Love and Relationships GCSE Poetry Explained

June 27, 2018

Poem: When We Two Parted by Lord Byron



This poem is about the speaker recounting when his lover and him parted, and how he is still sad over the event.

He hears people talking about her, which hurts him.  


Structure and Language: 

Stanzas and rhyme: The poem has four stanzas or eight lines each. There is an ABAB rhyme scheme.

Structure: The poem shifts from past, present and future

Language: The poem uses language in reference to “death” to compare the end of a relationship to a death. It also uses sensual language like “cold touch”, “pale”, and “chill.” This language is the opposite of love poetry, which is meant to invoke warm, happy feelings. 


Attitudes:The poem portrays feelings of grief, anger, sadness and has an attitude of secrecy. 



Poem: Love’s Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley



In this poem, the speaker is talking to a woman

The speaker is trying to convince the woman to be with him 

He compares romantic love to how everything in nature is intertwined, and thus this is how humans should be in romantic love


Structure and Language: 

Stanzas and rhyme: The poem is two stanzas of eight lines each. There is an ABAB rhyme scheme, but the last line of each stanza does not fit the rhyme. 

Structure: Each stanza outlines the speaker’s argument of why the woman should be with him, and ends with a rhetorical question.

Language: The speaker personifies things in nature. The speaker also uses religious language throughout the poem to show love is a sacred and godly thing. 


Attitudes:The poem portrays feelings of desire, longing for someone and frustration, as he may not get what he wants. 


Poem: Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning 



The speaker in this poem is sitting at his home, and is joined by his lover, Porphyria (Porphyria is also the name of a disease that can make one go mad). 

She flirts with him and comforts him, but he ignores her.

Then he strangles her with her hair. 

He opens her eyes and sits her next to him, spending the rest of the night beside her dead body. 


Structure and Language: 

Stanzas and rhyme: The poem is one long stanza, a monologue by only the speaker. The poem has an ABABB rhyme scheme. 

Structure: The poem is recounting one event, and the first and second half mirror one another. In the first, the speaker is unmoving, in the second the lover is. 

Language: The speaker parallels language associated with love and with violence, such as “burning kiss.” 


Attitudes:The main themes and feelings of this poem are madness (the speaker must be mentally disturbed to kill his lover), sin and some indifference (when the speaker is ignoring his lover). 


Poem: Sonnet 29 - ‘I think of thee!’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning 



The speaker is addressing her lover, and telling him about how she thinks of him when they are apart. 

In the second half of the poem, she says that her thoughts about him do not even compare to being with him in real life. 


Structure and Language: 

Stanzas and rhyme: This poem is written as a sonnet, which is one of the most traditional forms of love poetry.

Structure: The speaker uses an extended metaphor throughout the poem, comparing her thoughts to nature. 

Language: The speaker uses phrases like “my thoughts to do twine and bud,” comparing her thoughts to a vine, and other natural language.   


Attitudes:This poem has a feeling of longing. The speaker is awaiting seeing her lover again, and thinking of him often. It also has happiness, as the speaker knows she will see him again and is happy for his presence in his life. 


Poem: Neutral Tones by Thomas Hardy



The speaker and his lover are standing by a pond. 

The speaker’s lover seems disinterested in him, and it’s clear the relationship is coming to an end. 


Structure and Language: 

Stanzas and rhyme: This poem is written in four stanzas of four lines each. The first and last line of each stanza rhyme. The last line of each stanza is intended to give it a longer pause. 

Structure: The poem starts at the pond, and brings the reader back to the pond in the last stanza again. This represents the circular nature of the experience - he has been hurt by love many times. 

Language: The language in the poem is mainly neutral and related to “death.” 


Attitudes:There is a neutral attitude in the poem, comparing love to death. This shows the love is not passionate or fiery, but has fallen apart slowly. The speaker is bitter and has a negative outlook on love. 



Poem: The Farmer’s Bride by Charlotte Mew 



The speaker says that he was married three years ago, but his wife was afraid of him. 

Now she lives with him in his attic but doesn’t speak to him and won’t be with him romantically. 

The speaker is frustrated and wants to be with her. 


Structure and Language: 

Stanzas and rhyme: The poem is made of six stanzas of different lengths, mainly in iambic tetrameter. 

