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Unseen Poetry

1. "Would it be different if … ?"

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About this Lecture


In this module, we introduce poetry and poets and consider one way that we might start thinking about the impact of the poetry in front of us – ‘Would it be different if … ?’. In particular, we think about: (i) the range of texts that ‘count’ as poetry – it’s wider than you think!; (ii) the importance of coming up with your OWN opinions about the poem in front of you – and being able to explain WHY you think the way you do; (iii) the subjectivity of poetry – just because SOMEONE ELSE thinks it’s good, doesn’t mean YOU have to; and (iv) using the question “What would happen if … ?” to explore the impact of the words, phrases, effects that the poet HAS used.

Poems included in this module:
– Abdul Ghafar Ibrahim, ‘The Wall’ (1972)
– Edward Clerihew Bentley, ‘Clive’ (1905)
– Extract from UK national anthem (18th century)
– William Wordsworth, extract from ‘’Tis Said That Some Have Died For Love’ (1800)
– William Wordsworth, extract from ‘The Thorn’ (early draft, 1798)


In this seventeen-part course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) provides a step-by-step guide for approaching unseen poetry. The first three modules introduce key concepts (e.g. the ‘movement’ the poem, ‘binaries’, etc.) as well as the more concrete approaches (e.g. compare the first and last lines, look at the verbs, etc.). In modules four to eight, these concepts and approaches are applied to five unseen poems. This is followed in the ninth module with a discussion of the eleven features of poetry that can provide useful starting points for analysis – lexis, syntax, graphology, semantics, etc. In the final eight modules after that, we demonstrate the same approach with eight more poems – four of them very famous, and four of them less so.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2020, October 12). Unseen Poetry - "Would it be different if … ?" [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Unseen Poetry – "Would it be different if … ?"." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 12 Oct 2020,

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