From the AQA Love and Relationships poetry anthology, today I’ll help you analyse Letters From Yorkshire by Maura Dooley.

About the poet

Maura Dooley was born in Truro, Cornwall in 1957 and grew up in Bristol.  She was educated at the University of York and she achieved a postgraduate certificate of Education at Bristol.  She currently lives in London.

Dooley’s poetry is usually reflective and personal.  A common theme of her work is that of ‘communication’ – something which is central to Letters From Yorkshire.

Maura Dooley has written other poems which focus on the theme of communication; notably her 1997 poem The Message, which was shortlisted for the Forward Poetry Prize.

The tone of her poems tends to be gentle.

Summary of the poem

Unlike many other poems in the anthology, it is unclear who the subject of the poem is or what the speaker’s relationship is to him. But, it doesn’t matter.  It’s a poem in which she captures a relationship in a moment and all the connections we make even though we are far apart.

The poem opens with a description of a man working outdoors, planting potatoes.  After seeing lapwing (a type of bird), the speaker imagines him coming inside to write to her.

The speaker is busy with her work, typing onto a computer and thinking about news headlines.  A vast contrast to the activities of the man.

She describes the letters as being filled with “air and light” as if the fresh Yorkshire air has been posted to her.  It makes her feel like their souls are connected through the ‘icy miles’.

The straightforward language explores the way we can feel connected to people despite physical distance and different lifestyles.

The Poem

In February, digging his garden, planting potatoes,
he saw the first lapwings return and came
indoors to write to me, his knuckles singing
as they reddened in the warmth.
It’s not romance, simply how things are.
You out there, in the cold, seeing the seasons
turning, me with my heartful of headlines
feeding words onto a blank screen.
Is your life more real because you dig and sow?
You wouldn’t say so, breaking ice on a waterbutt,
clearing a path through snow. Still, it’s you
who sends me word of that other world
pouring air and light into an envelope. So that
at night, watching the same news in different houses,
our souls tap out messages across the icy miles.

When teaching this poem, I go through:

  • How to interpret it
  • Language
  • Form
  • Structure
  • Themes
  • Links to other poems in the anthology (similarities and differences)

Below is a brief analysis that should help students who are looking to boost their grades or revise the poem.  For in-depth study, please get in touch for information about one-to-one lessons.

Brief Analysis

Like other poems in the Love and Relationships anthology like Climbing My Grandfather and Before You Were MineLetters From Yorkshire is written in straightforward language.  This means that it is easy to read and understand.  But when we look closer, we can see that there are lots of connotations and poetic devices, which enhance its meaning and give way to different interpretations.

Language

Dooley uses everyday language to convey her snapshot of two ordinary lives.  It does however also include figurative language.  This helps the reader connect with the emotions underlying this poem.

Here are some examples:

  • The letter is represented metaphorically as ‘pouring air and light into an envelope’.  This gives us a sense of how refreshed she feels when she opens the letters from the man as if he is sending her ‘air and light’ directly from Yorkshire.  It is a contrast to her life where she is less connected to the outdoors and instead is occupied with ‘feeding words onto a blank screen.’.

 

  • The rhetorical question ‘is your life more real because you dig and sow?’ is left unanswered.  It could suggest that she is asking herself this question because she does not feel like she is living life to the full.  This is supported by the language being full of colour and positive emotive language when describing the man – ‘
    his knuckles singing/as they reddened in the warmth’.  This contrasts how she describes herself with words like ‘blank’.  Unlike the description of the man, ‘blank’ suggests a lack of colour, lack of enthusiasm and lack of inspiration.
  • The poet’s use of tenses is also interesting.  She starts by referring to the man as ‘he’ but later uses direct address with ‘you’.  This suggests that she is writing to the man, not about him.  In the last stanza she takes a step back and talks about the pair collectively with ‘our’.

Main Theme

The main theme when speaking in relation to this poetry cluster is relationships.

Other themes include:

  • Communication
  • Nature

Letters From Yorkshire explores the speaker’s relationship with a man – not a romantic one- but one that she yearns for, all the same.  It brings a freshness into her life that seems to be otherwise lacking.  The ‘icy miles’ that their relationship transcends could be taken literally – the weather is cold and they are physically miles apart.  It could also be symbolic of the speaker’s feeling of isolation, especially when she thinks of the man.  The word ‘icy’ has connotations of shivering.  This can paint a picture of someone hugging themselves, an action that we do when we are cold, and perhaps also do when we feel insecure or lonely.  The reference to ‘miles’ could suggest the metaphorical distance she feels by their different lives and lifestyles.

Form & Structure

It is written in five unrhymed tercets – five three-lined stanzas.

Most of the lines have five beats or stresses, although not in a strict pattern.

There is no use of rhyme.

Like Climbing My Grandfather, the poem uses enjambment which creates caesura.  This reflects everyday speech patterns and a conversational tone.  The enjambment helps to connect the ideas between lines and stanzas which enhances the flow.

The end-stopped lines, alongside the caesuras,  encourage the reader to pause and reflect, much like how the speaker does throughout the poem.

Rhyme & Rhythm

The irregular rhyme, enjambment and rhythm make the poem feel like an outpouring of thoughts.

General Notes

Just like the poem itself, the title is direct and uncomplex – it describes exactly what the poem is about – similar to Climbing My Grandfather.

Also, like Climbing My Grandfather and FollowerLetters From Yorkshire tells a story – a snapshot in a moment of time.

In the first line, we get a sense of time – ‘February’ – similar to Winter Swans by Owen Sheers.  This setting is often associated with lifelessness and bitterly cold weather.  But the description of the man contrasts this association.  He is lively, enthusiastic and vibrant.  It does however, mirror some of the descriptions the poet uses for the speaker.  Having said this, February is just before the spring season, and this is associated with freshness and new life.  This is certainly reflected in descriptions of the man.

Purchase the full guide of all 15 poems here or download a free sample.

Some useful study videos:

A student exemplar: Mother Any Distance’ vs Letters From Yorkshire

Colour Coded Reading – Helpful for Revision