Themes Related to the Poetry in G.C.E (O/L) Syllabus

 - by Diyoni Fernando


Usually the exam questions are given based on their themes. Usually a poem is written based on one major themes. However, there are more other thematic issues raised under the main theme which are called sub themes. For example: War is Kind is written under the main theme conflict and the other themes followed by are called sub themes. The questions most of the times are given based on sub themes; therefore, it will be useful for a candidate to know about them for better reading of the poem.  


Conflict Poetry Themes

War is Kind by Stephen Crane
  • Considering of or viewing of war in a realistic manner
  • The hypocrisy of war- mongering- the false notions of patriotism, glory and honor used by such people to entice the young to fight for a cause and the resulting death and destruction
  • The callous attitude of war leaders or mongers towards the soldiers
  • The psychology effect of battle on the soldiers in action- their trauma and the realization of reality when it is too late
  • The brutality of war- the mental pain and physical pain it causes the need to see people as people is strongly emphasized


The Terrorist. He’s watching by Wislawa Symborska

  • Philosophic one viz the fragility of life and destiny
  • Terrorism and the brain- washed, heartless creatures it has produced, caring for nothing and
  • nobody and away from reality

“…… what a view- just like the movies”

  • How precious life is and how the slightest decision can change everything
  • Focuses attention on the dehumanizing effects of materialism and dangerous ideologies and obsessions


Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree by A.E. Houseman

  • The transitory nature of life
  • Pessimism and the obsession with death
  • Rural or pastoral life
  • The discontentment of youth, depression and early death
  • Unrequited love


Breakfast by Jacques Prevert

  • Dis-functional relationships or a relationship that is no longer working as it should because the emotions or feelings that should be there are no longer present
  • War or modern family conditions affected by materialistic attitudes or a false sense of modernity or wrong social values
  • An insight into the workings of the human mind and the depth of emotions and the necessity foe discussion where human problems are concerned
  • The importance of dialogue and communication


Nature Poetry Themes

To the Nile by John Keats

  • Nature- the Nile with its surroundings

- the pleasant sunrise

- green isle

  • Presented as a spirit that is benevolent to humans

- “Nurse of Swart nations”

- “we call thee fruitful”

  • Imagination and its beneficial impact on humans
  • The glory of nature and its mesmerizing effect on people

-“Tis ignorance that makes a barren waste of all beyond itself”


A bird came down the walk by Emily Dickinson

  • Nature and how Nature inter- relates with humans.
  • The power of Nature
  • Its beauty as well as its brutality or harshness
  • The effect it has on those who observe it
  • Writer’s strong in interest and attitude to religion and God

-“thus reflecting her strong belief in the love and protection of God”


The Eagle by Alfred Lord Tennyson

  • Majesty and power of Nature
  • Necessity of using the imagination
  • Masculinity
  • Freedom which is natural privilege and its opposite as suggested by the sea groveling


To the Evening Star by William Blake

  • The effect of nature on everyday life and the theme of pastoral simplicity
  • The star as representative of a transcendental state between opposites cause frustration
  • There is also a suggestion of passion between sexes in the appeal to Venus, goddess of love

-“… upon our evening bed!

Smile upon our loves…..”


Society Poetry Themes

Once upon a time by Gabriela Okara

  • Culture- clash and its effects on people
  • The contrast between the simplicity and honesty of the past and the ancient tribal cultures and the superficial, unreliable dishonesty and hypocrisy of the modern world
  • The longing people have to get back to simple, friendly happy human relations and type of living


I know why the caged birds sing by Maya Angelou

  • Discrimination and oppression in societies or countries where some are more equal than others
  • The reactions that such discrimination and oppression give rise to
  • The arrogant uncaring attitude of the privileged
  • Normal yearnings and longings that naturally arise in human minds when they see greater better things in life which they do not have the freedom to attain and also the longing for things unknown but things they know exist


Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson

  • Brings out the fact that money cannot buy happiness
  • The fact that appearances can be deceptive- they can be misleading
  • Fact that people should be judged or valued not by what they really are- their qualities, their actions and interactions
  • The human need for communication, socialization and friendship
  • Loneliness- in today’s materialistic fast- moving form of living together with other problems likethe generation gap and conditions caused by longer life expectancy and problems of old- age


Big Match 1983 by Yasmine Gooneratne

  • Violent communal calamity that shattered a multi- racial, multi- cultural, multi- religious country and brought so much discredit globally
  • The damage caused to people and places due to narrow, selfish thinking and attitudes and letting oneself be misled without considering the right and wrong of the issue in hand
  • The need for peaceful coexistence and thinking in terms of ‘we’ as human beings and not just ‘I’
  • The lack of humanism and compassion and human rights violations
  • A realization of social reality in the country


This post is kindly sent by M.M.D. Fernando sometimes ago. So, all the credit should go to her for providing this useful post for G.C.E (Ordinary Level) students. If you find this post is useful to others, please do share it with others as she did.

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