Poetry Coursework

Poetry Coursework

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Poetry Coursework

I am going to compare these two poems by thinking about the theme,
purpose, mood, language and imagery.

An extract from “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Oscar Wilde.

In the first verse of this poem, the writer introduces us to a
miserable setting of a prison, “the dripping wall, the leaden sky.”
This sets us in the mood of how it was to be a prisoner at the end of
the 19th century.

Oscar Wilde introduces us to another character, a murderer. Throughout
the poem, Wilde sympathizes with this character. We see this by the
use of language. Wilde tells us about the wardens who watched this
prisoner, “for fear the man might die.” “And by each side a warder
walked.” Although the wardens knew that this man would be put to
death, they still watched him in the event that the prisoner might
take his own life. Wilde refers to this man as ‘prey’ thus giving the
impression that the wardens are hunting this man’s blood. This use of
language reveals that Wilde disapproves of the way the man is treated
and sees this as an unjust act.

The purpose of Wilde’s poem is to protest against the authorities and
against the way the prisoners are treated. He writes about the harsh

“We rubbed the door, and scrubbed the floors,

And cleaning the shining rails:

And, rank-by-rank, we soaped the plank,

And clattered with the pails.”

The rails were already shiny they didn’t need cleaning.

Wilde also protests against the difficult and monotonous work. The
structure, language and brisk rhythm in this poem give emphasis to the
main point of Wilde’s poem.

“And shaven heads and feet of lead

Make a merry masquerade.”

He uses harsh repetitive words that are difficult to pronounce.

“With blunt and bleeding nails.” Just as this is difficult to say, it
was difficult work to do. The thought of this cruelty makes you

Oscar Wilde was in prison when he wrote this poem, and therefore he
could not openly address his intended audience. Instead, He used a lot
of irony in his writing. He questions the role of compassion through
irony, in such a place with a definitely ironic tone,

“And what should human pity do

Pent up in a murderer’s hole?

What word of grave in such a place

Could help a brother’s sole?”

Wilde is attacking the governor, the doctor, and the Chaplin for not
having pity on the prisoners. He disapproves of their approaches by
listing their actions coldly. A minister of church should be praying
with him. Religious men have jobs to pray with him and accompany him.
But the Chaplin isn’t doing his job.

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Poetry Coursework Essay

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“The governor was strong upon

The regulations Act

The doctor said that death was but

A scientific fact;

And twice a day the Chaplin called,

And left a little tract.”

In this poem, Wilde portrays a very miserable, dull and harsh picture
of life in prison. I think that it is a well-written poem. It tells us
of the hardship and fear that prisoners experienced. The poet himself
is indignant.

It is written as a ballad in a story like form, its brisk rhythm
creates the impression of monotonous and repetitive life they were

I think that “The Song of The Shirt” is another poem that conveys a
sense of being imprisoned.

Unlike the ballad, the woman who is described in “The Song of The
Shirt,” is not really imprisoned. However, in “The Ballad of Reading
Gaol,” Wilde is literally imprisoned where as in “The Song of The
Shirt” the woman is metaphorically imprisoned.

Unlike in “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” Hoods’ poem protests about the
way the woman is treated by – the “rich” people who are probably – as
referred to in the 4th verse – men. Thomas Hood describes the woman’s
work using hard monotonous language,

“With fingers weary and worn

With eyelids heavy and red,

A woman sits in unwomanly rags

Plying her needle and thread.”

In addition, he used a lot of repetition, “Stitch! Stitch! Stitch!”

“Seam, and gusset, and band,

“Band, and gusset, and seam,”

The song of the shirt is written in a cycle. It consists of a man
imagining himself in this woman’s place, he feels strongly towards the
situation. The first and last stanzas are the writer - Thomas Hood -
speaking, and in the following ones, it is the woman speaking. This
tells us the story of her life. It goes round and round everyday the
same boring work, it is a cycle. Thomas Hood may have seen this sort
of situation or may have heard about this situation. In the Ballad of
Reading Gaol we also find a cycle. Wilde describes how everyday they
scrubbed the planks and cleaned the ranks. This structure really makes
us feel the harshness and creates the image of the situation.

This is the same as in “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” where Wilde
describes his harsh work in jail.

The women in “The Song of The Shirt,” describes herself as a slave and

“Its O! to be a slave”

“Work, Work, Work –

As prisoners work for a crime.”

This represents the harshness of her situation. However, her
descriptions are all in similes as she was not really imprisoned. She
felt like she was a prisoner in her own home. She would rather be a
slave; at least her master would make sure she is properly fed.

Unlike In the Ballad, the woman in The Song of The Shirt does not fear
death since; she is close to it anyway.

“But why do I talk of death?

That Phantom of grisly bone,

I hardly fear this terrible shape,

It seems so like my own.”

She looks like death, as she isn’t fed properly. She can only afford
the very basics, “A crust of bread.”

She goes on to describe a life she wants. The language becomes more
poetic because she is talking of something that she cannot have. We do
not find this in the extract from “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.”

The purpose of this poem is written as a form of protest. The poem is
protesting about the conditions that women like her have to work in,
“unwomanly work.” Throughout the poem, there are references to these
unwomanly conditions, her being thin, slave like, and metaphorically
imprisoned. The woman has no time for tears, “A little weeping would
ease my heart.” She would feel better if she could cry.

She has no time for walks, “No blessed leisure for Love or Hope.”

She is literally working like a machine… “A mere machine of iron and

That toils for Mammon’s sake.”

This is the same as in “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” where Wilde
protested about the inhumanity and harsh work in prison.

A lot of lack of feeling is shown towards this woman, she works for
the greed of others. Both poems are written to bring to people’s
attention what situation these women have to deal with. The type of
people who read poems, are educated people. Someone in authority
should do something about this. The people should become aware of
social injustice. For the sake of luxury, women are suffering
terribly. “Its not linen you’re wearing out, But human creatures

The man in “The Ballad of Reading Goal,” committed murder. He lacked
spiritual help. Those who are doing hard labor might be better
citizens if they were treated like humans. They did heart-breaking
work. The author isn’t saying that people should not be send to
prison, but you should treat men as if they are men, not mindless
animals. The harsh labor in “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” is expressed
through the language used and the regular rhythm in this poem. The
poems are designed to make us feel the woman’s plight, they give
emphasis. In “The Song of The Shirt,” the only way she can make this
appeal is in a song.

Over all, I think that this poem is very well written. It’s persuasive
and really reflects what the women felt during those difficult times.
In “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” Wilde was restricted to expressing
all his feelings openly, therefore I think that “The Song of the
Shirt” is clearer and easier to understand. I also feel that it was
very wrong that a woman, who didn’t do anything to deserve such labor,
should be treated like that. Even if you have committed a crime,
people should have respected the fact that they were human beings.
Both poems convey a sense of imprisonment but in very different ways.
It wasn’t laws that needed to be changed, people needed a new
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