“Looking back for both poets includes reference to a child – adult relationship. In your comparisons make close references to the poets’ use of language. Make clear, in your view, which poem is more successful.” There are many differences AND similarities between the two poems, including use of language, both being autobiographical, and use of smell, but I find that the main difference between the two poems is the way that the past experiences were reflected upon; Elizabeth Jennings looks back on her history with a sense of guilt and regret, but Carol Ann Duffy reminisces about puberty with feelings of fondness and joy.
This essay will chart this main difference using the poets’ use of language.
In Jennings’ poem “My Grandmother”, she uses the art of consonance to express her regret in verse one: “The faded silks, the heavy furniture, She watched her own reflection in the brass Salvers and silver bowls, as if to prove Polish was all, there was no need of love.
” All the underlined words are examples of this. The poet also seems fond of using metaphor in her language; the mention of cleaning (‘polish was all, there was no need of love’) relates to verse two, where the poet as a child refused to go out with her gran, it states that ‘Though she never said / That she was hurt, I could still feel the guilt’. The two are metaphorically connected, both referring to the idea of keeping the outside well polished and shiny, but the inside doesn’t matter one bit.
This in turn refers to the first line;
“She kept an antique shop – or it kept her” Both owner and shop have come to resemble each other, like a lady and her pet, although the language she uses is subtle. All of verse three is one large metaphor, the references to a ‘long narrow room’ into which the old woman put her most prized possessions, ‘the smell of absences where shadows come’, and the nothingness that can’t be polished ‘to give her own reflection’ are all references to a coffin. The narrow room suggests the shape of it, the smell of absences suggests mourning over her non-presence in the world of the living, and the verse also hints that death is an such an absolute certainty that no amount of polishing will bring back granny.
The basic structure of the poem is almost in iambic pentameter (i.e.; a, b, a, b, c, c). There are also many words in the poem that would be considered negative, such as: refused, never said, hurt, guilt, refusal, frail, narrow, too long, can’t be polished, no grief, never used, and no finger-marks. Put together, all of these words form a basic idea of negativity within the reader’s subconscious. Feelings of regret, guilt, despair and grief waver on the edge of thought.
The poem by Duffy, ‘In Mrs. Tilscher’s Class’, is a direct contrast of this, delivering scenes of happiness and learning, of new experiences. The first word of the whole poem, ‘You’, is very important. It suggests being personal, as if the poem is almost casual in it’s language. This idea keeps up throughout the writing. The order of events and topics throughout the poem tilt towards spontaneity, being slightly random in the way the memories are dictated, and phrases are used as a supplement for sentences, which might be as the lingual equivalent of snapshots, or pastings from times past. Description is also important in portraying happiness in an educational environment:
“Enthralling books. The classroom glowed like a sweetshop. Sugar paper. Coloured shapes… The scent of a pencil slowly, carefully shaved.” The last verse about the pencil uses punctuation to highlight it’s meaning, the part of commas suppresses the reader to take his time reading it, with the same deliberation that a child may take in sharpening the pencil. The poem appears to make a transition as it moves on, both in language and in content.
The language becomes more sophisticated as it advances such as a child learning more ‘big words’ (e.g. ‘that for an hour, then a skittle of milk’ transcends to ‘fractions under a heavy, sexy sky’). The content also changes from childhood innocence (‘Some mornings, you found she’d left a gold star by your name’) to sexual awareness (see heavy, sexy sky comment, also ‘you ran through the gates, impatient to be grown, as the sky split open into a thunderstorm’).
The safety disappears as the child finds himself in the real world, but is still happy and ‘impatient to be grown’. Mrs Tilscher’s refusal to respond (‘turned away’) to an innocent question about how a child is made hints that an answer might burst the protective bubble she has helped maintain. The beginning of verse three also helps to see how language is used in the idea of children to adults, where ‘the inky tadpoles changed from commas into exclamation marks’, the commas looking like tadpoles and the exclamation marks representing the world of puberty; of raging hormones and extreme stress.