Choosing quotations

A Poison Tree with annotations, highlighting its language, structure and form

When you first read a poem, some words or phrases will stand out. Highlight these key words in the text so they are easy to find. Ask yourself:

  • what does this quotation show about the poet’s choice of words?
  • why did these words attract my attention?

Example

Winter Swans

by Owen Sheers
the waterlogged earth
gulping for breath at our feet
Question

Discuss the poet’s choice of words in this quotation.

Sheers has chosen words to suggest the sounds the walkers will hear, capturing the glugging sound made when you walk over wet mud. The ‘g’ sound in ‘waterlogged’ is echoed in ‘gulping’, which itself is an example of an onomatopoeia. The wet earth struggling for breath is an example of personification. Sheers is bringing the landscape to life in his poem.

Question

Why do these words grab the reader’s attention?

The image of people walking over a ‘gulping’ creature is disturbing and vivid. It is as if they are crushing the life out of it, almost without noticing.

Forming a view

Use this process with each of the quotations you highlight in a poem. Put them all together and your answers will help you to form a view about the poem as a whole.

When writing about the poem, use your quotations as evidence to support your views. You should try to say something about the poet’s intention in their choice of words, the effect the words have on the reader and why they attracted your attention.