Love & Relationships | AQA GCSE English Literature Revision Notes 2017 (2024)


For Paper 2, Section B, you will study a cluster of 15 poems which are
thematically linked. This page will provide an overview of the Love and Relationships anthology. This cluster of poems is dealt with in Question 25 of Paper 2, Section B.

This page includes:

  • A complete list of the poems in the cluster
  • A brief overview of what is required in the exam
  • A brief explanation of key themes
  • A thematic comparison table of all 15 poems
  • Top tips for the highest grade

This should help you identify which poem you should compare a given poem to in your exam question, and help you create an effective thesis statement to answer the poetry question.

Love and Relationship Poems

Here is a list of all the poems in the Love and Relationships cluster:

When We Two Parted

Love’s Philosophy

Porphyria’s Lover

Sonnet 29 – ‘I think of thee!’

Neutral Tones

Letters from Yorkshire

The Farmer's Bride

Walking Away

Eden Rock

Follower

Mother, any distance

Before You Were Mine

Winter Swans

Singh Song!

Climbing My Grandfather

Overview

In Paper 2, Section B, you will be given one of the 15 poems on the exam paper itself, and be expected to compare it thematically to one other poem from the anthology. You will have to choose this second poem, and you should be prepared to write about any of the 15 poems in the exam. This means you need to have a thorough understanding of each poem.

Exam Tip

To achieve high marks, you need to evidence your knowledge of both of the two poems in your answer, rather than just memorising and using a bank of quotations. This is because examiners want to see candidates answering the specific question that has been set, rather than just reproducing lots of pre-learned quotations. The quality of the quotations, linked to the themes in the poems, is more important than quantity.

It is important to note that, in this question, if you only write about the poem given on the exam paper, you will only be able to achieve a third of the marks available. You must write about the given poem and link it to one other of the poems in the anthology. Think of comparison as what connects the two poems. It is therefore better to start your response with an opening statement that thematically connects the two poems you are going to use to answer the question.

This question in the exam is worth 30 marks, and you should aim to spend between 40-45 minutes on it in the exam. In order to write a top grade response, you should aim to write an introduction, at least 2-3 comparative paragraphs and a conclusion. It is up to you whether you write about the poem given on the exam paper first, and then your second choice of poem, linking themes back to the given poem, or if you prefer a more integrated response. Neither gets you more marks than the other.

For a more detailed guide on how to achieve top marks for your essay, please see our easy-to-follow How to answer the poetry anthology question pages.

Key themes

Romantic love

A good number of the poems on the Love and Relationships cluster explore romantic relationships. Many also explore the complexity of love and relationships. The romantic love explored includes:

  • Unrequited love: longing for a love that cannot be, or a love that is not returned
  • Marriage: both happy and unhappy unions
  • Affairs, and forbidden love
  • Desire
  • Violence, or the threat of violence, in relationships
  • Break-ups and the pain they cause

The poets in the anthology are often looking to examine, challenge, or criticise social or cultural norms when it comes to love and marriage. This could be related to:

  • Gender dynamics in relationships
  • The convention of marriage itself
  • Cultural or social expectations of couples - or women - in relationships
  • Sex and consent

Family relationships

Many of the other poems in the cluster explore the complexities of love and relationships between family members. The relationships explored are between:

  • A child and a parent
  • A child and a grandparent
  • A parent and a child

Ideas that the poets are exploring include:

  • The complicated nature of a parent-child relationship
  • The idea of a child becoming independent from their parent
  • Rebellion against a parent, or family culture
  • Admiration for a family member
  • Regret for past behaviour in these family relationships

These poems are often very reflective, and involve ideas around memory or nostalgia

Longing

Some of the poems in the anthology touch upon the idea of longing, either in terms of romantic relationships, or longing between family members.

