Analysing poetry: a preliminary exercise


Welcome to your preliminary exercise on analysing poetry

1. Read the poem "Comparisons" by the Welsh poet R. S. Thomas and produce a short paraphrase of the poem that identifies its purpose and message. (You will be able to compare your paraphrase with one I have suggested afterwards. Remember, though, that there is not just one correct way of paraphrasing this poem, despite what the phrase "correct answer" which will appear when you submit your answers might lead you to assume - this formula is built into this programme and cannot be removed, much as I would like it to be):

Comparisons

To all light things

I compared her; to

a snowflake, a feather.



I remember she rested

at the dance on my

arm, as a bird



on its nest lest

the eggs break, lest

she lean too heavily



on our love. Snow

melts, feathers

are blown away;



I have let

her ashes down

in me like an anchor.
 

2. Compare your paraphrase of Thomas’s "Comparisons" with the original poem. Which qualities and elements of the poem does your paraphrase fail to capture and to what extent are these qualities generated by the formal properties of the poem which the paraphrase lacks? Identify which of these missing qualities are generated by which of the poem's formal properties.
 

3. What difference would it have made if Thomas had written the same words but printed them as if they were regular prose (as in the example below)? What is different about this prose version (i.e. what does it convey that the poem does not and what has been lost in this new arrangement)?

Prose version

To all light things I compared her; to a snowflake, a feather. I remember she rested at the dance on my arm, as a bird on its nest lest the eggs break, lest she lean too heavily on our love. Snow melts, feathers are blown away; I have let her ashes down in me like an anchor.
 

4. In summary, what have we learnt about the contribution the poem’s formal properties make to its effect and meaning through this comparison with the paraphrase and the presentation of the poem in prose form? What appears, in short, to be the relationship between how the poem is made and what it makes happen?

Next: The power of poetry and the pleasure of interpretation