Leaving Cert English Poetry essays: theme by theme or poem by poem?

This is probably the most commonly asked question on our Snapchat, Insta etc.

If you are asking, you should probably go poem by poem. It is simply easier. Virtually all poetry essays on this website are written poem by poem. This approach doesn't in any way take away from a good essay.

If you are quite confident with poetry and feel like doing something a little different, it is a good idea to go theme by theme. Make sure to practice writing these essays before the exam! It is harder than it looks. Is it literally theme by theme? Not necessarily, there are lots of ways to logically segment a poet's work. We will work though two here for the key suspects for 2017, Bishop and Plath.

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Deep emotional conflicts are beautifully articulated in Sylvia Plath’s poetry. Support your points by reference to the poetry by Sylvia Plath that you have read.

Approach 1: theme by theme (remember that even though you have focused on themes, you will dedicate a lot of attention to imagery (techniques, structure, symbols, rhyme, etc) within each paragraph

Suffering (Paragraph 1)
  • Poppies in July
  • Elm
Opening sentence: Plath's poetry is full of emotional conflicts. We note that in "Poppies in July" and in "Elm" she is deeply tormented. 

Hope (Paragraph 2)

  • Finisterre
  • Black Rook in Rainy Weather
Opening sentence: While suffering is a recurrent theme throughout Plath's poetry, some of her poems offer a glimpse of hope as she deals with her inner conflicts.

Motherhood (Paragraph 3)

  • Child
  • Morning Star
Opening sentence: Plath portrays motherhood in a positive light, but even then some deep emotional conflicts are evident as she both welcomes her daughter and questions is she is able to raise her.

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Elizabeth Bishop’s poems are eloquent revelations of the ordinary. Support your points by reference to the poetry by Elizabeth Bishop that you have studied

Approach 2: biographical (note that the opening sentences here don't address the meat of the question directly, rather the purpose is to show the structure)

Geographically uprooted, raised by extended family, preoccupied with sad thoughts as a child (Paragraph 1)
  • Sestina
  • First Death in Nova Scotia
Opening sentence: Bishop was very young when lost her father and her mother became severely mentally unwell. We can see the reflections of these events in her poems "Sestina" and "The Prodigal".

Later in her childhood, the wealthier side of the family took over her care - and she was very unhappy there (Paragraph 2)

  • In the Waiting Room
  • The Prodigal
Opening sentence: The continued turbulence of her childhood years left a mark on her as we see through "In the Waiting Room" and "The Prodigal" that are both dominated by a sense of anxiety and loss.

Bishop spent much of her life travelling (Paragraph 3)

  • Fish
  • Filling Station
  • Questions of Travel
Opening sentence: Bishop spent much of her life travelling. It is through these poems that we see just in how much detail Bishop could describe something as ordinary as a fish or a filling station in fascinating detail and with incredible insight.

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