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Y11 – poetry of power and conflict: the power of the preposition

Sometime simple ideas come to me in the process of talking to students …

This week, we were talking about the importance of bringing everything back to the ideas of power and conflict – after all, that’s the cluster we’re studying. Getting our heads round these two (let’s face it rather huge) concepts, we decided to add two rather simple words to help us with our investigations:

  • The power OF (or even the power OF …. OVER ….)
  • Conflict BETWEEN

These additional prepositions take away a little of the abstraction; it gives us a starting point but also makes us point to something more quickly in the poems. I’ve made a start on this Saturday afternoon (whilst listening to the collected works of The Cure), but you’ll have better ones… Add them on to the end if you get chance… I’ve left out some of the obvious ones: power of place, for example, as these tend to cut across many of the poems. There is also the conflict between form and content which is apparent in many of the poems.


  • Power of: nature over human achievement/hubris etc; power of time over reputation
  • Conflict between: representation and reality; poet and the establishment; form and content (sonnet used ironically?) – again, think of these with all of the poems. How does the FORM or STRUCTURE conflict with what the poem is saying?


  • Power of: institutions over free will;  place over human relationships; power of sound; ideology
  • Conflict between: humans and institutions; abstraction over reality; poet and the establishment (and this will re-occur)

The Prelude

  • Power of: nature over the human imagination (the sublime); power of reflection; power of the mountain;
  • Conflict between: the memory of an event and its reality; phallic and feminine aspects of nature

My Last Duchess

  • Power of: men over women; status, rank, privilege; money
  • Conflict between: the spoken and the unspoken; desire and its fulfilment; inner thoughts/outer actions; self-image and social image;

The Charge of the Light Brigade

  • Power of: hope over reason; history; duty
  • Conflict between: sense of honour and fear; reality and legend; order and chaos


  • Power of: nature over all else; death over life; fear; the unknown/unseen
  • Conflict between: hope and reality; here and there;

Storm on the Island

  • Power of: nature over human endeavour; nothing/emptiness; fear and expectation
  • Conflict between: poet and history; familiar and the unknown; what is concrete and what is abstract

Bayonet Charge

  • Power of: time; the numinous; fear; war etc.
  • Conflict between: action and inertia; duty/honour and reality; death and life; nature and war; mind and body; man and machine


  • Power of: memory; guilt; extreme situations in influencing decisions, morality etc.; repressed emotion
  • Conflict between: rational and irrational thought; memory and reality; language and reality; justice/injustice;


  • Power of: touch/tactile experience; loss; family
  • Conflict between: past and present; outer/inner emotions; presence/absence;

War Photographer

  • Power of: the image; the media; memory; isolation; suffering;
  • Conflict between: job and ethics; morality and money; religion and secular beliefs; sites of conflict and peace; emotional and physical pain; conscience and action; then and now; the photographer and his audience


  • Power of: paper over language, thought and history; tactility; nature; knowledge; the written word (or even the inadequacy of the printed word)
  • Conflict between: the word and its reality; humans and institutions; abstraction over reality;

The Emigree

  • Power of: nostalgia; memory; one’s heritage; guilt
  • Conflict between: image and reality; past and the present; place and identity; belonging and alienation


  • Power of: duty; family; society; the value of life; life over death; ideology
  • Conflict between: honour, reputation and conscience; what is right and what is duty; self and society; narrative voice/interpretations of the truth;

Checking Out Me History

  • Power of: language over identity; narratives in shaping identity;
  • Conflict between: language AND identity; coloniser and colonised; culture and power; perspectives of education; light and darkness; knowledge and power


Every little helps…

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