Structure: The poem is a dramatic narrative, all from the speaker (farmer’s) point of view. 

Language: The poem uses dialect words that sound authentic to a farmer. This gives the reader a stronger feeling of his character. The speaker also uses a lot of words related to nature, especially about his wife. This serves to make her seem wild and like a hunted animal more than a human not interested in him. 


Attitudes:This poem expresses feelings of desire and frustration, as the farmer wants to be with his wife and is frustrated that she refuses. 



Poem: Walking Away by D. Day Lewis 



The speaker in this poem is a father, reflecting on his child when he was younger. 

He recounts eighteen years ago, when his son was playing football. 

In the second part of the poem, the speaker realises that all parents and children must part, but is sad to see his son grow and drift away as he becomes older. 


Structure and Language: 

Stanzas and rhyme: The poem is written in four stanzas of five lines each. The poem has an ABACA rhyme scheme, which is steady and reflects the father’s steady love. 

Structure: The first two stanzas are a memory, the second two a reflection on the memory and what it means. 

Language: The poem invokes some natural imagery, which shows that the speaker knows that his son growing up and moving on is a natural process. The poem also uses a lot of painful language, like “scorching” and “gnaws”, to show how painful growing up and moving on is for the speaker as well as the son. 


Attitudes:The main feelings in the poem are protectiveness and sadness from loss. The father wants to protect his son from the world, but knows he must go on his own eventually. The poem is also reflective and thoughtful, as the speaker concludes that this process is a natural thing. 


Poem: Letters from Yorkshire by Maura Dooley 



The speaker in this poem is a woman who is describing a man. 

The man is in his garden, sees the “first lawpings return”, and writes to her. 

The woman is far away, inside writing somewhere (likely a city or other more urban area). 

She wonders if his life is more fulfilling, being so close to nature. 

The speaker feels a connection to the man, and they seem to correspond often. 


Structure and Language: 

Stanzas and rhyme: This poem is written in free verse, and is made of five stanzas of three lines each. Free verse makes the poem sound like natural speech or a letter. 

Structure: The first three stanzas highlight the differences between the man and woman, while the last two talk about how they are connected. 

Language: The speaker uses very physical language when describing the man, showing that his life has action. The contrasting language also contracts her life in front of a computer with his more romantic, natural life.  


Attitudes:The main feeling of the poem is connectedness and appreciation. The speaker feels connected to the man, and is appreciative of his simpler life. 


Poem: Eden Rock by Charles Causley 



The speaker in this poem imagines his parents when they were younger. 

They are waiting for him “beyond the Eden Rock”, across the river from him.

They call to him, telling him to join them and saying that crossing over is not as hard as he thinks. This could be a metaphor for the parents calling him from heaven in the after life. 


Structure and Language: 

Stanzas and rhyme: The poem is made of five stanzas, and all but the last have five lines. The final line is separated from the stanza. This could be to emphasise it, and to show that something has changed. Perhaps the speaker has crossed the river.

Structure: The first three stanzas are used to describe the speaker’s parents. The last two stanzas are used to describe how the speaker’s parents are are telling him to join them.

Language: The speaker uses language to set a vivid and idyllic scene of childhood. The speaker uses language about whiteness and light, which could reference heaven and a surreal scene. The speaker also uses words like “Thermos” and “H.P. Sauce bottle” to make the poem feel more real and connect it to physical things in his childhood. 


Attitudes:The main feeling of this poem is nostalgia, as the speaker looks back on his childhood fondly. The poem is also peaceful, almost to the point that it is surreal. 



Poem: Follower by Seamus Heaney 



The speaker describes his father, who is ploughing.

He tries to keep up with his father and stumbles.

At the end of the poem, the situation reverses and now his father follows him.


Structure and Language: 

Stanzas and rhyme scheme: The poem is made of six stanzas of five lines each, and is written mainly in iambic tetrameter. There is an ABAB rhyme scheme. 

Structure: The first three stanzas focus on the speaker’s father. The next two talk about the boy and him trying to keep up with his father. The final stanza reverses the poem, showing the father now struggles to keep up with his son.

