John Clare ‘Where is the Heart’



John Clare


Song: Where is the Heart
Where is the heart thou once hast won
Can cease to care about thee
Where is the eye thou’st smiled upon
Can look for joy without thee
Lorn is the lot one heart hath met
That’s lost to thy caressing
Cold is the hope that loves thee yet
Now thou art past possessing
Fare thee well
We met we loved we’ve met the last
The farewell word is spoken
O Mary canst thou feel the past
& keep thy heart unbroken
To think how warm we loved & how
Those hopes should blossom never
To think how we are parted now
& parted, oh! for ever
Fare thee well
Thou wert the first my heart to win
Thou art the last to wear it
& though another claims akin
Thou must be one to share it
Oh, had we known when hopes were sweet
That hopes would once be thwarted
That we should part no more to meet
How sadly we had parted
Fare thee well
The song is imbued with sense of what might have been. Its tender and
accepting tone is full of regret. Never again can such love be hoped for,
his heart is permanently damaged by their parting. Words like ‘lorn’ and
‘cold’ contrasts with the warmth of their love and the sense of promise
he felt, suggested in the line ‘those hopes should blossom never’, where
the stress falls on the last word, partly through its placing and partly
through the opposite rhyme work ‘ever. The gentle rhyme scheme with
the dying fall created by the polysyllabic rhymes ‘caressing/ possessing’,
‘spoken/ broken and ‘wear it/share it’ contributes towards the sorrowful
tone. The dominance of open vowel sounds makes this song perfectly
suited to being sung.

Angela Topping (from Focus on the Poetry of John Clare, Greenwich Exchange 2015)


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How to Closely Analyse a Poem (and keep exam boards happy) #2 Edward Thomas’ ‘The Sun Used to Shine’

Excellent post from a fine poet

Martyn Crucefix

Having declared in my review of one year of blogging that I wanted to include more about teaching literature, I am posting some examples of the type of essay required by OCR exam board in module F661 (see also Essay 1). The essay following focuses on Edward Thomas’ poem ‘The Sun Used to Shine’ which can be read in full here. The poem has Thomas recalling happy days, walking with Robert Frost in the Gloucestershire countryside. Though the Great War  had begun, neither of them had yet become entangled with it. Students are supposed to present a close analysis of one selected poem (AO2) while also putting that poem into relation with some others by Thomas (AO4).

FDPhist Little Iddens – where Robert Frost lived in 1914

Explore Thomas’ response to the English countryside of 1914 in the poem ‘The sun used to shine’. Your focus should be on close analysis…

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Milton’s On His Blindness

On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

John Milton

I first read this poem in an anthology we were given to read at primary school (St. Marie’s, Widnes) when I was in second year juniors (now year 4).  We were allowed to choose poems to learn. This was one I chose and I still love it and know it by heart today. There was no one to tell me that Milton was too hard for an eight year old. This Petrachan sonnet has a strong narrative line, and a subtle rhyme scheme, which made it easy to learn and easy to feel. Patience seemed to be some sort of archangel, who had God’s wisdom at his fingertips. The volte, which I knew nothing about technically, is powerfully present as the blind poet learns to understand that God’s purpose in taking his sight is unknown but he can still fulfil his role. I wasn’t a patient child and this sonnet spoke of patience and learning to see a bigger picture. The dialogue helps to tell the story and it’s a great piece to perform because of the different voices and tonal shifts within it. I love the now archaic lexis: ‘chide’, ‘post’, ‘yoke’ and yet the language is clear and easy to understand. Being a small Catholic child, I had no problems understanding the religious aspect of it, and now I am lapsed and tending towards agnosticism, I think the message still holds good. I love sonnets, the way so much can be packed in to this tight muscular square form which within has such flexibility.

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The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams – technical brilliance


The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white


Free verse poem, right? Apparently simple in meaning? Read it a second time to observe the poet’s rhyme sounds: ‘depends/upon’ with its repetition of p links the words through consonance. They are both iambic two-syllable words, so the rhythm supports the rhyme sounds. Then note the consonance between ‘wheel’ and ‘barrow’ again iambic two-syllable words. A pattern is emerging which helps the reader trust the poet’s meaning. The third stanza creates a similar effect, this time using assonance: both ‘glazed’ and rain’ have a long a sound. And in the final stanza, all three nouns are linked by assonance in the short i sound. Because of the sounds in the poem, and the deliberate placing of line breaks and stanza breaks, and the stanza design of a line of three syllables followed by a line of only one syllable, the reader slows down and takes in each word. The poet is clearly saying something important; beyond the surface there are questions to be asked. What ‘depends’? The rhyme sounds make the poem memorable, so it haunts the reader and makes she/he want to interrogate it, reflect on it, meet it eye to eye.  

copyright Angela Topping


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Carol Ann Duffy: ‘Never Go Back’ from Meantime

‘Never go Back’ by Carol Ann Duffy (from her collection Mean Time Anvil 1993)


One of the main ideas in the poem is that you cannot return to the past as people and places change. It evokes images of death, disease and decay, as this is what happens over time to people and places. Duffy uses darkness and drinking in bars to represent her feelings about time. The poem’s title offers a solution – that it is better not to return to past times and places either literally or to hark back nostalgically.


