The theme of nature, and our societal and personal battles with the natural environment, forms a key part of the AQA GCSE Power and Conflict poetry anthology. Whilst this might not seem like an obvious theme, many of the poems deal with the natural world in some way or another. Storm on the Island by Seamus Heaney, Wilfred Owen’s Exposure and William Wordsworth’s The Prelude are the three most direct comparisons here.
To help you get started on this theme, I’ve written an in-depth comparison of Storm on the Island and The Prelude. Have a read through the essay (try highlighting in different colours each time a theme, key bit of context, quote or literary terminology is used) and pay special attention to essay structure. Remember, PEEZAP paragraphs are our guide, but don’t feel you have to stick to this too rigidly – especially if it is interfering with the clarity of your arguments.
Before getting started, make sure you’re familiar with each poem. BBC Teach have a great guide (presented by Akala, a rapper, writer, activist and poet) on The Prelude:
Here’s a short overview of Storm on the Island, discussing key themes and quotes:
In Storm on the Island Seamus Heaney explores ideas about the power of nature. Compare this with one other poem of your choice (The Prelude).
In Storm on the Island by Seamus Heaney and the extract from The Prelude by William Wordsworth, both poets explore the power of nature and the inherent conflict between humanity and the natural world we inhabit. Heaney explores this theme from the inclusive “we” of a rural, coastal community, whilst Wordsworth tackles the subject matter from a far more personal and subjective “I” perspective. Whilst the poets differ in their presentation, both utilise remarkably similar techniques and structure (including unrhymed verse, anecdotal asides and vivid personification) to investigate mankind’s real and symbolic conflict when faced with the vast power of nature.
Seamus Heaney was an Irish poet who grew up in a rural farming community. In Storm on the Island this personal background is used to realistically describe a small isolated community facing the sea during a tempest. The word “storm” has literal meanings associated with weather, but also has connotations of conflict and strife. Violent language is used throughout the poem, suggesting the dominant power of nature over man. The gale is described alliteratively as blowing “full blast” and the wind “dives and strafes invisibly” whilst “space is a salvo”. The military metaphors of “bombarded”, “blast”, “salvo” and “strafe” all relate to human air attacks – ironically reminding the reader of the limited power of man-made machines compared with the all-encompassing assaults of nature.
The use of violent troubling language is also employed in Wordsworth’s The Prelude. The oxymoron of the young man’s “troubled pleasure” at his “act of stealth” forms the key focus of the extract. It quickly moves from peaceful euphony and sibilance (“small circles glittering idly in the moon”) to the violent cacophony of “struck and struck again”, “towered” and “blank desertion” – reflecting the protagonists’s darkening mood. Just as the power of nature is expressed by the storm for Heaney, the mountain is used as a metaphor by Wordsworth to represent the full might of nature. The repetition of “huge” emphasises its overwhelming quality “huge peak, black and huge” and the massif is further personified as with “voluntary power instinct upreared its head”. The language used by Wordsworth directly compares to Heaney, who ends the poem emphatically stating that “it is a huge nothing that we fear”.
The oxymorons used by Heaney, “exploding comfortably” and a “huge nothing” suggest that humanity’s fears (even about nature itself) are paradoxical, with our doubts built up in the mind more so than in reality. Wordsworth similarly focuses on fears built in the psyche – “huge and mighty forms” that “moved slowly through the mind” and troubled the young man’s dreams. The 19th Century Romantic Poets focused on emotions and the natural world, with Wordsworth describing poetry as “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”. Reflecting the real, emotional language of man was key and consequently the extract from The Prelude (part of a much, larger epic poem) is structured in blank verse with a great deal of enjambment adding to the conversational, confessional quality. Despite the lack of rhyme scheme, its poetic qualities are maintained with the use of loose iambic pentameter to give the work a consistent pace.
Seamus Heaney similarly employs blank verse, also with a consistent pace of 10 syllables per line. Storm on the Island is written in a very conversational tone, with enjambment and informal asides such as “you know what I mean” adding to the feeling of personal discussion. Unlike The Prelude however (which is written as past-tense memoir regarding the seemingly idyllic “summer evening”), Heaney writes in present tense which gives an impression of immediacy. The storm is happening right now, and the residents “are prepared” – forced to deal with the urgency of events. This also relates the immediacy of Irish politics at the time, with the “storm” of The Troubles engulfing Northern “Ireland/Island” in the conflict between Roman Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Unionists.
Ultimately, both Heaney’s Storm on the Island and Wordsworth’s extract from The Prelude present the overwhelming power of nature – and man’s conflict with the natural world. The poets utilise similar structure (blank verse, enjambment and iambic pentameter) and violent, troubling personification, metaphors and oxymorons throughout their work. Reflecting their unique context and poetic style, Wordsworth explores a subjective almost confessional emotional episode, whilst Heaney uses the theme to more objectively explore communities battling the elements and each other.
In this essay, I described William Wordsworth as a “Romantic Poet” – for bonus points, take a look at this introduction to Romanticism and make your own notes on what being “Romantic” means to you.
If you want to really work on your analysis, have a go at these reinforce, extend and revise tasks:
- Reinforce: Can you add your own paragraph to this essay – with some more quotes and analysis? Improve on my writing and make it your own!
- Extend: Could you link either of these poems with another one in the anthology – what about My Last Duchess, Exposure, Kamikaze, Ozymandias or London? What other themes are evident?
- Revise: Create a revision card for each poem – include five key quotes, notes on structure, context and key themes. Build these up as you go along (try two poems a week) and keep coming back to the cards each time you add a new one, to memorise the quotations.