Critical Essay Question

Critical Essay Writing

Choose a Carol Ann Duffy poem in which the poet explores one of the following emotions: anguish, dissatisfaction, regret, loss.

Show how the poet explores the emotion and discuss to what extent he or she is successful in deepening your understanding of it.


What is the Meaning of the Almond Tree?

Critical Essay Writing, Poetry

The almond tree is rife with biblical meanings. Moses’ brother, Aaron, carried a rod cut from an almond tree. When almond blossoms and leaves suddenly sprouted on the rod, this miracle was attributed as a sign that God had chosen Aaron and his tribe to be His priests. Almonds were mentioned often in the Bible, possibly because they are native to the Middle East and would have been widely available during biblical times.

Priestly Meaning

During the many years in the wilderness, the people of the Lord quarreled between themselves trying to determine who should be the priests and directly serve God. So, representatives of all 12 tribes brought their rods and placed them within the tabernacle. The next day, when Moses went into the tabernacle, he discovered that Aaron’s rod which was cut from an almond tree had miraculously burst into flowers. This meant that God had chosen Aaron and his family, from the tribe of Levites, to be His priests.

Old Age


In Ecclesiastes, the almond is indicative of old age. This is an apt description since the almond bursts into flowers in late winter—and winter is often considered anthropomorphically as an old man. The almond blooms are borne on naked stems before the leaves emerge, and the old blossoms often look like white snowflakes when they fall to the ground.

Watchful Tree

The almond tree is also referred to as a “watchful” tree by the Prophet Jeremiah when he talks to God in a vision. Yahweh asks Jeremiah what he sees and Jeremiah mentions that he sees “a branch of an almond tree.” Yahweh answers: “You have seen well: for I keep watch over my word to give effect to it” (Jer.1:11-12).

Rod of Authority

In their book “Rod of an Almond Tree in God’s Master Plan,” Peter Michas and Robert Vander Maten propose that the Rod of Authority made from the Tree of Life was passed down through the ages by the biblical patriarchs. Eventually, King David planted it and centuries later it formed the cross on which Jesus was crucified. They believe that Revelation 22:2 states that the relic of the cross will reappear and flower. This will be a sign of God’s authority just as it was in the days of Aaron.


Imagery Practice

Close Reading, Language

Comment on the imagery used in the following extracts:

The shipyard cranes have come down again
To drink at the river, turning their long necks
And saying to their reflections on the Clyde,
“How noble we are.”

The gas mantle putted like a sick man’s heart. Dimmed to a bead of light, it made the room as mysterious as a chapel. The polished furniture, enriched by darkness, entombed fragments of the firelight that moved like tapers in a tunnel. The brasses glowed like icons.

But pleasures are like poppies spread:
You sieze the flow’r, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white – then melts for ever.

Textual Analysis Practice

Language, Textual Analysis

Read the following Robert Frost poem and answer the questions below. Please bring your answers and a copy of the poem to class tomorrow.


I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth –
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth –
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?
If design govern in a thing so small.

Robert Frost


a) In what ways does the choice of words to describe the spider in line 1 seem inappropriate or surprising?

b) Explain how the poet suggests fragility and beauty in the following images:

         “a moth / like a white piece of satin cloth”

         “dead wings carried like a paper kite.”

Daddy – Sample Evaluations


Sample Evaluation 1

 Plath uses repetition to convey that she feels victimised by her father’s death in verse seven when she describes herself as “a bit of a Jew.” This effectively demonstrates Plath’s anger towards her father as she compares herself to the Jewish people, who were extremely victimised during WW2. Furthermore, her reference to “a bit,” suggests that she is confused. By comparing her father to a Nazi, and herself to a Jew, she highlights the grief she is suffering and demonstrates how complex her character is.


Sample Evaluation 2

The poet uses repetition to convey her father’s death in verse 1 by exclaiming that “you do not do, you do not do.” This effectively shows us that her father will “do,” no more as he is dead and that this has had a significant impact on her. This focuses the reader’s attention on how complex Plath is, and demonstrates her unhappiness, and the theme of death, in the very first line.


Sample Evaluation 3

 Plath uses a metaphor to convey the pain she feels due to the loss of her father in verse six, by explaining “it stuck in a barb wire snare.” This effectively demonstrates Plath’s feelings about her father’s death and the restrictions she experiences as she compares her life to the concentration camps run by the Nazis in WW2. Additionally, the poet introduces violence and death in this line as “barb wire,” suggests danger and restriction. This highlights how lonely, depressed and secluded she feels, demonstrating what a complex character she is.


Sample Evaluation 4

 Plath uses word choice to highlight the theme of death in verse two when using the phrase “marble heavy.” This has connotations of death as gravestones are also made of marble. Furthermore, the reference to “heavy,” shows the overwhelming emotional weight she has been carrying since her father’s death. This has contributed to the complexity of her character.


Daddy – Sylvia Plath


Annotate the following poem, considering poetic devices such as imagery, word choice, structure, motif & symbolism.

Daddy, by Sylvia Plath

You do not do, you do not do

Any more, black shoe

In which I have lived like a foot

For thirty years, poor and white,

Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.


Daddy, I have had to kill you.

You died before I had time–

Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,

Ghastly statue with one gray toe

Big as a Frisco seal


And a head in the freakish Atlantic

Where it pours bean green over blue

In the waters off beautiful Nauset.

I used to pray to recover you.

Ach, du.


In the German tongue, in the Polish town

Scraped flat by the roller

Of wars, wars, wars.

But the name of the town is common.

My Polack friend


Says there are a dozen or two.

So I never could tell where you

Put your foot, your root,

I never could talk to you.

The tongue stuck in my jaw.


It stuck in a barb wire snare.

Ich, ich, ich, ich,

I could hardly speak.

I thought every German was you.

And the language obscene


An engine, an engine

Chuffing me off like a Jew.

A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.

I began to talk like a Jew.

I think I may well be a Jew.


The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna

Are not very pure or true.

With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck

And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack

I may be a bit of a Jew.


I have always been scared of you,

With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.

And your neat mustache

And your Aryan eye, bright blue.

Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You–


Not God but a swastika

So black no sky could squeak through.

Every woman adores a Fascist,

The boot in the face, the brute

Brute heart of a brute like you.


You stand at the blackboard, daddy,

In the picture I have of you,

A cleft in your chin instead of your foot

But no less a devil for that, no not

Any less the black man who


Bit my pretty red heart in two.

I was ten when they buried you.

At twenty I tried to die

And get back, back, back to you.

I thought even the bones would do.



But they pulled me out of the sack,

And they stuck me together with glue.

And then I knew what to do.

I made a model of you,

A man in black with a Meinkampf look


And a love of the rack and the screw.

And I said I do, I do.

So daddy, I’m finally through.

The black telephone’s off at the root,

The voices just can’t worm through.


If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two–

The vampire who said he was you

And drank my blood for a year,

Seven years, if you want to know.

Daddy, you can lie back now.


There’s a stake in your fat black heart

And the villagers never liked you.

They are dancing and stamping on you.

They always knew it was you.

Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.