Poetry analysis of Paul Muldoon’s poem ‘Why Brownlee Left’

Why Brownlee Left

Why Brownlee left, and where he went,
Is a mystery even now.
For if a man should have been content
It was him; two acres of barley,
One of potatoes, four bullocks,
A milker, a slated farmhouse.
He was last seen going out to plough
On a March morning, bright and early.

By noon Brownlee was famous;
They had found all abandoned, with
The last rig unbroken, his pair of black
Horses, like man and wife,
Shifting their weight from foot to
Foot, and gazing into the future.

Paul Muldoon‘s poem ‘Why Brownlee Left‘ (1980), is a enigmatic narrative about an Irish farmer who abandoned his farm lock stock and barrel and was never seen or heard from again. The title sets the tone for what follows, but it is rhetorical as there is no answer or explanation given for the farmer’s disappearance.

To convey the mystery, Muldoon utilises figurative techniques like the simile of comparing Brownlee’s “horses, like man and wife” in an effort to offer a possible personal motivation as to why Brownlee left his farm. But the poem is more than just a enigma about the disappearance of this seemingly content and prosperous farmer, but it is also allegorical and suggestive of Brownlee’s need “to break free from a prescribed future” – his programmed and daily banal existence of farming life (Muri 1995, p. 44).

Muldoon seems to use Brownlee’s abrupt departure to carry a deeper undercurrent that reflects Muldoon’s own “aimless travels”, where there is “no reassuring resolution” – a sentiment that is also present in the similar Irish poem “Immram” that records a hero’s sea journey to the Otherworld (1995, p. 44).

The tone of uncertainty that flows through ‘Why Brownlee Left’ is given greater emphasis by the uneven line breaks in the second stanza, and the sad imagery of Brownlee’s abandoned and wistful horses who gaze into an uncertain future.

When I read this poem I felt that Muldoon used this folk enigma to explore our deep human need to understand our destiny, whether it is to be found in the everyday or in the extraordinary.



Allison Muri 1995, ‘A Pilgrim’s Progress: Paul Muldoon’s “Immram” as a Journey of Discovery.’
The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, Vol. 21, No. 2. pp. 44-51, viewed 24 December, 2013.

BBC Northern Ireland Learning, ‘Why Brownlee Left’, viewed 24 December, 2013.





Seven Creative Ideas For Writing a Poem

Writing a poem, like a short story, can sometimes be a challenge. We can sit at the computer or with a blank sheet of paper in front of us and feel that we are fresh out of ideas. But never underestimate the creative mind. Just when you feel that you have drained the creative pool dry, an unusual idea can pop into our consciousness, and then we are off and running with an intriguing story or an inspiring poem. But if you feel that your creative muse has left the building and ideas have been a little stale lately, here are another seven creative ideas for writing a poem that will help you on your poetry journey.

Begin a poem with a serious predicament. It could involve people, animals, the law, or a combination of things. Try to resolve the situation in no more than 10 lines.

Write a poem of rage or protest. It could be based on how you really feel about something or someone, or it could be complete fiction. Let your emotions flow through the poem.

Make a list of four or five everyday objects. It could be a shell you have found on a beach, a feather, an iPhone. Give each of these objects emotional qualities. Describe them as if they were alive, and had feelings.

Write a poem in the form of a letter. It can be rhymed or in free verse. It can be to someone you know, or a stranger. Or write a letter to yourself.

Write a poem about an experience from the past that includes the following:
person, animal, location, object. Allow each of these to inform the poem in ways that are both physical and emotional.

Poems are like lyrical accidents just waiting to happen. You could be at home listening to music, watching television, out shopping or walking in the park. A poem can be inspired by almost anything. Start with whatever comes to mind, and develop the poem from that spontaneous place.

Write a poem in the voice of another – like a monologue.

There are no hard and fast rules about writing poetry, but sometimes trying something a little bit different like these seven creative writing ideas for writing a poem can help you to push past any blockages to your creativity. 

Happy Writing!



Poetry. Oldiefan.


Writing Poetry: Exploring the Poetic Form

This week we will be continuing the Writing Poetry series and Exploring the Poetic Form.  We will also be looking at some examples of famous poems; and finally, I will present a brief case study of a well respected and accomplished Australian poet, Kenneth Slessor. I will also include a creative writing task which will give you an opportunity to write your own poem.

