I always prefer to have ideas-based comparisons for my analytical work. Trying to get a very features-driven comparison only, in my experience, leads to muddled answers. Either you’re trying to force a comparison and identify a technique that’s not really of any use, or you end up trying to say more about it than you actually can. It’s far, far more effective to have a comparison based on what the writer is trying to do.
So when it comes to poetry revision for GCSE and A-Level, isolating some lines and really focusing on the ideas behind them is what we’e focusing on in a lot of detail. Take this example from the GCSE AQA Anthology, for example:
Tone: Bitterness about relationships.
“But sister Maude, oh sister Maude/Bide you with death and sin” – Sister Maude
“I’m one of your talking wounded /I’m a hostage, I’m maroonded” – In Paris With You
Exploring the tone or emotional mood of a poem is also a great way in – starting with these lines, and trying to explore possible stories before reading the rest of the poem, can really work well. When it comes to revision, this very focused approach can help with close, ideas-based comparison. These sentences both feel angry – but they don’t have any techniques in common. if you were trying to fit a technique to the first line, you’d probably end up with a point about repetition, – but here, focusing on the bitterness is more productive.
Of course, then you can talk about technique. The repetition in the first line is one of the reasons it sounds bitter – the angry accusatory tone as she addresses her sister, the slight disbelief in it too. but then, you can go much further – the italicisation of you showing us her voice’s inflections, the finality of the last words being “death and sin”, dooming her sister to hell for her interference in the relationship. In the second line, the bitterness is still there but instead of expressive anger, it’s masked under this playfully ironic language. The “talking wounded”, as he’s expounding on his broken relationship to a new partner, uses the play on “walking wounded” as he realises he’s said too much, Then there’s the light-hearted rhyming of “maroonded” – where he’s still isolated, and bitter about the ending of a relationship, but he’s trying in this new conversation to put it behind him, whereas the speaker in Sister Maude is so wrapped in bitterness she can’t ever get over it.
So, practical revision tip? Start by identifying the tone and emotion of the poetry. Then, select a very specific line that creates that – those can be what you focus on, and explore in detail.
With the OCR Rossetti collection for A-Level, a similar approach works very well – and helps with memory, too!
You can select key lines from the poems:
Idea: Defiance – women authoritatively holding their own views
“You know I never loved you, John” (No Thank you, John)
“Suppose there is no secret after all, /But only just my fun” (Winter: My Secret)
“White and golden Lizzie stood, Like a lily in a flood” (Goblin Market)
Here, all three women are defiant against something seeking to control them – the male suitors in the first two poems, and the goblins, symbolic of the patriarchal system as they attempt to rape Lizzie with their fruits. In the first, the speaker is adamant and stands her ground with a firm declarative, the use of his name a firm and unwavering rejection, while the second is, like the rest of the poem, more playful as the female speaker teases the listener and refuses to reveal what her secret is. The “suppose” gives the possibility that there is no secret at all, and the fun is in the tormenting. Lizzie, unable to speak as the goblins press their fruits against her mouth, is unable to have the defiant voice that the first two speakers have – but she is able, nonetheless, to offer resistance, perhaps a critique from Rossetti of a society which prizes the vocal over the quiet, particularly as she refused to engage in political acts such as signing the petition for suffrage. Lizzie’s unspoken resistance is no less firm, no less successful; is Rossetti perhaps implying that there are many ways to be defiant?