Poetic Possibilities – LITB4 coursework

Dear Upper Sixth,

I was thinking that if you wanted to make your life a little easier, it would be a sensible and brilliant idea to write about a poem for your Further and Independent Reading coursework, as opposed to Dombey and Son.


A starry-eyed Karl Marx.


Lord Byron, The Destruction of Sennacherib

Robert Burns, To a Mouse

Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market

Philip Larkin, Toads


William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience

War Poetry – Anything, really, but I was thinking in particular of WW1 poets and the use of natural metaphors, particularly, in poems such as The Falling Leaves (Margaret Postgate-Cole); Spring Offensive (Wilfred Owen); In Flanders Fields (John McCrae) and Spring in War-Time (Edith Nesbitt).

W. S. Merwin, The Last One

Ted Hughes, The Thought Fox

John Donne, To his Coy Mistress

Feminism/Gender Studies

John Keats – any of the narrative poems: Isabella and the Pot of Basil; The Eve of St. Agnes; Lamia; La Belle Dame sans Merci…

The Wife of Bath marries fashion and practicality in this glamorous equestrian get-up.

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale

Christopher Marlowe, Hero and Leander

Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock

Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market, Cousin Kate

Margaret Atwood, Murder in the Dark

Aesthetics and Value

Anything by any of the Poet Laureates – Ted Hughes, Andrew Motion, Carol Ann Duffy…

Seamus Heaney, Death of a Naturalist

Dylan Thomas, Do not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach

Elizabeth Barratt-Browning, How do I Love Thee?

John Milton, Lycidas (This was referred to by Mark Pattison as ‘the high watermark of English poesy’. It also doubles up as a good intro. to the pastoral genre.)

Benjamin Zephaniah, Dis Poetry

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan (which he wrote in his sleep! (Sort of.) Coleridge himself regarded the poem as more of a ‘psychological curiosity’ than anything of any particular ‘poetic merit.’)

John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn (Keats regarded ‘negative capability’ as the ‘hallmark’ of ‘true’ literature – a concept explored in this ode.)

I know he might not look particularly inspired, but he was. Promise.

Wider Reading

The following two books are brilliant introductions to poesy, what it is, and how it works, etc.:

Ruth Padel, 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem (ISBN 0-099-42915-2)

Stephen Fry, The Ode Less Travelled (ISBN 978-0-09-950934-9)

And if you’re struggling with the lit. crit. thing, this website is particularly helpful:


How terribly exciting for you.

Ms North


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