GCSE English Literature

The Curious Cats Sessions


Do you need to analyse poems?


Well, learn this sentence:

“All curious cats think mice smell lovely, don’t you think?”


Because, if you do, you will be one step closer to remembering all the stuff your teacher asks you to write about when it comes to a poem.

How come?

It’s a mnemonic.

Oh, OK ..

A ll – A uthor

C urious – C ontext

C ats – C ontent

Th ink – Th eme

M ice – M ood

S mell – S tructure

L ovely – L anguage

Don’t you think? – Reader response


So, when you’re analysing a poem, you can do it by working out the answers to questions like these:

All – Author

Who wrote the poem? When did the poet live? Where? What was his or her childhood like? What did they do apart from write? Did they write other stuff?

Curious – Context

When was the poem written? What was happening in that place at that time? What is the poet’s perspective on these places and events, and the characters involved? What was the general public’s perspective on these things at the time? Have these views changed since the poem was written?

Cats – Content

What is the poem actually about? Does it describe something? Does it tell a story? What places or characters are mentioned? What do we know about them? Is there a literal and also a metaphorical or allegorical meaning to the poem?

Think – Theme

If you can answer the last question in the Cats section, you will already be thinking about the themes that are dealt with in the poem. Does the poem have an overall subject or topic? What is it? Does it have more than one? Does the poem have a message for the reader? What does the poet want the reader to think? What does the poet want the reader to feel?

Mice – Mood

And if you can answer that, you are ready to start thinking about what it actually is that the poet actually does to convey all of the above to the reader.

Is the poem dark or light? What situations, places, characters, phrases or words make it that way? Does it make you laugh, cry, think, cringe? Why? Is this how the poet wanted you to feel?

What other things has the poet done to influence the way the reader feels?

Smell – Structure

Is it long? Does it have stanzas? How many? Are they all the same length? Are the lines all the same length or are they different? Is there a pattern to the stanzas or the lines?

Does it rhyme? is there a particular rhyme scheme? What is it?

Is the poem a sonnet, or a ballad, or even something as weird and obscure as a villanelle (not likely, but ..)? How do you know? Why did the writer choose this type of poem? Was it a popular or common type of poem at the time? Is it popular now?

Has the writer made the poem this way for any particular reason? Does the structure of the poem do anything to enhance the message or the themes of the poem?

Lovely – Language

What emotive words has the poet used? Are they adjectives? Are they adverbs? Does the poet use alliteration, repetition, personification, enjambment or any other fancy poetic devices to help us understand the poem’s message and feel the poem’s feelings?

Don’t you think? – Reader response

Do you like it? Why? Why not? Who would like it? Why? Who definitely wouldn’t like it? Why not? Are particular types of people more likely to like it than others? Did more people like it when it was written than now? Why? Why not? Will people like it in the future? Why? Why not?


The Hunchback in the Park

Cwmdonkin-2014-4 orderly

Structure, form, whatever ..?

Seven six line stanzas. Straight up! Shows routine. Even in the midst of the disaster that is his world, the hunchback in the park still shows the human need to seek out order in the chaos. Dylan Thomas knew about this. He chose to write the poem this way to show that there will still be order, even in a life as adrift from the rest of humanity as the hunchback’s.

Mr Bruff talks for ages here about Simon Armitage’s Clown Punk and other poems, but then he does say some stuff about the structure of THITP* – His analysis of THITP starts at 07:56 and he reminds us how the poem is, on closer inspection, structured in a much less ordered way than other poems like, for example, The Ruined Maid, On a Portrait of a Deaf Man or Give.

He also reminds us that it is important to link structure to meaning when we are thinking about a poem. Thomas deliberately chose a random rhyme scheme within an apparently ordered structure of stanzas to highlight the routine of the hunchback’s life, but also the instability that he has to live with.

Cwmdonkin_Park trees

Character and Voice, yeh ..

Because, when we look closer, we can clearly see that the order in this character’s life does not go very deep. It is true that, at first glance, there is structure in his world and in the poem, but when we look a bit more carefully we find that the character is struggling to keep it together. At the same time, if we consider the structure of the poem again, we see that the poet is aware of this and angry, perhaps, at the way the park visitors treat this man and, maybe, at how society treats the vulnerable in its midst.

