The third element: Theme – Exercise 1: Poetry and the theme of ‘place’

Key concepts and definitions

(from Creative Arts, page 81-83)

Poetry: from Greek poiesis (‘the making’)

Differences between poetry and prose: are they so different? in what? An article published online (Earl, 2012) offers some very stimulating hints:

‘prose is all about accumulation … while poetry is about the isolation of feelings’

‘Poetry creates its own truth’

‘In both classical and modern languages it is poetry that evolves first and is only much later followed by prose, as though in a language’s childhood, as in our own, poetry were the more efficient communicator of ideas.’

‘Technology also played a roll. With the spread of the printing press after 1440, texts no longer had to be memorized. Poetry’s inbuilt mnemonics (rhyme, meter, refrain, line breaks) were no longer essential for processing and holding on to knowledge.’

‘Poetry’s last major flourishing during the first half of the 19th century was a kind of Silver Age to what came before; it gave us a way to model our increasingly important private lives, as opposed to our public ones. This is its gift.’

Theme: Aristotle’s third element in Poetics. Themes are ideas explored in creative writing.

Differences between theme and subject or subject matter:

Theme : Poetic theme is the main point the author is trying to make with the poem. Another way to think of theme is as the “moral” of the poem.
Subject: The subject of a poem is the topic, or what the poem is literally about. (Bradesca, 2001)


Exercise 1 – The theme of ‘place’ in 3 poems

a. The Herefordshire Landscape by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

(answer 2) I think that this poem is the one which mostly evokes a sense of place. It seems that the poet looks at a landscape from above, like a bird in its flight. It does not describe a place in its specificity, but through the use of words the reader can vividly picture it and perceive its special smells.


b. Slough by John Betjeman

(answer 3) This poem makes a social comment about progress and place. I checked on Slough, a town near London, and its story in time, the air raids in 1940 and the much discussed housing developments which followed after the warI had to look up a word I had never heard, smithereens: fragments, little bits (Merrian-Webster. 2016).


c. The Lost Land by Eaven Boland

(answer 1) The third beautiful poem strongly resonates with identity and exile, and it seems to speak of a lost place, Dublin Bay, and at the same time of other intimate personal losses (‘Ireland. Absence. Daughter’).



Earl, M. (2012) The Difference Between Poetry and Prose. In: [online] At: (Accessed 18.11.16)

Bradesca, K. (2001) The Difference Between a Poem’s Theme & Subject. In [online] At: (Accessed 18.11.16)

Merrian-Webster. (2016) ‘Smithereens’ definition [online] At: (Accessed 18.11.16)


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