By John Peck (auth.)
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Extra resources for How to Study a Poet
5 Sum up your sense of the poem as a whole, andyour sense of the writer so far At the end of a poem we need to stand back and sum up. What, if anything, though, can I add to what I have said already? Well, to a large extent I have simply confirmed my earlier impression that Owen's poems work on a contrast between civilised and uncivilised behaviour. But I think I do have a fuller understanding now of how the poems constantly invoke, despite all the horrors of so much of the description, an idea of humane and ordered conduct.
Both aspects are apparent in the opening line, where 'passing-bells' is set against 'those who die as cattle'. Both phrases are emotive: 'passing-bells' seems civilised, the traditional way of commemorating loss, but the polite phrase is set against the starkness of 'cattle'. It could be called a civilised-versus-uncivilised tension in the stanza, and the tension is expressed in opposed lines of imagery. On the one hand is the idea of a 'voice of mourning', but it is as if the civilised voice has given way to 'monstrous anger' and 'stuttering rifles'.
At the end of a poem, therefore, in order to move towards a sense of the unique qualities of a particular writer, we need to pull back and sum up what we have learnt about the way in which the poem and this poet strike a distinctive note. The most practical approach is to write down a few simple statements saying what you can now say about this writer that you could not have said before looking at this particular poem. In the case of Keats, I feel that I have learnt four things from 'Ode to a Nightingale'.