Lessons in Life from Poetry

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Essay Question 4- What lessons about life have you learnt from any two of the poems that you have studied in the Poetry Anthology. Relate these lessons to three other poems you have studied. Refer closely to the poet’s skill with language in your answer. Poetry is a form of art. In every poem, the poet has tried to convey something to his audience. Every poem has its own unique theme, meaning, message, and beauty. It is sometimes common for poems to be similar in their theme or meaning. This simply proves the similarity in thought and beliefs of different poets.

Some poems match together by having a similar storyline, or even having just the same theme, and that proves that poems can have similarities, but also differences. In a similar way the three poems “If” by Rudyard Kipling, “War Photographer” by Carol Ann Duffy and “The Tiger” by William Blake share a similar theme. All the three poems mentioned above have a great meaning and message for the readers embedded within them. Rudyard Kipling’s “If” one of his most famous poems is. Kipling composed this poem in the eighteenth century in Great Britain. Structurally, this poem is written in four stanzas each comprising of eight lines.

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The rhyme scheme of the poem is “abab” which implies that every alternate line of each stanza rhyme. Every line beings with “If you-“, and all of a sudden Kipling surprises you with his literary talent: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you”. The first part of each line starts with the phrase “If you can”. This is then followed by a condition “trust you when all men doubt you”. By this the poet asks the reader a question of whether they are able to fulfill this condition. In short we can say it is a very organized poem.

Kipling has used a wide variety of literary techniques in his poem and the most prominent being his choice of words. He has specifically used words which bring out maximum effect and are appealing to the readers. For example, instead of just saying “If you can be truthful to yourself” he says “If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken” which has a greater impact on the reader. From this poem, readers get the feeling that they are being spoken to by their father, mainly form the last two lines: “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son! ”.

This poem could probably have been written by him to his son with loving care, but the atmosphere in which it is delivered is serious. This poem was clearly written by him from the prospect of an experienced and learned man. In it he (the poet) offers a wide range of advices that are practical and stand true even today. There are many themes which we discover as we go through the poem. One of the most obvious being love. Another common theme of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ is dignity which is the more predominant one. As one comes to the end of each couplet, he/she wishes to be as the poet describes.

This is enough to prove that it is a relevant description of what makes a respectable and dignified human being. These meaningful words can be used even now, almost two century after they had been written, and by a larger audience that they had been intended for. The insight can be summarized in brief as- remain humble/noble, stay away from extremities, and enjoy life at every opportunity. Rise above the ordinary and find goodness in even the worst circumstances! He wants the reader to see the opportunities/possibilities, and he asks the people to look for the best within their soul.

He sets high standards when he describes what it means to be a respectable human being. This poem is not only inspiring, but also a personal goal for readers and people who wish to be better people in future. This poem resembles an inspirational pat on ones back, just like a light from the window on a dark knight. This poem is a good representation of what each of us should try to achieve in our life. If we could strive to do even a fraction of the things he mentions in the poem, we would be better human beings. There are innumerable lessons to be learned from the poem.

In it we see hopes that we can come close to meeting their expectations. In my opinion, the first half of the poem is about being true to one’s self. There are going to be people who may not agree with you, or may misjudge you for some reason. The poet is telling us that we need to rise above this, and do what we think is just and right. Don’t let others provoke you into wrongdoing. Know the value of yourself, but don’t become arrogant. The second section is about overcoming obstacles that come between you and your goals. Work to achieve your dreams, but be sensible and logical in your approach.

This section is teaching determination, to keep on going, even when things get tough. The lesson in the third section is to never give up and loose hope! It is very hard to get back up on our feet after life has beaten us to the ground. Although it may seem impossible, it can be done, if we can have faith in ourselves and know that we have the capability to do it again! This is one of the important lessons, one that we all should remember for life. Rudyard knew that life can get very hard, and this section of the poem fills the readers with hope. The last part of the poem has two important lessons.

First, that all humans are equal. Don’t be overconfident and put yourself above anyone else but know that you can be equally good and capable. There are qualities to be admired in almost everybody if you look deeply enough. The second lesson learnt from this section, is not to waste precious time. Times is precious and make every second count. “War photographer” is another very powerful and well written poem by the poet “Carol Ann Duffy”. As one reads through the lines of this poem, one’s eyes fill with tears due to the horrors of war depicted so well in the poem. The main theme of this poem is directed towards war and death.

There is immense lesson and wisdom hidden in the lines of this poem. Each stanza consists of six lines and the rhyme scheme is “a bb c dd”. The poem looks into two types of worlds, one of peace and one of war. She does so by introducing the war photographer to us. In stanza one she uses a simile which compares him to a priest in a church, which shows us how serious a war photographers job is. It shows us that he(war photographer) stands up for those who cannot help themselves, thus he is doing a great deed by helping humanity and at the same time he also earns his daily bread.

The words “darkroom” and “the only light is red” creates in our brain an image of a church as colored lanterns are quite common in Catholic and some Anglican churches. The imagery used here is appropriate because it tells us how fragile humans are and how short life is by saying “All flesh is grass” which is a quotation from the old Testament book of Isaiah. The book of Isaiah contrasts the shortness of human life with eternal religious truths – “The Word of the Lord” which “Abides Forever” . The line “spools of suffering set out in ordered rows” is a metaphor used for bodies or coffins, which signifies the content of the photographs.

The end of the stanza – “Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh” is used by the poet to create an effect of gunfire by using short word sentences followed by full stops just like the alternating explosion and quiet when firing a gun. The second stanza starts off by “He has a job to do” which reinforces seriousness of the job as a war photographer. It contrasts the photographer’s calmness when taking pictures with his attitude as he develops them. If his hands shake when he takes pictures, they won’t be any good, but in the darkroom he can allow his hands to tremble. The only thing that stands between him and reality is his camera.

This shows that although the war photographer can be very serious when taking the pictures, he too has a heart with feelings. It shows that even the photographer is disturbed by the images he himself has taken. In this stanza the poet has used the word “solutions” which may refer to solutions literally which are in trays metaphorically to suggest the idea of political solutions to war. In the fourth stanza, the poet has used the words: “In black and white” which suggest the monochrome photograph literally but metaphorically, it contrasts the good and evil.

The last stanza is about the result of the efforts of the photographer. He has numerous photographs in white and black. Black and white photos are less graphic than colored ones so they can reduce the impact of the photos in the interest of the readers. His editor will only pick “five or six” for the Sunday’s supplement which shows that the efforts of the photographer are bought to a commercial end. This fact is reiterated by “The readers eyeballs prick with tears between bath and pre-lunch beers”. This shows that they only are impacted by the photographs superficially before they live on in their comfortable lives.

The main theme of this poem revolves around death, war and the horrific side of wars. It is interesting how the poet describes as seeking approval from the killed man’s wife without using words. This shows that although he has an obligation to produce photos from the war scene, the obligation does not cancel out his morals and emotions. This poem asks the question of what effect photography can have on war and conflict. Another question is asked of whether the camera is mightier than the gun? The answer that it gives is that it cannot, at least not when it is commercialized and sold to entertain rather than to educate.

It also questions the ability of the individual to empathize with something they have themselves never experienced, that the fact that most people in today’s world have never been in a war zone. Their only knowledge of such scenes comes from diluted media made for the mass viewing by the general public. Duffy shows that while it is possible to feel sadness for the victims it is only momentary and the act of portraying the suffering in such a media charged and insensitive way only degrades and cheapens their harrowing ordeals.


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