She uses the second person throughout the poem. She could be talking to herself, which gives a detached feeling; she could be talking to the people she knew in the past, addressing the ghosts of her memories. It has the effect of making the reader seem included and because we all have a past, the images can be personalised. She avoids making it too particular so that the reader can imagine their own past.


                                                            Never return

to the space where you left time pining…


The poem is divided into three sections which represent different places in the past. She could be visiting them literally or just in her memory. Each place gives her a sense of despair and includes images of death, disease and decay.


In the first stanza she describes a seedy bar in which images of death and decay feature strongly. The oxymoron ‘living dead’ suggests that the drinkers here have given up hope. The personification of  the juke box as someone who is reminiscing ‘in a cracked voice’ suggests that the machine itself is speaking to her, perhaps playing the songs of her youth, but in a broken voice, as though it is diseased. Perhaps hearing the music is a stimulus to the memories she goes on to explore. The ‘well-thumbed pack’ suggests repulsive old men gambling in the bar. Duffy uses it as a metaphor for photographs which stimulate the ‘anecdotes’ which have been heard many times before. The tensions in the section come from the contrasts such as


                                    there is nothing to say. You talk for hours


The conversations themselves are stale and pointless because you cannot talk meaningfully as your life has moved on. The alliteration in ‘parched old faces of the past’ emphasises the deadness, the pointlessness of going back. ‘Smoky mirrors’ suggests that people are smoking in the bar, but also that time is misty and clouded and you can only remember certain things. This is added to by the verb ‘flatter’. She makes us question whether the mirror flatters because we only remember the good things or because we cannot see properly because of the lapse in time.


The developed use of personification in the poem, such as the ‘streets tear litter’, ‘the wind whistles’, the house…has cancer’, the train sighs’ suggest that she is surrounded by faces, the places claim her and seem to have lives of their own. The images are unpleasant as they draw on disease and mess as well as echoing her own emotions. It implies that the times and places haunt her as much as the people she once knew, the ones her ‘ghost buys a round’ for.


Many of her images have layers of meaning. For example, the alcoholic friend, who she has perhaps met up with on returning to her old home, is described as having  a head which is ‘a negative of itself’. This implies things have gone badly wrong in the friend’s life and dreams they once had have not come to fruition. But it also suggests a visual image as in negatives the colours are reversed and the friend’s hair may have turned white with age, as it would show in a negative.


The speaker in the poem seems detached and the places visited are like ghost towns, inhabited by ‘the living dead’. The personification of the house makes it seem haunted and once again the contrasts between the past and present cause tension in the reader’s imagination and make it seem even sadder that the hopes of the past have been destroyed. The word ‘brides’ evokes hope and innocence and the colour white, whereas the house now is decaying and the only white is the falling plaster. She ironically compares this to confetti, linking back to the bridal image but in an unpleasant way as she shakes it from her hair. The house itself is dreary now.


The final section is focused on her journey from the places of the past, to which she will never return again. The contrasts in this section show that the place is dead for her now and the hopeful images represent where she now lives, which could be both a literal place and a time of her life where she is now happy without any ghosts from the past, ‘nowhere, nowhen’. It is as though going back has brought some release and she is no longer limited by where she comes from or where she is going. The image of drinking recurs, but more hopefully. The idea of home being where you are in the present is communicated by the image of ‘fires and lights’ which the reader associates with home and safety.


‘Never go Back’ is a very complex poem with many layers of ideas. Carol Ann Duffy explores her feelings about the past and present in an effective and moving way and draws the reader in by her use of second person and her startling imagery.

copyright: Angela Topping

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Poems under the Microscope

This website exists to celebrate single poems. As Matt Simpson used to say about criticism: to express the WOW. My intention is that this site wiill be a useful resource for teachers, students and anyone who loves reading or writing poetry.

I will be posting a close up reading of an individual poem which I personally love. Where poems are out of copyright, I will include them. If they are still within copyright, I will indicate where they can be read.

I am happy to receive submissions from readers, via Anyone may submit at any time, but there will be no fees paid. Copyright of the essay remains with the contributor. I welcome poems not originally written in English, though a translation should be included. 

A note to students using this website: please remember to reference the author and the site. Plagiarism has very serious consequences. Whatever teachers may tell you, examiners want to read your own views, not those handed down by others. The views expressed on this website belong to individual contributors and are not definitive.

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