So why write poetry?

Poetry, for some people, conjures up images of eccentric men or women from the past who wrote poetry by the light of a candle with quill pen in hand, in an archaic language that no one uses any more. Others think of poetry as nothing more than a funny nursery rhyme, or that poetry is only reserved for the educated.

But to understand and appreciate poetry is to understand and appreciate the beauty of the English language. Of course poetry is not just limited to the English speaking world, as many of the poetry forms that are mentioned in this blog originated from around the globe – Italy, Japan, France, etc.

Sir Philip Sidney in his book, Apology for Poetry, summed up poetry as being both an “art of words [and] a moral activity” that allows a writer to express the mysteries of life (1965, p. 59). Building upon these two poetic truths, three things should also be kept in mind when approaching poetry.


1. Poetry does not exist in isolation from what has been created before, so when it comes to writing a poem, a writer must learn from the great poets of the past – Frost, Keats, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Plath, etc. These poets have developed their craft and turned poetry into a respected art form, and have provided a foundation for emerging poets to build upon.


2. Poetry teaches us to be vigilant observers of the world. It opens our eyes and imaginations to the beauty of nature and the uniqueness that can be attributed to the commonplace. And more importantly, poetry allows us to fully express the complexities and mysteries of our human existence.


3. A poem is an intricate “speaking picture” (Sidney, 1966, p. 25) that combines many elements of language (alliteration, assonance, hyperbole, vivid imagery, metaphor, simile), music (meter, flow, sound & rhythm), and structure (enjambment – specific line breaks that determine rhythm and dramatic pauses).

The French poet Paul Valery said it best: “Poetry is a language within a language.” We don’t just read a poem we experience it. And the best way to experience a poem is to speak it out aloud.

Poetry Styles – Exploring Poetic Forms.

Poetry is an incredibly versatile literary form and there are so many styles to explore. Some poems have a specific purpose.

The Elegy can be used as a lament or as a moving remembrance for a person or an event. A famous example of a Elegy is Do not stand at my grave and weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye.

Do not stand at my grave and weep:
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starshine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry:
I am not there; I did not die.

A Ballad combines musical rhyme and vivid imagery to tell a story. A traditional Australian ballad comes to mind – The Man from Snowy River by Banjo Patterson. Here is an excerpt from Patterson’s iconic ballad.

There was movement at the station, for the word has passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses – he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.

Modern musical genres like country and western and rap music also draw upon some elements of the ballad’s form.

Here is a list of the different styles of poetry.

Narrative poem
Traditional Rhyme

Poetry analysis: the Villanelle and the Free Verse Poem.

I have chosen to analyse a Villanelle and a Free Verse poem as these two poetic forms display some stark differences. The villanelle requires a particular structure and rhyming scheme.

A free verse poem does not have to conform to regular patterns of sound and rhyme. A free verse is just like it’s name suggests: it allows the poet freedom to emulate natural human speech patterns and to experiment with irregular line breaks.

How to Write a Villanelle.

  • It contains nineteen lines.
  • It has six stanzas. Five stanzas contain three lines. The final stanza contains four lines (which is called the closing quatrain).
  • The first line of the first stanza is to be repeated as the last line in the second and fourth stanzas.
  • The third line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas.
  • The first and third line of the first stanza are to be repeated as the last two lines (a refrain) in the final stanza.
  • The rhyming scheme is aba.

Also, the villanelle does not conform to any standard metrical pattern, although generally speaking lines should be of the same syllabic length.

Other poetry styles that are similar to the Villanelle are the Sestina and the Pantoum.

This is a villanelle by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas – Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

An example of a Free Verse poem.

During the twentieth century, poetry shifted from the restraints and restrictions imposed by the traditional expectations of rigid meter, rhyming schemes and set forms. Free verse allowed poets to experiment with uneven line breaks, an absence or a limited use of rhyme, and also their subject matter diversified.

In this free verse poem by Charles Bukowski, the rawness of the poet’s voice projects his feelings of life’s meaninglessness into the narrative, as he sees it. Despite Bukowski’s tragic life (he struggled with alcoholism and died of Leukaemia), his talent for turning his life’s pain and angst into a sad but beautiful poem is tangible here.

