Read the following extracts and decide how each poem contemplates the theme of ‘place’. Which one:
- Speaks about place in relation to identity and exile?
- Purely evokes a sense of place?
- Makes a social comment about progress and place?
1.The Herefordshire Landscape by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Hills, vales, woods, netted in a silver mist,
Farm, granges, doubled up among the hills,
And cattle grazing in the watered vales,
And cottage-chimneys smoking from the woods,
And cottage-gardens smelling everywhere,
Confused with smell of orchards.
This poem speaks to me of place. Opening with geography and topography, she places farms, cattle and cottages in their place in this idyllic rural landscape. You can almost taste the mist and smell the apples and smoke!
2.Slough by John Betjeman
Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!
Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air-conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.
What a wonderful contrast! This is modern, urban living where there is nothing to sustain even a cow. Nothing relates to nature and the result is that people are imprisoned (“Tinned minds, tinned breath.”) Clearly this is social comment about urban life and supposed progress.
3.The Lost Land by Eavan Boland
I can see the shore of Dublin Bay.
Its rocky sweep and its granite pier.
Is this, I say
how they must have seen it,
backing out on the mailboat at twilight,
on everything they had to leave?
And would love forever?
I imagine myself
at the landward rail of that boat
searching for the last sight of a hand.
I see myself
on the underworld side of that water,
the darkness coming in fast, saying
all the names I know for a lost land:
Ireland. Absence. Daughter.
Another wonderful contrast. This time we are not asked to look at a beautiful place or an ugly city. We are not being asked to consider its geography at all, rather we see Dublin Bay as it was seen by the members of the Irish diaspora. It is their home, their friends and their families that they are leaving. There is a real sense of melancholy in this poem as we realise The Bay is being seen for the last time. Hence the sense of exile.