'A Birthday'- Language, tone and structure

Language and tone


There is a marked amount of repetition in A Birthday

  • Each alternate line in the first verse begins ‘My heart is like' (lines 1, 3, 5, 7). This emphasises the speaker's struggle to find the language to describe her emotions and serves as a link between her own subjectivity and the external nature she observes
  • The poem ends, ‘Is come, my love is come to me' (line 16). By drawing attention to the word ‘come', the speaker expresses her joy at the return of her lover and highlights the arrival of the fulfilment of the time of waiting that she has undergone.


The frequency of alliterated words in A Birthday emphasise its flowing pace and the rhythms of the natural world.

Investigating language and tone

  • Think about the voice that emerges through the poem.
    • Does this voice bring out any particular emotions?
    • How far are you able to identify with the poetic speaker?
  • What evidence is there to suggest that either speaker is actually a woman?
    • Would a difference in gender mean that you read the poems any differently?
  • Do you consider that the speaker displays traits traditionally ascribed to a male or female voice?

Structure and versification


The first verse of A Birthday is written in strict iambic tetrameter. This creates a song-like rhythm and means that a stress consistently falls on the word ‘heart'.

In the second verse, 4 out of the 7 lines begin with a trochee. Here, the stress falls on the verbs ‘Raise', ‘Hang', ‘Carve' and ‘Work' (lines 9, 10, 11, 13). By breaking out of the regular metrical scheme of the first verse, these trochees highlight the urgency of the speaker to create something new to celebrate the return of her love.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Read the first verse again closely, thinking about its rhythm. Which other words does the poem emphasise through the rhythm that the metre creates?
    • Which words are linked to one another through the metre?
  • Like Song (when I am dead, my dearest), the poem is written in a 16 line form, divided up into 2 stanzas. Can you identify any further similarities in form?
    • Can you identify any differences between Song and A Birthday?
    • How does the metre in each differ?
  • What does the structure contribute to the poem?
    • Does it affect the tone in which the poems are read?
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.