Character and Voice – AQA Literature Past Papers

poetry past paper

Please find below all the Character and Voice questions from the AQA Literature exam from the past few years. As you can see, the question asks you to compare a subject/topic with a specific poem from the cluster, and another one of your choice.

Furthermore, in both the Higher and Foundation tier, you will have a choice of two questions. You must only answer one of them. Therefore, if one question ask you to analyse a poem you absolutely detest (mine would definitely be the ridiculously annoying ‘Singh Song’), then avoid it like the plague. If you don’t like either poem, shed a momentary tear and crack on with the one you find less loathsome.

You should spend no more than 45 minutes answering this question. The remaining 30 minutes should be spent answering the unseen poem. There is no set rule, but I personally recommend that you spend five minutes planning your response (look at how both poets explore the theme/topic of the question using specific language, imagery and structural devices), write your response for 35 minutes, leaving 5 minutes for proofreading your work.

The question is marked out of 36, with marks being awarded for accurate and sophisticated spelling, punctuation and grammar. Therefore, please ensure that you edit your work in the final few minutes of the exam, correcting simple mistakes.

Should you need assistance answering the questions, please look at our previous blog here on the poetry exam. Here’s our suggested four-stage structure on how to approach the comparative question:

  1. What do I think the poet is saying in poem A? How does this compare to what the poet is saying in poem B?
  2. Why does poet A feel like this? What is their attitude to the theme of the question? Does the poet have a purpose? what is the tone/mood of the poem? Does this change towards the end of the poem? How does this compare to poet B’s attitude, feelings and tone?
  3. How does the poet express himself/herself through the language, imagery and structure used? Compare each technique you write about in poem A with a similar or different technique used in poem B. Then focus on the different effects this creates in the reader.
  4. Finally, focus on how you feel about the two poems. Compare your personal response to each poem, expressing a preference and stating why. Explain which poem you empathise with more, which techniques made the biggest connection with you and why you think the poet wanted you to feel this way.

Please feel free to attempt any of the following questions and add your response in the comments section. I will happily mark all answers and provide you with critical feedback.



Higher Questions:

1) Compare the ways poets present ideas about identity in ‘The Clown Punk’ (page 4) and one other poem from Character and voice.   (Jan 2012)

2) Compare the ways poets present isolated characters in ‘The Hunchback in the Park’ (page 18) and one other poem from Character and voice.   (Jan 2012)

3) Compare the methods poets use to present an interesting character in ‘Singh Song!’ (page 9) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (Jan 2013

4) Compare how poets use language to present ideas and feelings in ‘Horse Whisperer’ (page 7) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (Jan 2013

5) Compare the ways poets present powerful characters in ‘My Last Duchess’ (page 15) and one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2011)

6) Compare the ways poets present strong emotions in ‘Medusa’ (page 8) and one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2011)

7) Compare how poets use language to explore ideas and feelings in ‘Checking Out Me History’ (page 5) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2012)

8) Compare the ways poets present ideas about power in ‘Ozymandias’ (page 14) and in one other poem from Character and voice.  (June 2012)

9) Compare the ways the poets explore ideas about control in ‘The River God’ (page 17) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2013)

10) Compare the methods the poets use to explore a character’s sense of identity in ‘Casehistory: Alison (head injury)’ (page 20) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2013)


Foundation Questions

1) Compare how poets present an unusual character in ‘The Clown Punk’ (page 4) and one other poem from Character and voice.    (Jan 2012)

2) Poets sometimes use a speaker to narrate a poem. Compare how poets present the speaker in ‘My Last Duchess’ (page 15) and the speaker in one other poem from Character and voice. (Jan 2012)

3) The writer of ‘Checking Out Me History’ (page 5) expresses his ideas in an interesting way. Compare the ways he uses language with the ways one other poet uses language to express ideas in Character and voice.(Jan 2013)

4) Compare how the poets present an interesting character in ‘On a Portrait of a Deaf Man’ (page 21) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (Jan 2013)

5) Compare how the poets present characters in ‘Singh Song!’ (page 9) and one other poem from ‘Character and voice’.   (June 2011)

