eyes to see how the secret ministry of the frost makes the water drops stay up as icicles and they keep shining to the quiet moon.
S. T. Coleridge’s poems are famous for the dream-like atmosphere they create. From the very first line where the poet talks about ‘the secret ministry of the frost’ to where he talks about the icicles hanging from the eves shining at the moon, the poem treats memories, landscapes, dreams, fears and hopes as if they are not different. The poet reveals a mind which is sensitive to his inner life and the external reality.

The Sea Eats the Land at Home


Notes by Sreekumar K

Kofi Awoonor’s poem The Sea Eats the Land at Home, using a string of concrete visual images,  depicts the tragic picture of a people losing themselves and their belongings. It is possible that the poem has an allegorical slant too, since the poet does not say home on land but land at home. However, even without another layer of meaning, the poem is enjoyable for its objectified pathos and detached point of view and narration. The ocean is personified with its insensitive stubborn nature and  destructive perseverance.  The helplessness of the victims whose wails fall on deaf ears of men and gods adds to the tragic element of the poem.

Repetition is one of the techniques that the poet uses, not only to capture the nature of the sea and its waves but also to reiterate and reinforce the tragic element. More than thoughts, actual lines and phrases are repeated to provide the effect of the unending waves in an ocean. All waves are alike and different in their own way and so are these lines and phrases. Thus we have the title and then,

At home the sea is in the town,


The sea eats the land at home.

repeated twice, followed by 

In the sea that eats the land at home

Eats the whole land at home.

Another repeated feature is the use of present participles which gives the poem an eternity and the theme an unfailing continuity. Words like running, collecting, sending, destroying, mourning, cooking, shivering, weeping, raging, struggling and lap-lapping together create the effect of a drama that gets enacted over and over. The use of falling intonation in several lines too adds to the effect of repetition.

The catastrophe being a geographical phenomenon makes it necessary for the poet to bank much on visual imagery. In the first stanza, the sea is more like a mischievous, playful animal that doesn’t know what to take away and what not to. So,

Running in and out of the cooking places,
Collecting the firewood from the hearths
And sending it back at night;

But the poet reiterates that the sea does eat the land and makes it sound like a slow and steady process. In the second stanza, things get a bit more serious as the loss the people suffer is irreparable and irrecoverable. Thus,

It came one day at the dead of night,
 Destroying the cement walls,
And carried away the fowls,
The cooking-pots and the ladles,

and thus we know that the game is afoot.

As the depth of the tragedy increases in the third stanza its length and the details it provides are also more. It is in this stanza that the sea becomes demonic in nature and merciless in action. The poet uses Aku’s reaction to what happens more than what actually happens to create the tragic effect.

Her hands on her breasts,
Weeping mournfully.

Human life is pictured as uncertain and helpless with all the belief, trust and faith crumbling around her. Having lost everything for no reason of hers, she has no one and nothing to turn to for help.

Her ancestors have neglected her,
Her gods have deserted her,

The rhyme and the rhythm of these two lines make them look more like wails than a statement of facts. The poet uses the phrase ‘cold Sunday’ in the next line to emphasize this thought.

Following this, the poet gives an objective imagery-filled description of, or rather a commentary on, what happens on the sea shore. The images are concrete and recall our own memories of such occurrences.

Goats and fowls were struggling in the water,
The angry water of the cruel sea;
The lap-lapping of the bark water at the shore,
And above the sobs and the deep and low moans,
Was the eternal hum of the living sea.

With Adena’s story of the lost trinkets, the sea becomes an example of stubborn evil which needs no provocation or motive.

Finally we realize that the calamity was unstoppable when we hear the last line

Eats the whole land at home.

Thus, using a very simple language but fresh images, the poet has created a living picture of the sea taking away the very existence of people, leaving them dispossessed.

The sea comes first for things and then for people and ends up taking away the whole land. Reading an allegory in these lines we are reminded of how the poet’s own land Ghana, like several of the African countries, was a British colony for long. Several countries fought with each other to have monopoly over the trade on this land, devastating the country. Thus even though the poet keeps on saying ‘sea’, the land was appropriated by who came by the sea than by the sea itself. Thus the poem becomes an allegory of how the land was colonized and looted by the Europeans.

