Spare a thought for all those bereft parents as their offspring start Uni! Poems often ‘hit the spot’ and explain how we are feeling in a way nothing else can. Pass these two on to anyone who’s feeling the empty nest and, when you’ve done that, compare as a GCSE Unseen question.

Mother, any distance greater than a single span by Simon Armitage

Mother, any distance greater than a single span
requires a second pair of hands.
You come to help me measure windows, pelmets, doors,
the acres of the walls, the prairies of the floors.

You at the zero-end, me with the spool of tape, recording
length, reporting metres, centimetres back to base, then leaving
up the stairs, the line still feeding out, unreeling
years between us. Anchor. Kite.

I space-walk through the empty bedrooms, climb
the ladder to the loft, to breaking point, where something
has to give;
two floors below your fingertips still pinch
the last one-hundredth of an inch…I reach
towards a hatch that opens on an endless sky
to fall or fly.

To my daughter leaving home by Linda Pastan

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving

You can use your anthology to prepare for the unseen poetry question by slecting poems from the other cluster. Try this question…

In Letters from Yorkshire, how does the poet explore a relationship between two people who live apart from each other? 24 marks

In both Letter from Yorkshire and Follower, both poets refer to nature. What are the similarities and/or differences in the way the poets make reference to nature? 8 marks

Spend about 45 minutes.

Letters from Yorkshire

by Maura Dooley
In February, digging his garden, planting potatoes,
he saw the first lapwings return and came
indoors to write to me, his knuckles singing
as they reddened in the warmth.
It’s not romance, simply how things are.
You out there, in the cold, seeing the seasons
turning, me with my heartful of headlines
feeding words onto a blank screen.
Is your life more real because you dig and sow?
You wouldn’t say so, breaking ice on a waterbutt,
clearing a path through snow. Still, it’s you
who sends me word of that other world
pouring air and light into an envelope. So that
at night, watching the same news in different houses,
our souls tap out messages across the icy miles.


by Seamus Heaney

My father worked with a horse-plough,
His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
Between the shafts and the furrow.
The horse strained at his clicking tongue.

An expert. He would set the wing
And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.
The sod rolled over without breaking.
At the headrig, with a single pluck

Of reins, the sweating team turned round
And back into the land. His eye
Narrowed and angled at the ground,
Mapping the furrow exactly.

I stumbled in his hob-nailed wake,
Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
Sometimes he rode me on his back
Dipping and rising to his plod.

I wanted to grow up and plough,
To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow
In his broad shadow round the farm.

I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
Yapping always. But today
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me, and will not go away.

A Valentine’s Day Special Poetry Comparison!

Read the poems Valentine and In Paris with You.


In Valentine, how does the poet present feelings about love?


In both Valentine and In Paris with you, both poets explore the negative sides of relationships. What are the similarities and/or differences between the way the poets present these feelings?


I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

Carol-Ann Duffy


In Paris with you

Don’t talk to me of love. I’ve had an earful
And I get tearful when I’ve downed a drink or two.
I’m one of your talking wounded.
I’m a hostage. I’m maroonded.
But I’m in Paris with you.

Yes I’m angry at the way I’ve been bamboozled
And resentful at the mess I’ve been through.
I admit I’m on the rebound
And I don’t care where are we bound.
I’m in Paris with you.

Do you mind if we do not go to the Louvre
If we say sod off to sodding Notre Dame,
If we skip the Champs Elysées
And remain here in this sleazy

Old hotel room
Doing this and that
To what and whom
Learning who you are,
Learning what I am.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris,
The little bit of Paris in our view.
There’s that crack across the ceiling
And the hotel walls are peeling
And I’m in Paris with you.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris.
I’m in Paris with the slightest thing you do.
I’m in Paris with your eyes, your mouth,
I’m in Paris with… all points south.
Am I embarrassing you?
I’m in Paris with you.

James Fenton

Just because you won’t have seen the poems before doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for this part of the exam! You need to get yourself used to ‘tearing apart’ two poems in 45 minutes…the best way to do this is get plenty of practice.

STEP 1: Take a deep breath and grab a pencil! Read the question at least TWICE and underline key words. Read the first poem. Highlight words and phrases that link to the focus of the question AND that you like: this is really important because if you thought something sounded effective in the poem you’re going to be able to write plenty about it and analyse it well. As you annotate the poem, think of the techniques the poet has used and make a note of them in the margin.

Step 2: Read the second poem and highlight links you can make with the first in response to the second part of the question.

Step 3: Make a VERY rough plan- time is short- on the direction your response will take. Think: Content (theme), Language, Attitude, Structure and Techniques…or CLAST

Step 4: Outline in a VERY brief introduction, no more than three sentences, key ideas and the direction your response will take. Take the threads of your points from your introduction and develop in the rest of your essay.

Really explore the language used. Give an example from the poem, ‘label’ it with the technique used and EXPLORE.

Exploring language means you suggest alternative meanings. Get into the habit of writing: ‘could suggest …on the other hand it may imply…’ and all of a sudden you are ANALYSING!

Now try this sample exam question in 45 minutes. It might seem impossible at first but practice really does make perfect. There is another question following this one. Look out for my next unseen poetry question.

Need a list of poetry techniques? Just email me at

This month’s poems are about losing your first language or ‘mother tongue’. The two poems explore very different responses …and languages. Gujarati meets Welsh.

In Search for My Tongue how does the poet present the speaker’s feelings about her first language or mother tongue?

24 marks


In both Search for my Tongue and A Poet’s Confession the speakers explore feelings of loss. What are the similarities and/or differences between the ways the poets present these feelings?

8 marks

Search for My Tongue

You ask me what I mean
by saying I have lost my tongue.
I ask you, what would you do
if you had two tongues in your mouth,
and lost the first one, the mother tongue,
and could not really know the other,
the foreign tongue.
You could not use them both together
even if you thought that way.
And if you lived in a place you had to
speak a foreign tongue,
your mother tongue would rot,
rot and die in your mouth
until you had to spit it out.
I thought I spit it out
but overnight while I dream,

it grows back, a stump of a shoot
grows longer, grows moist, grows strong veins,
it ties the other tongue in knots,
the bud opens, the bud opens in my mouth,
it pushes the other tongue aside.
Everytime I think I’ve forgotten,
I think I’ve lost the mother tongue,
it blossoms out of my mouth.

Sujata Bhatt


A Poet’s Confession


‘I did it. I killed my mother tongue.

I shouldn’t have left her

There on her own.

All I wanted was a bit of fun

With another body

But now that she’s gone-

It’s a terrible silence.


She was highly strung,

Quite possibly jealous.

After all, I’m young

And she, the beauty,

Had become a crone

Despite all the surgery.


Could I have saved her?

Made her feel at home?

Without her reproaches.

I feel so numb,

Not free as I’d thought…


Tell my lawyer to come.

Until he’s with me,

I’m keeping mum.’


Gwyneth Lewis

This week we’ll be comparing poems on the theme of ageing. The first poem, Warning, is a very popular poem and reminds me of the potential of parents to embarrass their children instead of the other way around! There is a youtube video of Joseph reading her poem although I was disappointed she wasn’t wearing a red hat …let alone purple!

1. Read Warning by Jenny Joseph. What are the poet’s thoughts on growing old?

2. Contrast the attitudes of the poet with those of W.B. Yeats in When You Are Old.

You should think about how the poets use language and structure to express their ideas.


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
W.B. Yeats