6) Compare how the poets present feelings about a person in ‘Brendon Gallacher’ (page 11) and one other poem from ‘Character and voice’. (June 2011)

7) Compare the ways the poets present characters suffering in ‘The Horse Whisperer’ (page 7) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2012)

8) Compare the ways the poets present a character in ‘The River God’ (page 17) and a character in one other poem from Character and voice. What do you like or dislike about these characters?  (June 2012)

9) Compare how the poets use language and structure to present a character in ‘The Ruined Maid’ (page 19) and one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2013)

10) How do you feel about the character of the hunchback in ‘The Hunchback in the Park’ (page 18)? Compare how Dylan Thomas makes you feel about this character with the way a poet makes you feel about one other character in  Character and voice. (June 2013)

Glossary of Poetic and Literary Terminology



One simple way to impress the examiner in your literature exams is to demonstrate your understanding of poetic and literary techniques and analyse their different effects. Not only does this titillate the examiner into thinking you are an absolute genius, it is an easy way to extend your comparative analyses. For example, focusing on why two poems are both written in free verse leads you to explore what this implies about the different characters in each poem.

There are different categories of techniques, explored in detail below. Furthermore, there is a very simple and pleasant task to complete at the end.

How the Words Sound:

Words or portions of words can be clustered or juxtaposed to achieve specific kinds of effects when we hear them. The sounds that result can strike us as clever and pleasing, even soothing. Others we dislike and strive to avoid. These various deliberate arrangements of words have been identified.

Alliteration: Repeated consonant sounds at the beginning of words placed near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines. A somewhat looser definition is that it is the use of the same consonant in any part of adjacent words.

  • Example from Clown Punk: every pixel of that man’s skin is shot through with indelible ink
  • Example from Medusa: My bride’s breath soured, stank

Assonance: Repeated vowel sounds in words placed near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines.

  • Example from Horse Whisperer: when their horses snorted
  • Example from Clown Punk: three times out of ten you’ll see the town clown

Consonance: Repeated consonant sounds at the ending of words placed near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines.

  • Example from Singh Song: vee share in di chapatti, vee share in di chutney, after vee hav mad luv like vee rowing through Putney

Onomatopoeia: Words that sound like their meanings

  • Example from Medusa: my thoughts hissed and spat on my scalp

Repetition: The purposeful re-use of words and phrases for an effect. Sometimes, especially with longer phrases that contain a different key word each time, this is called parallelism.

  • Example from Checking Out Me History: Dem tell me, Dem Tell me, Wha dem want to tell me
  • Example from Brendon Gallacher: Oh my Brendon, my Brendon Gallacher

Rhyme: This is the one device most commonly associated techniques used in poetry. Words that have different beginning sounds but whose endings sound alike, including the final vowel sound and everything following it, are said to rhyme.

  • Example from The River God: So I brought her down here to be my beautiful dear

Rhythm: Rhythm is all about vocal patterns. Such patterns are sometimes referred to as meter. Meter is the organization of voice patterns, in terms of both the arrangement of stresses and their frequency of repetition per line of verse. Poetry is organized by the division of each line into “feet,” metric units which each consist of a particular arrangement of strong and weak stresses. The most common metric unit is the iambic, in which an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed one (as in the words reverse and compose).

A simple guide to meter can be found here:

You don’t need to need to analyse the different section of stressed and unstressed feet, as this would just stress you out. However, knowing the rhythm could add to your analysis:

  • Example from Clown Punk : The poem consists of a single stanza of 24 lines. Every line is written in pentameters (they have ten syllables each) which could suggest that the speaker will never change his opinion, much like the meter of the poem.


What the Words Mean:

Most words convey several meanings or shades of meaning at the same time. It is the poet’s job to find words which, when used in relation to other words in the poem, will carry the precise intention of thought. Often, some of the more significant words may carry several layers or “depths” of meaning at once and if you can analyse these different layers, you will achieve very high marks.

Allusion: A brief reference to some person, historical event, work of art, or Biblical or mythological situation or character.