Are You Drinking?

washed-up, on shore, the old yellow notebook
out again
I write from the bed
as I did last
will see the doctor,
“yes, doctor, weak legs, vertigo, head-
aches and my back 
“are you drinking?” he will ask.
“are you getting your
exercise, your
I think that I am just ill 
with life, the same stale yet
even at the track
I watch the horses run by
and it seems
I leave early after buying tickets on the
remaining races.
“taking off?” asks the motel 
“yes, it’s boring,”
I tell him.
“If you think it’s boring 
out there,” he tells me, “you oughta be
back here.”
so here I am
propped up against my pillows
just an old guy
just an old writer
with a yellow
something is 
walking across the
oh, it’s just 
my cat

Here are some other poetry examples.

An excerpt from a traditional rhyming poem by Emily Dickinson – Because I could not stop for Death. This poem conveys an casual attitude towards death, and compares him to a gentleman caller. My favourites lines are the opening ones:

Because I could not stop for Death – 
He kindly stopped for me – 
The Carriage held but just Ourselves – 
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

Emily Dickinson was one of those poets who was not afraid to deal with the subject of death. She has used wit and commonplace imagery to steal back some of death’s ultimate power that cannot be escaped.

A Sonnet.

A classic example of a sonnet by William Shakespeare.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? 
Thou art more lovely and more temperate: 
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, 
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date: 
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, 
And often is his gold complexion dimmed; 
And every fair from fair sometime declines, 
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimmed; 
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owe’st; 
Nor shall Death brag thou wand’rest in his shade, 
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st: 
   So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, 
   So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. 

The Pastoral.

The Pastoral is a celebration of rural life, and can also draw upon the metaphysical – a deeper contemplation of the role of man and nature.

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota. James Wright.

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

A rhymed stanza.

The Road Not Taken. Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

Case study of an Australian poet – Kenneth Slessor.

One of Australia’s finest poets Kenneth Slessor had the ability to master the poetic form by combining the intricate use of expression, concrete imagery, rhythm, sound, and thought. Beach Burial, which is among the best of Slessor’s poems, uses dramatic imagery from World War II, where “it was not uncommon to find the bodies of drowned men washed up on the beaches [and] buried in the sand hills under improvised crosses, identification usually being impossible” (Slessor 1944, p. 139).

The theme that underlines this poem is not only the devastation of war, but that all of mankind is “engaged together on the common ‘front’ of humanity’s existence [and] that death unites them“ (1944, p. 139).

Slessor was a journalist and war correspondent during World War II and he observed first hand the madness and futility of war. This poignant tribute for the “unknown seamen”, who perished near El Alamein, can also be used as an elegy for those men and women who give their lives in service for their country.

Beach Burial

Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.

Between the sob and clubbing of the gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this;
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon their nakedness;

And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood,
Bears the last signature of men,
Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity,
The words choke as they begin-

‘Unknown seamen’-the ghostly pencil
Wavers and fades, the purple drips
The breath of the wet season has washed their inscriptions
As blue as drowned men’s lips,

Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall,
Whether as enemies they fought,
Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,
Enlisted on the other front.


Creative Task:

Why not try writing your own poem. Use one of the poetry exercises as listed below.

Using William Carlos Williams’ ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ as a model, write your own lyrical poem (8-10 lines) celebrating, using fine imagery, a domestic object we normally take for granted. The purpose of this exercise is give the commonplace special, original qualities.

The Red Wheelbarrow’
so much depends 

a red wheel 

glazed with rain 

beside the white 

Begin a poem with a serious predicament. It could involve people, animals, the law, or a combination of things. Try to resolve the situation in no more than 10 lines. Make a list of four or five objects that you like to have around you. It could be a a piece of sea-smoothed glass, a feather, a stone… Give each of these objects emotional qualities. Describe them as if they were alive, and had feelings.

Write a poem in the form of a letter. It can be rhymed or in free verse. Address someone you know, or a stranger. Or write a letter to yourself.

Write a poem about an experience from the past that includes the following:
person, animal, location, object… Allow each of these to inform the poem in ways that are both physical and emotional.

Write a poem in the form of a letter. It can be rhymed or in free verse. Address someone you know, or a stranger. Or write a letter to yourself.

Write a Villanelle, and be mindful of its specific structure.



Sidney, Sir Philip 1965, An Apology for Poetry, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd and Gregory Shepherd, p.59.