  • In terms of the poems that look at longing in family relationships, the poets explore:
    • The parental longing for a child never to grow up and be independent
    • Longing for a better familial relationship
    • Longing for a family member, or members, who have died
  • The romantic poems that deal with longing explore ideas around:
    • Sexual desire
    • Unhealthy (male) desire and issues around sexual consent
      • This includes sexual consent within, and outside of, a marriage
    • Romantic fulfilment: a desire for happiness and contentment in a relationship
    • Longing involved after a relationship has ended
      • Longing to be back with an former partner or lover
      • Longing to be closer (geographically) to a close friend

Distance

Distance is explored in two ways in the Love and Relationships cluster: both literally (a physical distance between two people in a relationship), and figuratively (a relationship that is becoming less close, or intimate). The idea of physical distance is explored in terms of:

  • Long-distance relationships, and a desire to be closer physically
  • The distance time creates when thinking about relationships
  • The distance that is created between a parent and a child as the child grows up:
    • The distance between parent and a child going to school
    • The distance involved when a child moves out of a family home

The idea of figurative distance is explored in the following ways:

  • A growing distance between those in a relationship, especially a growing lack of intimacy
  • A growing distance between people after a relationship has ended
  • A growing distance between parents and their children

Some of big idea explored in terms of distance are nostalgia and memory, and the ideas of letting go and independence

Ageing and death

A few of the anthology poems explore the ideas of ageing or death, and especially what effects these have on existing, or past, relationships. This is explored in the ideas of:

  • Coming to understand a relationship better over time
  • Missing a loved one
  • Longing for a relationship that can no longer exist
  • Power in relationships

The poets exploring these ideas are often very reflective, and involve ideas about memory, acceptance, or regret.

Memory and reflection

These are themes that are very closely related to lots of the ideas set out above, especially around looking back at past relationships and reflecting on them. This can involve family, as well as romantic relationships. They explore:

  • Reflecting on past (bad) behaviour
  • Reflecting on past relationships
  • Memories of deceased family members

The poems that deal with ideas of memory and reflection often explore related ideas about nostalgia, whether we can trust our memories, or regret.

Thematic comparison table

Use the table below to revise which poems connect to the others in the anthology, based on the themes the poets explore.

Romantic love

Family relationships

Longing

Distance

Ageing and death

Memory and reflection

When We Two Parted

Love’s Philosophy

Porphyria’s Lover

Sonnet 29 – ‘I think of thee!’

Neutral Tones

Letters from Yorkshire

The Farmer’s Bride

Walking Away

Eden Rock

Follower

Mother, any distance

Before You Were Mine

Winter Swans

Singh Song!

Climbing My Grandfather

Top tips for the highest grade

  • Referring to writer’s methods, or linguistic terminology, without linking it to a theme will not get you marks
    • Writer’s methods and the analysis of language, form and structure should always be based on the theme
  • For example, writing “Browning writes Porphyria’s Lover in the form of a dramatic monologue” will not get you a mark. However, writing “Browning uses the form of a dramatic monologue to reflect the speaker’s total control over his lover: it is the speaker’s narrative, his story, and his lover is marginalised, silenced” will
  • Including historical facts or biographical information about the poet adds no value to your answers
    • If you are addressing the focus of the question, then you are addressing context
  • If you know the poems well, you will be able to demonstrate this knowledge and understanding in the exam. Learn the poems rather than learning lists of quotes
  • Make sure you read the question and highlight the focus. Then, decide on which poem you can make most links with the poem given to you on the paper
  • You don’t get extra marks for more quotations, but you do get more marks for making plenty of interesting comments about the quotes you have selected
  • Using the poet’s name can help you think about the text as a conscious construct, and will keep reminding you that the poet deliberately put the poem together
  • Avoid making sweeping generalisations, such as “all women in arranged marriages were treated badly in the 18th century”. Make it relevant to the text. For example, “In The Farmer’s Bride the wife is subject to control and oppression by her husband
  • Use comparative connectives in your answer, such as “similarly”, “likewise”, “on the other hand” and “contrastingly”
Love & Relationships | AQA GCSE English Literature Revision Notes 2017 (2024)

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