  • Example from Medusa: And here you come, with a shield for a heart and a sword for a tongue  (an allusion to Perseus, the killer of the mythological Gorgon, Medusa)

Ambiguity: A word or phrase that can mean more than one thing, even in its context. Poets often search out such words to add richness to their work. Often, one meaning seems quite readily apparent, but other, deeper meanings await those who contemplate the poem.

  • Example from Give: It’s not as if I’m holding out for frankincense or myrrh, just change

Apostrophe: In a dramatic monologue, this is when the speaker is speaking directly to a real or imagined listener or inanimate object; addressing that person or thing by name.

  • Example from My Last Duchess: Will’t plase you sit and look at her?

Connotation: The emotional, psychological or social overtones of a word; its implications and associations apart from its literal meaning.

  • Example from Les Grands Seigneurs: a bit of fluff = sexual plaything

Contrast: Closely arranged things with strikingly different characteristics.

  • Example from Les Grands Seigneurs: The best and worst of times were men

Denotation: The dictionary definition of a word; its literal meaning apart from any associations or connotations.

Hyperbole: An outrageous exaggeration used for effect.

  • Example from Clown Punk: every pixel of that man’s skin is shot through with inedible ink

Irony: A contradictory statement or situation to reveal a reality different from what appears to be true.

  • Example from Give: You give me tea. That’s big of you.

Metaphor: A direct comparison between two unlike things, stating that one is the other or does the action of the other.

  • Example from Les Grands Seigneurs: Men were my dolphins, my performing seals

Oxymoron: A combination of two words that appear to contradict each other.

  • Example from On a Portrait of a Deaf Man: his tie discreetly loud

Personification: Attributing human characteristics to an inanimate object, animal, or abstract idea.

  • Example from The River God: I may be smelly and I may be old – The poet uses the technique of personification to show the qualities of a river

Simile: A direct comparison of two unlike things using “like” or “as.”

  • Example from Horse Whisperer: So I could lead the horses, like helpless children, to safety

Symbol: An ordinary object, event, animal, or person to which we have attached extraordinary meaning and significance:

  • Example from Casehistory: Alison (Head Injury): (She looks at her photograph)


The Structure of Words:

Words follow each other in a sequence determined by the poet. In order to discuss the arrangements that result, certain terms have been applied to various aspects of that arrangement process. Although in some ways these sequences seem arbitrary and mechanical, in another sense they help to determine the nature of the poem. These various ways of organizing words have been identified.

Point of View: The author’s point of view concentrates on the vantage point of the speaker, or “teller” of the poem. This may be considered the poem’s “voice” — the pervasive presence behind the overall work. This is also sometimes referred to as the persona.

Line: The line is fundamental to the perception of poetry, marking an important visual distinction from prose. Poetry is arranged into a series of units that do not necessarily correspond to sentences, but rather to a series of metrical feet. Generally, the line is printed as one single line on the page. If it occupies more than one line, its remainder is usually indented to indicate that it is a continuation.

There is a natural tendency when reading poetry to pause at the end of a line, but the careful reader will follow the punctuation to find where natural pauses should occur.

Stanza: A division of a poem created by arranging the lines into a unit, often repeated in the same pattern of meter and rhyme throughout the poem; a unit of poetic lines (a “paragraph” within the poem). The stanzas within a poem are separated by blank lines

Stanza Forms: The names given to describe the number of lines in a stanzaic unit, such as: couplet (2), tercet (3), quatrain (4), quintet (5), sestet (6), septet (7), and octave (8).

Rhetorical Question: A question solely for effect, which does not require an answer. By the implication the answer is obvious; it is a means of achieving an emphasis stronger than a direct statement.

  • Example from The Ruined Maid: O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?
  • Example from Medusa: Wasn’t I beautiful? Wasn’t I fragrant and young?

Rhyme Scheme: The pattern established by the arrangement of rhymes in a stanza or poem, generally described by using letters of the alphabet to denote the recurrence of rhyming lines, such as the ababbcc of the Rhyme Royal stanza form.

