Word cloud of keywords and phrases from the poem The Émigrée

Interpreting and analysing a poem is not necessarily a matter of finding the right answer.

Poems are complex creations and are open to many different interpretations. Your interpretation is as valid as anyone else's - as long as you can back it up with suitable evidence from the text.

Remember to avoid simply identifying what techniques or approaches poets use. Aim to show an understanding of how form, language and structure create meanings and effects.

Below are some differing interpretations of the poem. How would you interpret the poem?


Interpretation of the whole poem:

InterpretationReason for interpretation
This is a poem about home-sickness for a land to which the speaker can never return.The city walls ‘accuse’ the speaker and there’s a sense of guilt that the city has been abandoned. All the idealised details - the sunshine and prettiness the speaker imagines - suggest a yearning for a vanished world. The speaker admits they are unrealistic - ‘The worst news I receive of it cannot break/ my original view’ - but is overcome by nostalgia.
This is a poem about childhood and adulthood.The city is never identified and Rumens keeps it mysteriously unknown. In this way, it can stand for any place that anyone once loved. As we age we are all, in a sense, exiles from the land of our own childhood; a land that’s filled with bright, unreachable memories. Time only makes the memories in the poem ‘glow even clearer’, much like how memories of early childhood can become idealised.

Interpretation of the line: ‘It may by now be a lie, banned by the state / but I can’t get it off my tongue.’

InterpretationReason for interpretation
The émigrée is beginning to remember a long-forgotten language that has perhaps been suppressed by those who now rule the city.The speaker describes recalling ‘that child’s vocabulary’ and compares it to a ‘grammar’ that spills out like the stuffing inside a doll. The speaker will soon remember every word of this language - ‘every coloured molecule of it’.
The speaker knows this is all sentimental nostalgia, but just can’t help indulging in it.The speaker is remembering a simple ‘grammar’ and highly coloured language of childhood. However, the speaker acknowledges that this ‘child’s vocabulary’ may no longer be appropriate to an adult or ‘banned by the state’. There’s a suggestion the speaker is wallowing in childhood memories.