Language: The speaker uses a lot of nautical imagery to describe the way his father plows, such as “like a full sail strung” and “the sod rolled over without breaking”. Comparing his father to a captain shows that the speaker thinks very highly of him. 


Attitudes:This poem is mainly about admiration. The speaker wants to be just like his father and he lives in his shadow.


Poem: Mother, Any Distance by Simon Armitage 



In this poem, the speaker’s mother comes to his home to help him measure things around the house. He is preparing to move out and she is helping him in his new home.

The speaker is nervous about moving out on his own, but he knows that his mother will still always be there for support.


Structure and Language: 

Stanzas and rhyme: This poem is almost a sonnet (which is very common in love poetry), but lacks the proper rhyme scheme. This can reflect the speaker’s uncertainty at moving. The final stanza becomes uneven, as the lines are random lengths. This can show how the relationship between speaker and mother is breaking apart and is uncertain.

Structure: The first stanza is about how much the speaker needs his mother. The second is about him thinking of his independence. In the final stanza, the speaker comes to the conclusion that he must become more independent. 

Language: The speaker uses measurements as an extended metaphor. While they are measuring things in the house, the measurement can also represent the distance between the speaker and his mother. The speaker also uses imagery like “anchor” and “kite” to describe the bond he has with his mother. 


Attitudes:This poem embodies feelings of excitement, fear, and connection. The speaker is both excited and worried about moving out on his own. He also feels a strong connection and bond to his mother.



Poem: Before You Were Mine by Carol Ann Duffy



The speaker is looking at a picture of her mother when she was younger. 

The speaker reflects that her mother looked happiest in the years before she was born. 

She also remembers her mother teaching her to dance, and how she admired her.


Structure and Language: 

Stanzas and rhyme: This poem is made of four stanzas of five lines each. 

Structure: The poem is circular, as it starts and ends with the mother on the pavement, first with friends, then with her daughter.

Language: The poem uses colloquial language, indicating that the mother and speaker have a close relationship. 


Attitudes:The speaker invokes feelings of admiration for her mother, nostalgia about her childhood with her mother, and self-criticism for being the reason her mother is not as free as she was. 


Poem: Winter Swans by Owen Sheers 



The speaker describes a couple walking along a lake. They are apart from one another.

They stop to watch two swans, who are tipping over in the water. 

The couple holds hands as they walk away. 


Structure and Language: 

Stanzas and rhyme: The poem is written in tercets, or three-line stanzas. There is an uneven rhyme scheme. The final line is a couplet, which could represent that the two are a couple once again. 

Structure: The first five stanzas show the couple separated. In the last two, they come together again. 

Language: The swans become a metaphor, compared to the couple’s hands, which “swum” together. The poem also uses a lot of natural imagery. 


Attitudes:The beginning of the poem has a lot of tension, as the couple is not together, but the speaker does not seem to know why. It ends on a happy, peaceful note as they join hands again. 



Poem: Singh Song! By Daljit Nagra 



The speaker talks about working in his father’s corner shop.

The speaker has recently gotten married, and runs out often to see his new wife. This causes customers to complain. 

After the shop has closed, the couple sits together and the speaker tells his wife how much she means to him. 


Structure and Language: 

Stanzas and rhyme: This poem has no formal structure throughout. The wife and customers also get voice in the poem.

Structure: The poem switches between describing the speaker’s marriage and complaints from customers. The poem slows down as it ends, with just the two lovers sitting together talking.  

Language: Many words are written phonetically (they are spelled the way they sound), to give an impression of the characters’ accents. 


Attitudes:This poem is light-hearted and depicts love and rebellion. It shows love for the speaker’s wife, and rebellion against his parents.


Poem: Climbing My Grandfather By Andrew Waterhouse 



The speaker is a child, who describes getting to know his grandfather. 

The poem is an extended metaphor, with the child as a climber and the grandfather a mountain. 


Structure and Language: 

Stanzas and rhyme: The poem is one long stanza, which may be intended to make it physically look like a mountain. 

Structure: The poem talks about the climber’s progress as he goes up. 

Language: The entire poem is an extended metaphor, comparing climbing a mountain to exploring and getting to know his grandfather. 


Attitudes:The poem invokes feelings of curiosity, as the child explores and climbs, and his closeness to his grandfather.

Barbara Njau

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