Enjambment: The continuation of a line of poetry.

  • Example from Ozymandias: Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck
  • Example from Les Grands Seigneurs: But after I was wedded, bedded, I became / (yes overnight) a toy, a plaything, little woman

Caesura: The pause in the middle of a line of poetry.

  • Example from Give: I’m on my knees. I beg of you.
  • Example from My Last Duchess: I gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands,

Volta: the turn in thought in a poem that is often indicated by such initial words as But, Yet, or And yet.

  • Example from Les Grands Seigneurs: But after I was wedded, bedded,

Form: The arrangement or method used to convey the content, such as free verse, ballad, haiku, etc. In other words, the “way-it-is-said.”

Examples of different forms:

  • Free Verse: lines with no prescribed pattern or structure — the poet determines all the variables as seems appropriate for each poem: Give, Medusa, Checking Out Me History, Horse Whisperer, The River God
  • Ballad: a narrative poem written as a series of quatrains in which lines of iambic tetrameter alternate with iambic trimeter with frequent use of repetition and often including a refrain: On a Portrait of a Deaf Man
  • Elegy: a poem in memory of someone who is deceased: On a Portrait of a Deaf Man and Brendon Gallacher
  • Sonnet: a fourteen line poem in iambic pentameter with a prescribed rhyme scheme; its subject was traditionally love: The Clown Punk


The Image of Words:

A poet uses words more consciously than any other writer. Although poetry often deals with deep human emotions or philosophical thought, people generally don’t respond very strongly to abstract words, even the words describing such emotions and thoughts. The poet, then, must embed within his work those words which do carry strong visual and sensory impact, words which are fresh and spontaneous but vividly descriptive. He must carefully pick and choose words that are just right. It is better to show the reader than to merely tell him.

Imagery: The use of vivid language to generate ideas and/or evoke mental images, not only of the visual sense, but of sensation and emotion as well. While most commonly used in reference to figurative language, imagery can apply to any component of a poem that evoke sensory experience and emotional response, and also applies to the concrete things so brought to mind.

  • Example from On a Portrait of a Deaf Man:

But now his mouth is wide to let

The London clay come in.

…maggots in his eyes

…now his finger-bones

Stick through his finger-ends.


Sensory Language: The poet’s careful description of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Related images are often clustered or scattered throughout a work, thus serving to create a particular mood or tone.

  • Visual: the deflated face and shrunken scalp (Clown Punk)
  • Auditory: my thoughts hissed and spat on my scalp (Medusa)
  • Tactile (touch): For silver swallow swords, eat fire (Give)
  • Gustatory (taste): He like old City dining rooms, potatoes in their skin (Portrait of Deaf Man)
  • Ofactory (smell): I may be smelly and I may be old (River God)



Now that you have revised all the key poetic and literary terms, try to find at least two example of the same technique. This will be extremely helpful when comparing the poem in your exam. Focus on the different effects the same technique evokes in the reader. Think about whether they are similar or different, and whether they add to the overall attitude or tone of the poem. Post you comments below for others to see!

Finally, if you happen to know of any additional terms, please feel free to add them to the list.

Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Mr Morris

Themes in the Character and Voice Poems

Apart from to add to your exam stress, each poem in the ‘Character and Voice’ section of your AQA Anthology has been carefully selected by some horribly dull fellow/lady because it conveys a particular theme. The ‘characters’ are depicted by the poets in a variety of ways, sometimes reflecting their own perspective and other times creating a persona by writing in the style and tone of a particular character (for example, Browning didn’t really knock-off his previous wife). Sometimes, the poem depicts the viewpoint of one person; other times we read about individual characters, either imaginary or real, named or unnamed, and asked by the poet to reflect upon how we feel about this particular persona and how we treat each other in everyday society.

