AQA · AQA new specification · For Pupils · literature · structure · Teaching Ideas

Poetry: linking structure to language in Blake’s London

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Here’s the ‘board shot’ from this morning’s lesson. Remember we were trying to link structure to language so that we don’t just describe the poem’s structural features. This was a fairly simple example to illustrate an idea so I’ve developed it further for you below. Just describing the structural features of the poem is not enough – you need to link it to the poet’s intentions/the poem’s theme, message etc. Look at how the paragraph is constructed:

  1. “The structure of London is quite rhythmic – each stanza is a quatrain using iambic tetrameter”

At the moment, I’m merely describing the way the poem is put together – it sounds as if I know what I’m on about and I probably do, but the examiner can only really look at band 2: I’m identifying a method and making some reference to subject terminology, but I’m not really doing anything with this. Although the reference to ‘rhythmic’ is true, I’ve not said why Blake has used this rhythm.

2. So let’s try and explain why Blake uses this metrical structure or rhyming scheme:

“The structure of London is quite rhythmic – each stanza is a quatrain using iambic tetrameter. Blake uses this to suggest that the people of London are regimented and controlled”. 

Now I’ve added a little more detail. There is a sort of link between the idea of a rhythmic metre and that of control but this isn’t developed. (I could mention later on the fact that the iambs shift to trochees but this is another point perhaps). In fact, would it be better to say that:

“Blake uses iambic tetrameter and a tight rhyming scheme with quatrains of abab to suggest that the people of London are regimented and controlled”?

In the second sentence of the paragraph, I’m starting to explain what the writer’s method is doing, although I need to make this more explicit and explain how the structure links to the idea of control within the ideas in the poem …

3. Now let’s add a quotation that supports the point I’m trying to make about control. Remember in class one of you suggested the ‘mind-forg’d manacles’ quote but we agreed to keep this for later as there is a whole lot of good stuff we can say about that one. Instead, we went for the adjective ‘charter’d’:

“The structure of London is quite rhythmic – each stanza is a quatrain using iambic tetrameter. Blake uses this to suggest that the people of London are regimented and controlled. Blake emphasises this when he refers to ‘the charter’d streets’ which suggest that every movement of the people is mapped out.”

By making a link to a key word or phrase in the text, I am beginning to develop the point about structure in a more coherent way. There is still some work to do, but the examiner can now see that I know what I’m doing. I know that Blake is doing something with the structure of the poem and I can see how this is reflected in the ideas. It feels like I am starting to make a CLEAR explanation of the writer’s methods, using appropriate subject terminology which puts me into the magic level 4 band.

4. So now I can develop the point even further by exploring the deeper connotations of the adjective ‘charter’d’:

“The structure of London is quite rhythmic – each stanza is a quatrain using iambic tetrameter. Blake uses this to suggest that the people of London are regimented and controlled. Blake emphasises this when he refers to ‘the charter’d streets’ which suggest that every movement of the people is mapped out. The adjective ‘charter’d’ perhaps refers to the mapping of public space which itself is a form of control and the fact that Blake repeats this over two lines implies that he sees method of social control everywhere he looks.”

Now this feels like I am offering some THOUGHTFUL comments on the poem. I have developed my points, integrated an effective reference and used subject terminology accurately. So this could be putting me in the level 5 band.

5. Let’s take this a little further and ‘dig for gold’ with the quotation. Look at how the word ‘charter’d’ is applied to both the streets and the Thames. Why would Blake do this? As I’ve said elsewhere, Blake sees human attempts to restrict movement spread even to nature, so let’s say something about this here:

“The structure of London is quite rhythmic – each stanza is a quatrain using iambic tetrameter. Blake uses this to suggest that the people of London are regimented and controlled. Blake emphasises this when he refers to ‘the charter’d streets’ which suggest that every movement of the people is mapped out. The adjective ‘charter’d’ perhaps refers to the mapping of public space which itself is a form of control and the fact that Blake repeats this over two lines implies that he sees methods of social control everywhere he looks. The fact that the Thames is also ‘charter’d’ implies that Blake feels that even nature – the river – is affected by a need to order, map out and confine. “

6. And finally, why not complete the paragraph with a summative comment: it’s a bit of a flourish, but it emphasises the point I am making and makes the analytical point feel more complete and CONVINCING:

“The structure of London is quite rhythmic – each stanza is a quatrain using iambic tetrameter. Blake uses this to suggest that the people of London are regimented and controlled. Blake emphasises this when he refers to ‘the charter’d streets’ which suggest that every movement of the people is mapped out. The adjective ‘charter’d’ perhaps refers to the mapping of public space which itself is a form of control and the fact that Blake repeats this over two lines implies that he sees method of social control everywhere he looks. The fact that the Thames is also ‘charter’d’ implies that Blake feels that even nature – the river – is affected by a need to order, map out and confine. Blake’s use of the tight rhyming scheme with its marching rhythms therefore reflects perfectly his idea that the people of London are subjected to an oppressive regime which controls their every movement.”

Finally, here is an example of an essay comparing powerful feelings in London and Checking Out Me History. The second paragraph contains a superb analysis of the structure of London – notice how it links structure effectively to a language feature and thus avoids bland descriptions of structural features. The rest of the essay is pretty good too!

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2 thoughts on “Poetry: linking structure to language in Blake’s London

    1. Hi Kerr-jane
      I’ve just had a look at your blog: be sure that I will be mining this for inspiration over the next few weeks! Love the creative writing ideas – like you, I’m heavily into using film to inspire writing. I’m delivering a workshop at 2017 NATE conference on using moving image for reading and writing, so your work is going to be really useful.
      Lance

      Like

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