Annotation Assigment

The purpose of this assignment is to prepare you for viewing an ‘unseen’ poem under test conditions. What this means is that one of these days you will be given a poem you have never seen before and you will have to write about it, commenting on the themes/message and how they are conveyed by the poet (much the same as you are doing in your summaries of the poems set to study). It is not an easy task as you have to read the poem with purpose and eventually write about it with clarity in expression.

When we began the summaries, a student told me that in order to write about it, she had to read it twenty times. In the same way that you cannot write about a painting only having looked at it once, you have to study it -read the poem multiple times looking for key areas.

My advice would be to begin reading the poems and highlighting points -things that stand out, and make your own comments. The poems selected are well know, so AFTER you have have thought about it, you may wish to annotate your poem in more detail by looking at the following links (but do try to do some of your own thinking)




Rationale : How to Annotate a Poem

We annotate texts and poems in order to understand them.  An annotation requires many readings of the poem.  You must make time to seriously consider each word and its place within the poem as a whole.  What is the poet is saying through this particular speaker/persona?  What is the natural progression of the poem?  What is its purpose?  What is the tone and style of the poem? 

I will be looking for serious consideration of the following elements:  

  • Structure of the poem which explains its progression along with the major turning points
  • Language that denotes regionality, education of speaker, rhetorical purpose, etc.  Is it conversational, colloquial or does the speaker fall back on formal language?
  • Tone:  Is the poem celebratory, depressed, confused?  Does it shift or change?
  • Speaker/Persona:  What does the poem reveal about the speaker?
  • Imagery:  What images does the poem use to create meaning or set the mood?
  • Symbolism:  What images become symbolic?  
  • Any other characteristics that are specific to your poem–Every poem is different.

As you research, you will discover that particular poets are known for certain techniques or styles.  If this poem follows that trend or veers from it is important to your understanding of the poem.

Your Task

An annotation requires many readings of the poem. You have five (5) poems to annotate.  See my example for what an annotated poem should look like:

  • · “We Remember Your Childhood Well”-Carol Ann Duffy
  • · “Mid-term Break”-Seamus Heaney
  • · “Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan”-Moniza Alvi
  • · “Search For My Tongue”-Sujata Bhatt
  • · “Valentine”-Carol Ann Duffy


 I will be collecting and grading your HANDWRITTEN annotations on these poems. I will be collecting these annotations, which must be written on the poem copies, on March 16th.  


I will be looking for serious consideration of the following elements:   

  • · Structure of the poem which explains its progression along with the major turning points  
  • · Language
  • · Tone
  • · Speaker/Persona
  • · Point of View
  • · Imagery
  • · Symbolism
  • · Other literary devices
  • · Theme
  • · Any other characteristics that are specific to your poem–Every poem is different.



Search For My Tongue –Sujata Bhatt

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,

(munay hutoo kay aakhee jeebh aakhee bhasha)

(may thoonky nakhi chay)

(parantoo rattray svupnama mari bhasha pachi aavay chay)

(foolnee jaim mari bhasha nmari jeebh)

(modhama kheelay chay)

(fullnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh)

(modhama pakay chay)

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.



Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan

They sent me a salwar kameez
and another
glistening like an orange split open,
embossed slippers, gold and black
points curling.
Candy-striped glass bangles
snapped, drew blood.
Like at school, fashions changed
in Pakistan –
the salwar bottoms were broad and stiff,
then narrow.
My aunts chose an apple-green sari,
for my teens.
I tried each satin-silken top –
was alien in the sitting-room.
I could never be as lovely
as those clothes –
I longed
for denim and corduroy.
My costume clung to me
and I was aflame,
I couldn’t rise up out of its fire,
unlike Aunt Jamila.
I wanted my parents’ camel-skin lamp –
switching it on in my bedroom,
to consider the cruelty
and the transformation
from camel to shade,
marvel at the colours
like stained glass.
My mother cherished her jewellery –
Indian gold, dangling, filigree,
But it was stolen from our car.
The presents were radiant in my wardrobe.
My aunts requested cardigans
from Marks and Spencers.
My salwar kameez
didn’t impress the schoolfriend
who sat on my bed, asked to see
my weekend clothes.
But often I admired the mirror-work,
tried to glimpse myself
in the miniature
glass circles, recall the story
how the three of us
sailed to England.
Prickly heat had me screaming on the way.
I ended up in a cot
In my English grandmother’s dining-room,
found myself alone,
playing with a tin-boat.

I pictured my birthplace
from fifties’ photographs.
When I was older
there was conflict, a fractured land
throbbing through newsprint.
Sometimes I saw Lahore –
my aunts in shaded rooms,
screened from male visitors,
sorting presents,
wrapping them in tissue.

Or there were beggars, sweeper-girls
and I was there –
of no fixed nationality,
staring through fretwork
at the Shalimar Gardens.

Moniza Alvi




Valentine-Carol Ann Duffy

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

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.







Mid-Term Break by Seamus Heaney

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbors drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying–
He had always taken funerals in his stride–
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were “sorry for my trouble,”
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

We Remember Your Childhood Well by Carol Ann Duffy

Nobody hurt you. Nobody turned off the light and argued
with somebody else all night. The bad man on the moors
was only a movie you saw. Nobody locked the door.

Your questions were answered fully. No. That didn’t occur.
You couldn’t sing anyway, cared less. The moment’s a blur, a Film Fun
laughing itself to death in the coal fire. Anyone’s guess.

Nobody forced you. You wanted to go that day. Begged. You chose
the dress. Here are the pictures, look at you. Look at us all,
smiling and waving, younger. The whole thing is inside your head.

What you recall are impressions; we have the facts. We called the tune. The secret police of your childhood were older and wiser than you, bigger                                than you. Call back the sound of their voices. Boom. Boom. Boom.

Nobody sent you away. That was an extra holiday, with people                                     you seemed to like. They were firm, there was nothing to fear.                                      There was none but yourself to blame if it ended in tears.

What does it matter now? No, no, nobody left the skidmarks of sin on your soul and laid you wide open for Hell. You were loved. Always. We did what was best. We remember your childhood well.






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