As you should know, the exam question will ask you to compare one named poem with another of your choice; therefore, it is imperative you know the key themes that relate to the collection and similarities in the poets’ use of language, imagery and structure. Furthermore, it is your own personal interpretation and response to a poem’s character that is important. Always try to think about the effect on the reader and the poet’s intentions; this will allow you to write deep, perceptive answers to the question and achieve high marks. Finally, it is important to remember that some poems belong to more than one of the following categories:

Isolation and Alienation


This theme is absolutely ruddy everywhere in the English Literature exam: Of Mice and Men, To Kill and Mockingbird, The Woman in Black and the majority of the poetry. Alienation means the rejection or enstrangement from society; the state of being an outsider; of feeling isolated. This can refer to both physical separation, emotional detachment, or often a combination of the two.

The ‘Clown Punk’ and ‘Give’, both by Simon Armitage, feature characters rejected and scorned by society for being different to the norm. One is alienated from others for looking ‘like a basket of washing that got up and walked’ and for living in the ‘shonky side of town’, the other is forced onto ‘the streets’ to beg for ‘change’. The ‘town clown’ is depicted as a bogeyman type character by the speaker, describing his unsociable habit of pushing his face on to car windscreens.  However, the father in the car talking to his ‘kids on the back seat who wince and scream’ is also seen as an angry and judgemental character, forcing the reader to feel somewhat sorry for the persecuted ‘clown’. In a similar way, Dylan Thomas’ ‘solitary mister’ in ‘A Hunchback in the Park’ is cruelly treated by school children in a local Welsh park, and reduced to life of misery, fear and loneliness.

In a different form of alienation, ‘Medusa’ begs her unfaithful husband to acknowledge her beautiful and ‘fragrant’ youth before jealousy fuels her desire for revenge and isolates her in a ‘foul-mouthed’ Gorgon state. Furthermore, the imagery of her turning natural objects to stone (‘house brick’, ‘pebble’) due to her ‘bullet eyes’ means that she is physically isolated from society and defined as an outcast. This metaphor is paradoxical, since tears are commonly seen as weak, but bullets are violent. Alternatively, ‘Melia in Hardy’s ‘The Ruined Maid’, wryly accepts social estrangement when choosing prostitution as a preferable occupation to the hardship of a moral, yet poverty-stricken life.

Finally, the ‘poor, clever girl, Alison, is the unfortunate victim of a head injury that has defined her future and has mentally alienated her from her former self. This is similar to the ‘horse whisperer’; another victim of events beyond their control when, ‘scorned as demon and witch’, he is forced to flee his ‘tender giants’ due to the arrival of the technological revolution and farmers growing increasingly suspicious of his ‘legacy of whispers’.

Key Poems:

  • The ruined maid by Thomas Hardy
  • The river god by Stevie Smith
  • The hunchback in the park by Dylan Thomas
  • The Clown Punk by Simon Armitage
  • Give by Simon Armitage
  • Horse Whisperer by Andrew Forster

History and Heritage

who am i

Some characters from the collection are remembered from a poet’s own recent past, others are from specific historical events. In John Agard’s ‘Checking Out My History’, the poet protests that the history he has been taught has kept him ignorant of the brave and resilient freedom-fighters whose struggles changed the course of Black history, thus denying him a sense of understanding and appreciation of his own identity. However, ‘Ozymandias’, an ancient Egyptian, egotistical ruler, desired immortality by building many statues and monuments of himself to symbolise his wealth, influence and power; yet Shelley reflects how the character is powerless against the changing nature of time, with the sculptor’s ‘sneer of cold command’ being the only thing that remains of his legacy. Furthermore, Browning’s Duke of Ferrara, another powerful tyrant, is so utterly obsessed with material worth and protecting his ‘nine-hundred-year-old name’ that he totally neglects and fails to appreciate the true beauty of his young, good-natured wife.

Key Poems:

  • Checking out me history by John Agard
  • Singh Song! by Daljit Nagra
  • Ozymadias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

Different Relationships: Love and Loss

love and loss

An interesting comparison can be made between Kay’s description of her speaker’s childhood reliance on her exciting imaginary friend, ‘Brendon Gallacher’, and the ‘best and worst of times’ outlined in Molloy’s ‘Les grandes seigneurs’. Both poets recognise how times have changed and that parts of their characters will be lost forever: the death of Brendon when the truth was exposed by the mother left the image of her friend ‘flat out on [her] bedroom floor’ and after Molloy’s speaker was ‘wedded, bedded’ all power and respect was lost forever. Disregarded by her husband, she is no longer treated to romantic gestures but instead reduced to ‘a bit of fluff’.

