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English Literature

Sample Question

The question in the exam might ask you to compare the attitude toward an old woman and her life in the Song of the Old Mother with those in one other pre-1914 poem and two post-1914 poems of your choice.

Sample Answer

What might you want to say about the poet's attitude to the Old Mother in this poem? Briefly note down some points that you would want to include in your essay, then compare your ideas with those in our sample answer on the next page.

  • The old woman's day is very regimented. The strong, regular rhythm throughout the poem indicates both the sameness of her days and the monotony of what she has to do.
  • Her work is very physical. She uses strong, plain-sounding verbs to describe her work: kneel, blow, scrub, bake, sweep, which contrasts to the light, airy verbs applied to the young: lie, dream, sigh.
  • She uses childish language when she personifies the stars to blink and peep. Maybe this is because the appearance of the stars is a chance for her to relax at last and escape the rigours of her day.
  • She seems jealous of the young. She compares her life of work to their lives of idleness: the young women with nothing more to fill their days than worry about their ribbons.
  • Is the old woman mocking the young who have nothing more to complain about than the wind disarranging their hair OR is she quietly regretful, wishing that she has no more to worry about than they do?
  • It is sad that she has to work because she is old: we wonder what happened to her when she was younger to make hard work a necessity for her now. It is poignant that she does not seem to question her lot.
  • The last line shows the old woman's real feelings. The fire she refers to is her own life - and it is getting feeble and cold. This suggests that she does not have long left to live: her fire will soon go out.

You will probably not have included all of these points, and will also have some of your own that are not mentioned here! Of course, all the ideas referred to in the Comparison Revision Bite would be useful too. Remember that any point is valid if you can back it up with evidence from the text.

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

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