The Painful Simile of Atwood’s short poem, “you fit into me”
Please note that many of these topics include several guiding questions as idea prompts. Do not attempt to answer all of the questions in your chosen topic. Instead, pick only one as your starting point, and then formulate your own response to it in your paper.
1. The Painful Simile of Atwood’s short poem, “you fit into me”: Discuss the painful, double-sided nature of Atwood’s clever simile in her poem, “you fit into me” and how it illuminates the complexity and/ or difficulty of its fraught subject. What is the primary feeling that arises from this disturbing poem’s use of such a simple poetic device? First you will need to decide what you think the subject of the poem is (that is, what it is about, or what you think is its the major theme). Then you should analyze how the use of the simile (which at first seems simple and harmonious, but suddenly transforms into the opposite) comments on or develops its meaning. Be sure to look at the use of language, the connotations of words and the irony inherent in the simile as it develops.
2. Dickinson’s Use of Personification in “Apparently with no Surprise”: Discuss the meaning of this poem’s key images of personification and their connection to the idea of mortality in this poem. That is, how does Dickinson employ the poetic device of personification to dramatize the poem’s main theme of death? What is her poem’s primary conclusion or insight about death? How does the poem’s diction and imagery reflect and express this conclusion? Finally, what emotional attitude to the problem of death in nature does the poem convey through its poetic devices?
3. Randall’s Modern Broadside Ballad: Consider Dudley Randall’s “Ballad of Birmingham” as an example of the poetic genre of the broadside ballad and discuss whether or not you find it an effective modernization of the form. How does it fulfill ballad conventions? How does it update the ballad form for Randall’s civil rights audience? How effectively does Randall make his political point in this poem? Alternatively, discuss the use of a traditional ballad technique – that of dialogue – in unfolding the story. How does the use of dialogue contribute to the pathos of the story? Does it enhance the purpose or political point of the poem, and if so, how? (Please note that these questions are only designed to help clarify your thinking; do not simply answer the questions in your essay. You must create a clear thesis statement from the topic.)
4. Rita Joe’s Loss and Recovery of her Voice: Looking at the poem, “I Lost my Talk” by Rita Joe, analyze Joe’s use of simple poetic language to convey the meaning of her experiences both as a student and a poet. The images in this poem are subtle, but they speak of the poet’s powerful quest to reclaim her voice. In particular what is the meaning of and use of the term “talk” and how does it relate to this quest? What does it stand for and how does it convey the effects of Joe’s traumatic time in a residential school? How do you think her poetry is being used to overcome and counter these effects? What exactly does she suggest has been lost, and how is she hoping to recover it?
5. The Limitations of an Innocent Speaker: Discuss the limitations of the speaker of the Blake poem “The Chimney Sweeper” (the version from Songs of Innocence, p. 55). Does Blake want us to agree or disagree with the sentiments of the child speaker in lines 7-8 and 24, and those of the Angel in lines 19-20? What do these sentiments reflect about the child's understanding and situation in life? Finally, given that it describes a world of harsh experience and child neglect, why is this a "Song of Innocence"?
6. Shakespeare’s Mocking Love: In Shakespeare’s day, the sonnet was conventionally a poem that idealized a woman and the love that the speaker of the poem had for her using the technique of the blazon (a systematic extended metaphor in which the various features of the lady's face and/or body are compared to various beautiful things and substances). However, in “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,” the speaker presents in the three quatrains a rather unflattering, even mocking portrait of his lady. Yet, the concluding couplet suggests that his love is “as rare / As any she, belied with false compare.” Discuss the irony of this famous sonnet: how and why does this poem break from and modify the traditional subject matter of the love sonnet? Considering the imagery throughout the poem, and the concluding couplet in particular, show how Shakespeare redefines the sonnet to communicate his love in a new way. You can also discuss whether the expression of love here is heartfelt or sincere.
7. Percy Shelley’s "Ozymandias": The traveler suggests that the statue's sculptor intended his work to express the cruelty of of his tyrant king (thought by many to be Rameses II), not his power. How have the sculptor and time's ruinous effects appeared to issue their sentence against the Pharaoh? In this rather ambiguous poem, is there also a sense that he has still somehow defeated them both? If so, what is it? If not, why not? What statement do the ruins make about human history and human nature, according to the poem? Is the dead king, the artist or Time itself ultimately the victor here?
8. Characterizing Death: Compare the use of personification in Emily Dickinson's poem, "Because I could not stop for Death" and John Donne's "Death be not proud." How do these poems humanize inanimate forces while still hinting at their fundamental impersonality? What is the difference between the two poems' view of death, and how and why do the fictional settings/conceits encapsulate these differences? Finally, which poem creates the most vivid and memorable personification? (N.B.: You do not have to favour one poem over the other to answer this question).