Conversely, the narrator in ‘Singh Song’ is delighted with his amorous and glamorous ‘newly bride’, and their relationship is still in the early stages of excitement and passion. This love results in the neglect of his father’s shop and the subject of harsh comments by his customers. The couple spend all night cuddling up behind the counter, staring at the beaches of England and sharing compliments. His nonconformist wife offers a form of escapism for the speaker as he takes pride in her ‘effing at [his] mum in all di colours of Punjabi’. The Duke views his nonconformist wife in a slightly different way: her ‘heart… too soon made glad’ increased his jealousy and envy, resulting in her eventual demise. Her constant ‘smile’ to other men brought shame upon his aristocratic family name and thus the Duke ‘gave commands’ for ‘all smiles’ to stop.

However, the theme of loss is arguably best depicted in Betjamin’s beautifully sombre description of a son’s love for his dead father. This unusual elegy in the ballad form, details the father’s likes and dislikes in a deeply affectionate way, yet juxtaposes these positive images with macabre, horror-filled descriptions of his imagined bodily decay. The poem perfectly captures all the contrasting feelings towards death: grief, sadness, fondness, anger and love. This culminates at the end of the poem when Betjamin questions his religious belief, and becomes obsessed with the finality of death. His heartfelt depiction of his ‘kind’ deaf father shows his definite affection towards him, but this is shadowed with by his own fear of death and its gruesome certainty. His contradicting imagery throughout the poem is startling and evocative, forcing the reader to reflect upon their own thoughts on love and loss and how they feel such a range of emotions during these events. The sensory and grotesque language creates a feeling of overwhelming grief in the reader, and this description can also be linked to the sudden death of Brendon Gallacher, as Molloy uses repetition of the possessive pronoun ‘My’, emphasising the idea that Brendan belongs to the narrator and portraying the theme of loss and longing for something that is gone. When the name Brendon appears without the surname or the “my” in the last line, as just “Oh Brendon”, the impact is much greater: losing the refrain highlights the loss of her imaginary friend.

Key Poems:

  • My Last Duchess by Robert Browning
  • The River God by Stevie Smith
  • On a portrait of a deaf man by John Betjamin
  • Casehistory: Alison by UA Fanthorpe
  • Les grandes seigneurs by Dorothy Molloy
  • Medusa by Carol Ann Duffy



Naughty Women – By Mrs S.J. Kerridge

naughty women


Women have a pretty poor representation in Literature; Charlotte Bronte’s Jayne Eyre had a mad woman in the attic, Wilkie Collins’ Woman in White had a character committed to an asylum and Shakespeare made Lady Macbeth into a controlling, but ultimately weak-minded figure of pity. Character and Voice has its fair share of women who are considered unusual because they do not behave in a way that is expected of them. A few of them are allowed this freedom, but most of them are punished for it.

The first of these is Melia in The Ruined Maid. The idea of a woman being ‘ruined’ has ancient, religious and moral connotations. To be ‘ruined’ or ‘corrupt’ is a state often ascribed to fruit, just as it begins to spoil or decay and this is applied metaphorically to the state of women who are ‘corrupted’ by some kind of illicit relationship, like Eve and that apple in the Garden of Eden. It may be why evil people are described as ‘rotten to the core’. Melia has clearly sacrificed her reputation for the sake of material gain (the clothes she gets, the expensive accessories, the fine manners, the easy life) and society at that time would have held her in contempt for it. What I love about this poem is Hardy’s ironic treatment of both women. Melia’s repetition of ‘ruined’ shows an unashamed acceptance of people’s judgement of her and even a touch of elitist pride when she claims that her friend ‘cannot expect that’. Her friend’s tone has just the right degree of envy for us to see that Hardy makes her virtuous, working class life less appealing than Melia’s comfortable life of sin.

