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Unseen Poetry

4. Poem #1: “This is just to say...”

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About this Lecture


In this module, we read through a note in which an (unidentified) speaker confesses to eating some plums that we left in the fridge. In particular, we think about: (i) what (if anything) about this note is ‘poetic’; (ii) the impact of certain words – what would happen if different words were used in their place? what would happen if they were removed altogether? (iii) the ‘binaries’ in the note; (iv) the cultural context that emerges from the note – what kind of person eats plums for breakfast? what kind of person stores plums in an “icebox”?; and (v) the extent to which the impact of the ‘note’ is transformed when we change its form.


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 - Poem #1: “This is just to say...” [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Unseen Poetry – Poem #1: “This is just to say...”." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 12 Oct 2020,

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