The Poetry Lesson by Don Maclennan

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In the poem “The Poetry Lesson” by Don Maclennan an ironic mood emerges. The poem is about an English poetry lecturer. He expresses his views and feelings on his lessons, how he might have impacted on the lives, altered the views and the challenges he has given his students. He states what he expects from his students. It is interesting to note that Don Maclennan is in fact a South African English poetry lecturer. I thus assume that this poem is a reflection on how he views himself and his students. I intend to give a detailed analysis of the poem, by defining the type of irony that occurs in the poem and commenting on the use of irony and the nature of the poems commentary on itself. I will give my interpretation of each stanza of the poem and indicate where the irony of a given situation is.

Irony as The New International Webster’s Pocket Dictionary describes it is:

A paradox between what happens and what does or might be expected to happen; a literary style often used to mock or satirize convention.
(NIWPD 2002: 247)

The predominant form of irony in the poem is situational irony, which John Dury defined as:

A discrepancy between appearance or likelihood and an actual reality. (Dury 1995: 140)

M.H. Abrams terms this type as structural irony, which is defined as:

The author, instead of using occasional verbal irony, introduces a structural feature that serves to sustain a duplex meaning and evaluation throughout the work. (Abrams 2005: 135)

Both these definitions are accurate in describing the type of irony that is present in the poem. This will be discussed in the subsequent paragraphs.

Upon completion of reading the poem The Poetry Lesson, it can be said the title of the poem can be construed to be ironic. As this is a poem about a poetry lesson, I assume the poet will talk about a poetry lesson where he is analysing a...

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...essage across. He does this by drawing on his own life experiences. It would seem that this is what Maclennan wanted the readers of his poem to do.

Word Count: 1 301


Macclenan, Don. 1995. “The Poetry Lesson”. In: Clarkson, C. Mkhize, J. MacKenzie, C. Mnqadi, S. 2005. Anthology of Poetry and Short Stories. University of Johannesburg: Content Solutions. pp. 51-53.
Abrams, M.H. 1999. Irony “A Glossary of Literary Terms/Seventh” Boston: MacPeek, Earl.
Dury, John. 1995. “The Poetry Dictionary.” United States of America: Story Press.
2002: The New International Webster’s Pocket Dictionary: Quebecor World Peru. Trident Press International.
Van Heerden, J-M. 2005. “How to Write a Critical Examination of a Literary Work: English 1A”. Johannesburg: University of Johannesburg, February.
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