Another materialistic, naughty woman is the ‘newly bride’ in Singh Song. She is an unusual Indian bride with her rebellious choice of ‘tartan sari’ and her poor treatment of Singh’s parents, as well as antics on…well, let’s call them ‘dating’ websites; at any rate, it is hardly the behaviour of a devoted wife. What makes it worse is that during their romantic evenings together, her questions are about money – ‘how much…?’ – whereas his replies are all about how highly he values her, ‘half di cost ov yoo’. Singh’s all-consuming devotion to his wife is what makes this poem so charming and amusing, because he loves her, in spite of her faults.

If only the controlling Duke of Ferrara had been so tolerant of his wife in My Last Duchess. Some people have argued that the Duchess was a bit too free with her affections and that her ‘smiles’ are a euphemism for affairs or flirtations, which is why the Duke seems so agitated when he talks about it. I’m not convinced. He is agitated by her appreciation of the ordinary things like ‘cherries’, ‘a white mule’ or a pretty sunset and wants her to be more impressed with his ‘nine hundred years old name’. She has not behaved in a way he expects and he punishes her for it. Now, just another possession of his, she is utterly controlled by him and can only be seen when he chooses to draw back the curtain.

My last choice for the Naughty Women category is Les Grand Seigneurs. It compares well with My Last Duchess because marriage leads to being controlled by men for both of them. Although there is strong romantic, courtly imagery (‘troubadour’, ‘queens’, ‘damsels’) suggesting that the narrator enjoys playing the fairytale of love, there is also a suggestion that she makes fools of men by demanding that they perform for her, ‘prancing’ like circus animals. Of course, the phallic imagery and sexual references are hard to miss (‘towers’, ‘peacocks’, ‘pink flamingos’) and I think this makes her a bit of a tease – ‘out of reach’-, and probably why the contrast of her married life is so stark.


The English Literature Poetry Exam

moon tides fingers

As you should already be well aware, your English Literature GCSE exams takes place on Tuesday 20th May (Exploring Modern Texts) and Thursday 22nd May (Poetry Across Time). Please do not panic, as you will be thoroughly well prepared to succeed in this exam, due to the inspirational teaching of the English department and the countless hours of revision you have completed!

The examination for Unit 2 of the AQA English Literature: ‘Poetry Across Time’, lasts one hour and fifteen minutes and is divided into two sections. Now, considering that you have to compare two poems analytically in Section A and write a response about a poem you have never seen before, the exam is incredibly short (much like Mr Fothergill). The entire paper is marked out of a total of 54 marks, with 36 available for section A and 18 available for section B. In section A, you have to choose one question (from a choice of two) from the ‘Character and Voice’ section. In the question, one poem will be named and you have to compare this poem with any other of your choice from the same cluster of poems. Whatever you do, do not try to answer a question from the other clusters (this happens at least once every year… and they always fail). Time-management will be covered in more depth later, but you should aim to spend 45 minutes on Section A and 30 minutes on Section B (the unseen poem).


In the AQA Anthology of poetry, ‘Moon on the Tides’, there are several clusters of poetry. For section A, you need to begin by finding the question on your cluster of poetry, ‘Character and Voice’. There are two questions to choose from, so the first mountain to climb after remembering your candidate number (or perhaps more worryingly the spelling of your middle name), is to decide which one to answer. The next task is to plan your response to the question, thinking carefully about which poem you are going to compare to the one named. Then, take the first five minutes to consider all the similarities between the named poem and the other of your choice.

To help you choose which question you want to attempt, you should think about the following questions:

  1. How much do I know about the named poem, apart from its title?
  2. How confident am I relating the named poem to the topic or theme mentioned in the question?
  3. Can I think of a second poem which I know well that would compare strongly, linking to the topic or theme mentioned in the question?

