Here is an exemplar poetry essay, at GCSE standard, which compares two poems and almost attained almost full marks. The poetry essay was written by a student (aged 16) in exam conditions, taking approximately 40-45 minutes to complete.
Compare how poets use language to present feelings in ‘The Manhunt’ (page 50) and one other poem from Relationships.
In both ‘The Manhunt’ by Simon Armitage, and ‘Quickdraw’, by Carol Ann Duffy, the poets use similar language techniques to express the characters’ feelings. The main theme in these poems is the breakdown of a couple’s relationship and the stresses and emotions this breakdown puts the people under. In ‘The Manhunt’, Armitage clearly expresses that the couple’s relationship has been damaged by the husband’s (Eddie’s) personal experiences whilst at war. These experiences have had a severe effect on the man’s personality and his physical health. This, in turn, has had an effect on the relationship. Unlike ‘The Manhunt’, in ‘Quickdraw’ the couple are not in danger of ruining their relationship because of something that has happened to one of them – it is damaged because of the hurtful things they have been saying to each other. Duffy clearly states that one of the reasons for this is due to the use of their mobile phones.
The structure in ‘The Manhunt’ is used for a particular outcome. The continuous use of short two line stanzas not only reflects the fragility and weaknesses of the relationship, it also shows the wife’s actions to try and comfort her husband. The broken up look of the poem implies that the couple’s relationship has been ripped to pieces and the couple are trying to piece it back together. Also, in each stanza, the first line is normally something that the wife is trying to do to heal her husband in some way: “mind and attend”, and the second line is normally describing the extent of the husband’s wounds: “the fractured rudder of shoulder-blade”.
The structure in ‘Quickdraw’ progressively builds suspense, with the story reaching the climax at the end. The poem starts quite slow-paced where it is setting the scene with Western imagery, and then the poem explodes into life, like a gun battle with the “sheriff” looking on. The form of the first three stanzas resembles the shape of a gun, which reflects the danger and violence in the poem.
Armitage uses many different vivid images in his poem to express the feelings the husband is experiencing. He also talks about the amount of physical torture he has endured. The narrator says, “feel the hurt of his grazed heart”. This could be interpreted that Eddie has been hurt severely and emotionally by his experiences and consequently it has affected his relationship with his wife. The use of the word “heart” signifies not only the lifeline and the pivotal engine system of his body, but the vast love he had and still has for his wife. The wife is feeling the pain with her husband (“feel the hurt”) so the reader can empathise and understand the roller-coaster of emotions the couple are going through. On a deeper level, a “graze[d]” is normally something that can be nurtured and heal over time, but if not dealt with correctly, it could end up as a scar, which reflects how close their relationship is to breaking point.
Similarly, in ‘Quickdraw’, Duffy uses vivid imagery to express how close the couple’s relationship is to the end: “read the silver bullets of your kiss”. This shows that although there is a positive side to this quote, “kiss”, the words that are being said are extremely hurtful to the reader. The word “bullets” implies that the struggle is slowly killing the speaker and she can’t deal with it. The fact that the bullets are “silver” means that they are strong enough to destroy anything, even the strongest of relationships, because silver bullets are renowned for being able to kill any type of beast. Silver also implies that there is still hope for the relationship, because silver is precious, and because of the expression, “every cloud has a silver lining”.
In ‘The Manhunt’, Armitage uses an interesting metaphor to describe the feelings of Eddie. He says, “the foetus of metal beneath his chest”. This could mean that the pressure of the couple’s tribulations is growing inside of him, much like a “foetus”. A “foetus” is also a symbol for life and joy, but unusually this is the exact opposite of what it is in Eddie. The word “metal” reflects the pain and suffering Eddie has gone through at war and in a harsh, gruesome image that makes the reader feel quite taken back, because the “foetus of metal” is near his heart. It is will soon reach his heart as it grows, which reflects how his pain is passing onto his relationship.
In ‘Quickdraw’, Duffy shows that the two people almost want to hurt each other, rather than help each other. She says, “the trigger of my tongue, wide of the mark”. The use of the word “trigger” suggests that the couple are deliberately trying to hurt each other’s feelings by hurling insults towards other’s hearts - the only way they know how to. The phrase “wide of the mark” suggests that the remarks don’t always hit home, which means there is some promise for the couple.
In conclusion, Duffy and Armitage both use similar themes in their poems. The breakdown of a couple’s relationship is a key feature in both and provides the background and storyline of them. Both are raising wider issues of how couples deal with obstacles in their relationships. Moreover, both are about the hope that is still there for them, but sadly both end with a negative tone, emphasising that the struggle will carry on.
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