At the same time, such an interpretation is unnecessary for the poem to be considered remarkable. Focus should rather be on the people who suffered than the cause of their suffering. Being dispossessed is a universal issue which has become the theme of many works of art and literature. Such a theme expressed with such a felicity of expression using a concrete imagery is the strength of the poem.

The Dolphins by Carol Ann Duffy

The Dolphins by Carol Ann Duffy is a dramatic monologue uttered by a dolphin in an aquarium. We hear only the words of the dolphin. In very simple terms, the dolphin expresses its painful confinement which in turn symbolizes human condition and suffering. The poem pivots around the concept of freedom. Having made a general statement that the world is for everyone to enjoy (swim in or dance), the dolphin makes a personal statement.

We are in our element but we are not free.

The dolphin knows that it cannot survive in the outside world, on land, which is its first and major limitation. The dolphin is able to see its own reflection on the water surface from below and it takes it to be another dolphin. Because it is only a reflection, the other’s movements are also controlled by the dolphin which thinks that its own movements are also controlled by the other one in turn.

There is a man and there are hoops.

All this is in a pool of guilt, overflowing from the human mind and it flows continuously.

The water is not real, it is an artificial pool. There is no thrill of discovery or new experience. Unlike the ocean the dolphin is familiar with, the pool is limiting and unchanging. It was a blessing to live in the ocean, life in the pool is not a blessed existence.

We were blessed and now we are not blessed.

But after being in the pool for long, the dolphin and its reflection began to come to terms with its new conditions. The space (the pool) is repetitive and above it lives the man. The dolphin repeats its lament that its life is no longer a blessed one and it does not promise any improvement. It is so static that it will not deepen even in dreams. However, the other one, being only reflection of itself has no such worrying thoughts. The silvery flash from the reflection of its skin is like a long lost feeble memory of some places, far away. There is a coloured ball that the dolphin is supposed to play with to entertain the audience.

At night, the dolphin, moves around in circles in the pool like it has done so many times that even the water has “well-worn grooves” now. From it reflection it only gets silence (music of loss) and its silence,

turns my own heart to stone

There is a discarded plastic toy in the pool. But there is no hope left behind. The dolphin sinks with its own reflection deep into the pool only to return when the man blows his whistle. So long as human intervention is there, there is no redemption, the dolphin knows.

Seen from the human perspective, it is the same story. Man has built this complex society and has lost much of his freedom in the process. With the huge oceans all around him and many schools of dolphins in them, man prefers the aquariums. Equipped to swim like fish, he still prefers to watch others do it. Not only that human beings makes whatever is natural unnatural, he prevents himself and other animals the freedom which is naturally available for all. When life itself could be an entertainment in itself, man creates artificial entertainment which finally becomes uninteresting even for the entertainer. Thus the master fares no better than what he has enslaved.

The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy

Explain The Darkling Thrush as an attempt by the poet to search for meaning.

Thomas Hardy turned to writing poetry being accused of writing depressing and tragic novels. However, he continued in his sad strain even in his poetry, though at times he tried to mitigate his pessimism by referring to remote hopes.

The Darkling Thrush, by the very title, shows this dichotomy in his later poetry; both aspects of his art are visible there. The poem, through cleverly chosen powerful images, engenders in the reader such emotions like fear and pity and ends in a catharsis brought in by the bird’s song.

In the first stanza in which the poet describes where he is standing, we see a long list of words which all have a negative connotation: coppice gate (as if kept outside), spectre-grey (like a ghost), dregs (as if something has got over), desolate ( like lonely) weakening eyes (as if someone is too aged) broken lyres (like in disharmony) and finally scored the sky and haunted (two ghastly images). The poet is leaning on to a gate that keeps him out of a small forest on day in winter which is not warm enough for people to come out.

And Winter’s dregs made desolate

The weakening eye of day

The tangled bine-stems represent issues that cannot be sorted out but which confuse us all the same. The image of the broken lyre complements the idea of disharmony. However, these things don’t bother the people since they are fast asleep around their fireplace in the safety and comfort of their homes. Only the poet who has ventured out senses the problems of the times.