Moreover, how can you make sure that you are comparing the right aspects of the two poems? If you write about two poems without comparing them then you are not going to gain the marks your understanding deserves and your teacher will potentially throw their shoe at you. The crucial Assessment Objective the examiners are looking for demands that you compare and contrast the different ways each poem expresses menaing and the language, imagery and structures employed by the poet to achieve this. To meet this objective, one could divide this objective into four separate parts:

  1. What do I think the poet is saying in poem A? How does this compare to what the poet is saying in poem B?
  2. Why does poet A feel like this? What is their attitude to the theme of the question? Does the poet have a purpose? what is the tone/mood of the poem? Does this change towards the end of the poem? How does this compare to poet B’s attitude, feelings and tone?
  3. How does the poet express himself/herself through the language, imagery and structure used? Compare each technique you write about in poem A with a similar or different technique used in poem B. Then focus on the different effects this creates in the reader.
  4. Finally, focus on how you feel about the two poems. Compare your personal response to each poem, expressing a preference and stating why. Explain which poem you empathise with more, which techniques made the biggest connection with you and why you think the poet wanted you to feel this way.

An outline of this plan can be found below:

Question: ‘Compare the character presented in ‘Give’ to that in one other poem in the ‘Character and Voice’ cluster.’


‘Give’ ‘Clown Punk’
What? Homeless man

Asks for change

Loneliness, isolation, charity

Outcaste from society

Judged by speaker

Individuality, rejection, isolation

Why? Anger – ‘that’s big’

Sadness – ‘make a scene’

Destitute – ‘on my knees’

Rejection – ‘dyed brain’

Judgment – ‘shonky side’

Anger – ‘don’t laugh’

How? Imagery of homeless is positive – ‘under the stairs’ Imagery of homeless is negative – ‘basket of washing’
Fragmented form showing life is inconsistent Sonnet form to highlight no one loves the punk
Use of imperatives to show poverty – ‘Give’ Use of imperatives to show hatred – ‘think what he’ll   look like’
How do I feel? Empathetic for speaker – ‘just change’ Anger at speaker – ‘let it rain’

We will be looking at how to use this plan to structure your response after exploring each poem in detail. Just remember, it is imperative that you compare the two poems as much as possible throughout your answer.


In Section B of the exam, you must answer a question on an unseen poem. This involves reading the poem and structuring your answer in 30 minutes – no pressure. The main point about Section B is that you do not have to compare the unseen poem with one from the cluster. There is only one question, therefore you do have to waste time on deliberating which one to answer. The higher tier paper will have one part of the question; the foundation tier will be in two parts, and you must answer both. Here are examples of the types of question(s) you might be asked:


  1. ‘What do you think the poet is saying about the theme of war and how does he/she present these ideas?


  1. What does this poem have to do with war?
  2. How does the poet present his/her feelings towards war?

The beauty about Section B is that we practise it every lesson. Every time your teacher presents you with a new poem you are preparing for this section – analysing an unseen poem. Furthermore, the four-part plan will help you answer this section in exactly the same way, only you don’t need to compare this poem with any other.


Many students think that you can’t revise for this exam. Many students who think this fail the exam, much to my amusement.

The easiest way to revise for this exam is to read, read and read the poems again and again. Furthermore, brush up on your knowledge of poetic devices, descriptive language techniques and structural techniques – especially the more complex ones such as metre/rhyme/imagery. Zoom in on specific words and images and explore the different connotations one can infer from the lexis used. Think about the different interpretations from different audiences. Finally, create your own comparison chart for each poem. Think about where the similarities and differences are between themes/language/imagery/structure/attitude of the poet.

Next, there are a variety of different websites out there to help you revise (far better than this one, of course). Here are a few I recommend:,, and – also, there are many helpful videos on YouTube (just type in ‘AQA Character and Voice’)

Finally, attempt as many past papers as you possibly can in exam conditions. Make sure you are strict with your timings and have no distractions. All past papers can be found here on the AQA website: (look under the ‘Unit 02′ tab). If you would like to receive feedback for your answers, please do not hesitate to waft it under your teacher’s nose – we really do like this!

Well that’s it for the content and summary of your exam. Watch this space over the next few weeks for different posts for each poem. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Enjoy revising!