Minimal punctuation and enjambment give an impression of restlessness and almost constant movement, but movement that is driven by random needs. There is a rhyme scheme, but this is random too, and some of the words don’t even rhyme properly.

Thomas chooses his words deliberately to give us an idea of the way the hunchback lives, forever teetering on the edge; cold, hungry, alone, scared, in danger ..

Language – Who’s talking? How?

Third person, eh? Gives a perspective that almost ‘tells’ us how to feel. We should feel sympathy for the hunchback. He is shunned by all elements of society and we should be ashamed of the way he is treated. How did he get like this? What is his history? We can only imagine these things, but Thomas’s use of language and imagery make it clear that we should feel sorry for him.

What’s it about? – On the surface ..

Tea cosy pete COJS56787815

Well, duh .. a homeless guy, innit .. and how all visitors to the park turn their backs on him or even actively get rid of him, kind of assuming it’s somehow his own fault or even if it isn’t his fault, thinking that if they associate with him they’ll somehow become ‘infected’.

The hunchback shuffles around the park every day, trying not to be too conspicuous because he knows that everyone he comes across will want him gone. And even when it gets dark and the schoolchildren, the mothers, the nannies, the nurses, the sailors, the park keeper have all gone, he needs to keep his wits about him, in the dark at night. Who knows what might happen. He even imagines that a tall statue in the park might protect him against whatever dangers there might be ..

What’s it about? – Themes ..

Again, not hard to understand in the twenty-first century. Homelessness is rife; as individuals, we can be cruel and uncaring; as a society, we tend to look the other way. We often don’t take the time to understand and know people who are less fortunate than ourselves.

GCSE Bitesize sez ..

People, especially children, can be very cruel. There is not one example of the man going out of his way to be unkind or rude to anyone. He gets annoyed and angry when the children tease him – which is exactly what they want.

We should not judge people simply on what they look like. This man is and looks different. We get the sense that this is why he is alone in the park, not for anything he might have done. This is sad to think.

Morals. The final picture of the man – who is regarded as so worthless that we never know his name – retreating to his kennel in the dark is tragic, and provides a damning moral comment on society failing those who need care.’

GCSE Bitesize on THITP

It looks like this ..

The hunchback in the park
A solitary mister
Propped between trees and water
From the opening of the garden lock
That lets the trees and water enter
Until the Sunday sombre bell at dark.
Eating bread from a newspaper
Drinking water from the chained cup
That the children filled with gravel
In the fountain basin where I sailed my ship
Slept at night in a dog kennel
But nobody chained him up.
Like the park birds he came early
Like the water he sat down
And Mister they called Hey mister
The truant boys from the town
Running when he had heard them clearly
On out of sound
Past lake and rockery
Laughing when he shook his paper
Hunchbacked in mockery
Through the loud zoo of the willow groves
Dodging the park keeper
With his stick that picked up leaves.
And the old dog sleeper
Alone between nurses and swans
While the boys among willows
Made the tigers jump out of their eyes
To roar on the rockery stones
And the groves were blue with sailors
Made all day until bell time
A woman figure without fault
Straight as a young elm
Straight and tall from his crooked bones
That she might stand in the night
After the locks and chains
All night in the unmade park
After the railings and shrubberies
The birds the grass the trees the lake
And the wild boys innocent as strawberries
Had followed the hunchback
To his kennel in the dark.

It sounds like this ..

This is a reading of the poem by Dylan Thomas himself. He puts on one of those old-fashioned poetry reading voices that sometimes sound a bit irritating these days.

This is a more modern reading of the poem by Martin Sheen. The film was produced to celebrate the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth in 2014. It was directed by Bram Ttwheam.

The Poet

The Granger Collection - TopFoto

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) – Yup, he only lived to be 39. He was from South Wales but wrote in English. He left school at 16 to work in journalism and published his first book of poetry, 18 Poems, in 1934. He lived a wild, alcohol-fuelled life which continued as he became famous. He was a popular speaker because of his deep, rich Welsh voice and was famous for being a kind of stereotypical maverick poet.  He died on a trip to the USA in 1953 after a heavy drinking session.

What do you think?

Go here for a This IS The Safe House Flash Fiction Writing Session based on The Hunchback in the Park.

trees above duck

*The Hunchback in the Park