Tag Archives: unseen poetry

Sample answer unseen poetry

When tackling the unseen poem, discuss the three T’s – themes, tone and techniques AKA ideas, feelings and style of writing. Don’t feel you have to be complimentary about the entire poem and don’t feel you have to discuss every line. Oh, and obviously I’m at a big advantage here: the poem isn’t unseen to me because I wrote the bloody thing!


Blue = themes/ideas

Red = tone / feelings

Purple = techniques / style

Green = personal opinion / response

Bold = flow (connectives / linking phrases)


Write a personal response to the poem “Mother” by Evelyn O’Connor.


What first strikes me is the depth of love and admiration the poet feels for her mother. She compares her to the sun in an extended metaphor which runs the entire length of the poem. The comparison is a clever one, for how else would we survive without the warmth and protection offered to us by the sun and by our beloved mothers?

I also like how the transition from present to past is achieved as she “orbit[s] the past, a seething mass of nuclear energy” and offers us vivid images of her childhood through the use of very active verbsswimming…splashing…eating“. There’s a lovely music in the internal half-rhymes of  “so / don’t, past / mass, gingerbread men / then, eclipse / crisp” and the focus on food captures the innocent joy of being a kid:  she remembers “Easter chocolate nests, plum puddings at Christmas, gingerbread men and now and then éclairs oozing cream down greedy fingers“. The way the layout of the poem mimics the action being described also made me smile, as the cream – and the poem – flows down the page. For me this flashback sequence is the strongest section of the poem.

However, there are times when the rhymes don’t really work – “sea / library” seems a bit forced, and the poem borders on cliché on occasion, particularly when she observes “doubtless we could search to the ends of the earth for something you would not do for us“. Furthermore, for me the final line seems hopelessly naivethe sun keeps shining and never will die” although this could perhaps be testimony to the poet’s firm belief that she simply could not survive without her mother, who “never burn[s] out” and “never burn[s] up“.

Nonetheless, I do like how the poem captures the universal truth that it’s hard to really get to know your parents (“once I saw a solar eclipse…but it was over all too quickly and my vision blurred”) particularly if you grow up in a big family where there are “so many… always wanting, needing, asking, pleading, bleeding dry your store of selfless love“. The poem captures ‘big truths’ but perhaps not in a very original way.

Unseen poetry mistakes!

I recently came across a scrap of paper  written after correcting a bundle of unseen poetry tests. I may as well commit it to virtual paper before dumping it.

You need to remember the following:

  1. A quality response here will get you a lot more marks than sheer quantity.
  2. Divide your time equally between questions. Students often opt to answer two 10 mark questions (instead of one 20 mark Q) but then write a page long answer for (i) and three or four lines for (ii). It doesn’t take a genius to work out that getting 8 marks for (i) and 2 marks for (ii) (50% average) is a lot less effective than getting 7 marks for (i) and 6 marks for (ii) (65%).  Watch the clock. Take five minutes to analyse the poem, then 7 minutes to answer (i) and 7 minutes to answer (ii) – or just anwer the 20 mark question, writing for 15mins or so.
  3. Read the question carefully – know what’s expected when you’re asked to “write a response to the poem” (see here) and remember if you opt for the two 10 mark questions they’ll be asking you to focus on different aspects of the poem. If you find yourself saying the same thing for both answers THIS IS BAD!  One tip is to rewrite the question in your own words before you start to answer it. This makes you focus before you start to write.
  4. Remember poetry is the ultimate form of aesthetic language – this means that what you say is in many ways less important than HOW you say it. A poet is hyper-aware of the tricks and techniques they can use; aware that language has it’s own music and rhythm and flow. Thus you must identify techniques but more importantly say why the poet has chosen to use a particular technique – what effect do they achieve in using this particular technique???
  5. Zoom in on the poem. Look at the impact of individual words/phrases. A close reading of SOME (not all) of the poem is expected – but don’t worry about ignoring sections of the poem. You don’t need to offer a line by line analysis of the poem – in fact you shouldn’t – you couldn’t possibly in the time given.
  6. Don’t repeat yourself. If you say the same thing twice (even if you phrase it differently), the examiner will simply deduct marks because your answer loses its coherence as soon as you do this.
  7. Avoid slang. You should use FORMAL LANGUAGE for critical analysis – in the same way that you are expected to dress smartly for an interview, you are expected to ‘dress up’ your language for all of Paper 2 (in Paper 1 it depends on the task).

Anyway hope that’s of enough help that I was right to write it down before dumping that scrap of paper.