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English Literature


Poetry is a highly structured form of writing, and the sonnet [sonnet: A 14-line poem, usually written in iambic pentameter. Most sonnets conform to one of the following rhyme schemes: A-B-A-B C-D-C-D E-F-E-F G-G (English sonnet); or A-B-B-A A-B-B-A C-D-E C-D-E (Italian sonnet). ] is even more highly structured than most other forms of verse [verse: Sometimes a poem can be divided into groups of lines called verses ].

Form and Rhyme

Rolling over highlighted words or clicking the 'Show' buttons will reveal you the poem's rhyme scheme and rhythm or pattern of stresses.

  • Form

    The poem is just ten lines long, with most lines exactly ten syllables [syllable: The unit of sound that form a word - eg 'tiger' has two syllables ti-ger, and 'alligator' has four syllables al-li-gat-or. ] long. So the poem is almost like a square - ten by ten. Perhaps this reflects how limited the Old Mother's life is: she cannot break away from the rigidity of her life.

  • Rhyme

    The poem is written in rhyming couplets [rhyming couplet: a pair of lines of poetry that rhyme and have the same length and metric pattern. ]: the rhyme scheme is: AA BB CC DD EE. A half-rhyme between the first and last couplets (blow and old) helps to 'round off' the poem, which both starts and finishes with the seed of the fire.

    Rhyming couplets are a traditional rhyme scheme [rhyme scheme: In poetry, the pattern of similar sounds formed by rhyming words, especially those at the end of lines. A rhyme scheme can be represented using letters, eg A-A-B C-C-B. ] scheme for simple songs and nursery rhymes, so it is poignant that this sad song about an old woman who feels left out of life rhymes as lightly as a child's nursery rhyme.

And their day goes over in idleness,And they sigh if the wind but lift up a tress.While I must work, because I am oldAnd the seed of the fire gets feeble and cold.

  • Rhythm

    If you say the poem out loud you can hear that there are four stresses or beats in each line. Each group of stressed and unstressed syllables is called a metric foot, and verse which has 4 feet per line like this is called tetrameter:

    I rise ¦ in the dawn, ¦ and I kneel ¦ and blow

    Till the seed ¦ of the fire ¦ flicker ¦ and glow;

Back to W B Yeats: Song of the Old Mother index

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