In the second stanza the poet goes even further in his tragic strain. He says that the land itself is a symbol of the Century’s hopeless nature. He personifies nature and says he (nature) is stretching out dead.

His crypt the cloudy canopy,

The wind its death-lament.

The poet is unenthusiastic and he sees this lack of fervour reflected all around him. Nothing is germinating or taking birth since it is still winter and every life has become passive and unenthusiastic.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth

Was shrunken hard and dry

The poem now takes a turn as the poet finds an element of happiness in nature. It is a thrush, sitting on a twig

At once a voice arose among

The bleak twigs overhead

The weak and aged thrush, lean and small with its plume ruffled by the wind has no reasons to be happy. But its sings a ‘full-hearted’ song

Of joy illimited

and he

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

Upon the growling gloom.

The poet fails to see any valid reason for such ‘ecstatic’ singing (‘carolings’). No cause of happiness was etched on the earthly things (terrestrial things). So, the poet thinks that ‘some blessed Hope’ has trembled through the good-night air to the bird’s mind. The poet confesses he is unaware of the source of this happiness.

Thus we see a poet comparing his awareness with the awareness of a happy bird and wondering what could be its source of happiness which he is quite unaware of. The poet is forever and ever trying to explore life in search of its meaning. The openness of the poet to new ideas and thought is evident here. This is why poets were called ‘seers’ in ancient days.


Though everything can be learned, nothing can be taught and this is truer in trying to teach a language than in anything else.

For decades I have been trying to teach phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs are phrases of usually two words, the first being a verb and the second a preposition. This is a hot topic when you are being tested for your knowledge of the language. And most children mess it up.There are too many we don’t use now, and there too many coming in which doesn’t make the problem any easier.

The students were made to sit around in groups of five and asked to utter a sentence in which a phrasal verb is present.

OK, then the five others have to alter at least three or four words of that sentence except the phrasal verb and repeat it. They don’t have to find a new context and they are not doing rote repetition and they have a fair amount of creative work to do. Noam Chomsky says that any sentence you utter has a mark of creativity on it.

This activity is moderately successful. Moderate success is both an excuse and an encouragement for further experiments.

So, after trying several other methods the following method was developed, partly from the students’ contribution and partly from my frustration.

Instead of using a list in which the phrasal verbs are arranged alphabetically (which means the prepositions in them which come second are in random order) I rearranged my list clustering the ones with the same prepositions together. I got a good number of clusters since there are several phrasal verbs that feature the same preposition. The preposition ‘up’ turns up in many of them.

One of these clusters, with twenty phrasal verbs all ending in ‘out’, was given to them and were asked to come up with a short article or a note or an anecdote in which the maximum number of these phrasal verbs were present.

“Sir, can it be a story?”

An expected question.

“Of course, but the point is to make it as short as possible with as many of them as possible,” I replied.

I had a second thought.
I said, “You can even write a verse using them. Since the second word is the same preposition, it will be easy to rhyme.”

I too sat down to write one. When there is some writing to be done, I find the kids angels. Even they don’t know they are there.

“Sir, is it OK if it is a rap?”

An unexpected question/

“Then you will have to come here and rap it out!”

I told them the story of the Afro-American judge who rapped out a verdict of 1800 lines to a culprit who was a well know rapper.

“Wow, that is cool. THAT IS cool!”

Fifteen minutes later, I got up with twenty lines and told the class that they may come and read theirs out. Some whispered a vehement ‘no’.

“Anyway, I am going to read out mine. Not because it is mine, it is pretty good.”

Hooting from my unfortunate audience.

I read out my work and acknowledged the comments.

Another group read out a story. So tight and so memorable. They went back to versify it.

Now a girl came to the front of the class and said she needed the help of her friend to rap it out with gestures and all.

Then she began and the class was in rapt attention.

A spellbound English class, wow!

Everyone began to move their shoulders and then their heads and then their whole body but still very attentive.

It was really a good rap. The whole class burst out in accolade as she finished.

And I was witnessing the world’s greatest way to teach phrasal verbs.