A common trip up for GAMSAT candidates, especially those coming from a scientific background, is coming across poetry questions in Section 1. We’ve selected part of a poem, the title and first stanza ( yes stanza,the poetic word for paragraph, you might as well get used to poetry terms if you’re going to answer these types of questions!). We’re going to look at a few ways of approaching these questions, to at least take away some fear if you come across them.
A Father’s Death
It was no vast dynastic fate
when gasp by gasp my father died,
no mourners at the palace gate,
or tall bells tolling slow and wide.
Where to start
We’re not going too far into depth , in later articles we’ll look at very deep analysis of literary terms and their effects, for now we’re just going to look at first impressions. The Title is always one of the factors that needs to be given more than lip service. Just remember that because we’re considering poetry the title might be ironic or even misleading. In our example the title actually matches up with the content of the first stanza so, on the evidence given, we can presume that this poem is actually about death.
Now that we’ve decided that our poem is probably going to be about death we need to look beyond the scope of the poem and start to think about how the poet will develop the theme. What words in this little excerpt can add to a somber or depressing mood that we’d associate with death?…
“Gasp”, “mourners”, “bells tolling” all of these are words that back up the subject matter. Try to think about the bigger picture, the overall themes and ideas and where the poet can add in other literary devices like metaphors, similes and so on. If you’re getting an overall grasp of where the poet is headed then whatever questions are thrown at you will not leave you wrong footed.
Building on your first impressions
So you’ve looked at the title, you’ve considered how the words add to the overall meaning and you’ve thought ahead to how the poet might take things that bit further. At this stage you’re ready to start analysing the poem in depth, but for the purposes of GAMSAT do you really need to? Remember that you’re going to have to answer almost a hundred questions, so there really is no time for a long winded analysis. Take your first impressions, skim read the rest of the poem and then look at the questions. The questions that will follow should make you focus on exactly what they’re asking. We’re not here to be scholarly poetry critics, we just don’t have the time or luxury. If you go beyond the scope of a surface analysis that is needed to answer the questions you’re just taking to much time.
In later articles we’ll give you a few more “tools” to help answer these poetry questions, for now just remember in “speed analysis” you need to be swift.