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English Literature

Attitudes and Ideas

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Much of the meaning of a poem is conveyed by the attitude it expresses toward its subject matter. 'Attitude' can be thought of as a combination of the poet's tone of voice, and the ideas he or she is trying to get across to the reader.

Tone of voice

A good way to decide on the tone [tone: The mood or manner of a text or part of a text. The author's 'tone of voice' or way in which they expect to be understood. The emotional load carried by a text. ] of a poem is to work out how you would read it aloud.

Should the poem be read:

  • Wistfully, as if the old woman wishes she could be like the young women?
  • Bitterly, as if the old woman is angry that her life has been so hard compared to the lives of the young women?
  • Sadly and resignedly, as if the old woman regrets that her life has been like this but knows she never had the option of changing it?

'Till stars are beginning to blink and peep;And the young lie long and dream in their bedOf the matching of ribbons for bosom and head,And their day goes over in idleness,'

The dominant tone [tone: The mood or manner of a text or part of a text. The author's 'tone of voice' or way in which they expect to be understood. The emotional load carried by a text. ] of voice we hear is that of resignation - but there is certainly a hint of resentment, even bitterness, in her attitude to "the young". The degree of sympathy we feel toward her will probably depend on whether we think the girls in the poem are the daughters of the Old Mother's wealthy employers, or her own children.

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

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