Slessor, P 1944, Selected Poems, ed, Angus & Robertson Publishers, London
Some Notes on the Poems, p. 139.
How to Write a Villanelle is taken from The Making of a Poem, M Strand, E Boland, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, London.





How to Write a Dynamic Poem

This week’s blog is about how to write a poem that will engage your reader. Poetry is such a fascinating and multifaceted aspect of creative writing; it is an expression of life coupled with the imagination.  Writing poetry can be as simple as a few well-placed words that rhyme or it can be a complex arrangement of lines, stanzas, and rhyming patterns.

Poetry opens up an unlimited world of creative possibilities, and once you have a good understanding of the wide range of techniques and styles available, you can craft your own unique expression of life.

An Overview of Poetry.

The history of poetry is as complex as the art form itself, and there have been many debates over the centuries over what constitutes a poem. The origins of poetry stem back to oral tradition, where a poem was used primarily for didactic and entertainment purposes in the form of a ballad. Shakespeare made the Sonnet famous – a poetic form that fuses together a delicate balance of both narrative and lyrical qualities. With the arrival of the printing press and the book, poetry became a highly respected literary style.

What Constitutes a Poem?

Is a poem just a static literary form that must adhere to a particular rhyming pattern, a specific use of language and a rigid structural format?

The traditionalist would argue that a poem should adhere to a strict rhyming pattern and its appearance on the page must not divert from four-lined stanzas that run down the page.

The rebellious modernist would argue that rules are meant to be broken and writing a poem is a free and unfettered craft that is subject only to the artistic whim of the poet.

I think the answer to what constitutes a poem lies in this statement: a poem is the perfect form of creative expression. What is your view?  Does a poem allow a writer to express their feelings, thoughts, and experiences of the world better than a short story?

The 19th-century classical poet and critic Mathew Arnold defined a poem as the ‘most beautiful, impressive, and most widely effective mode of saying things, and hence its importance….’ (Knickerbocker 1925, p. 446). But as grand as this quote sounds, the art of writing a poem is so much more.

Poetry teaches us about the beauty and power of language and the richness of the written word. By using a combination of the available poetic techniques, a writer can find complete freedom in the expression of thoughts, ideas, and feelings.

John Redmond defines a poem as not so much a structure of words, which has to conform to a set of rules and a particular form, but an experiment with being, that has a personality and value of its own; and “…any good poem should make us feel like explorers of a new planet, setting out on a momentous adventure… [a] good poem will try to maintain the openness, the sense of possibility, which every reader feels when they open a book for the first time”(2006, p. 2).

To maintain the openness and the sense of possibility, the poet needs to keep the reader in mind when they are writing a poem, by using language and images that the reader can engage with and therefore feel that they can join the poet in the journey of exploration.

A poem enables the poet to reveal their thoughts or life experiences to the reader through a heightened use of language that appeals to the emotions. It is an invitation from the poet to the reader to undertake a journey of the exploration of ideas. Overall, the poet designs their perfect form of creative expression to engage their reader and to provoke a response.

Here are seven techniques or tools that can help you write a poem that will engage your reader:

You have access to a toolbox that is full of different techniques or poetic devices that will allow you to aptly convey your thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the world such as:

One. Sound. An arrangement of sound (a clever combination of alliteration and assonance – the repetition of consonant and vowel sounds), which creates an internal rhyme and evoke music in our mind when we read the poem out loud. Assonance can create an internal rhyme like this line of poetry by Theodore Roethke “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow…” 

Two.  Enjambment. Enjambment is strategic line breaks that determine meter and rhythm, which can highlight a certain phrase or idea.

Three. Imagery. Imagery allows us to draw upon vivid description to create a word picture.  You can use concrete images, which are images that we can see or feel like the sun or rain, a cat, or a house. Abstract images denote things or concepts we understand but we cannot see or feel like love, freedom or justice. 

Four. Metaphor and Simile. These two figures of speech reveal hidden similarities and compare two ideas for poetic effect.

Five. Rhyme. Rhyme relates to words or lines that end in identical sounds. “Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village, though…” Robert Frost. 

Six. Tone. Tone is a particular use of voice that evokes a certain type of feeling or emotion like melancholy, happy, pensive, sad or angry, which is determined by specific word choice. This is an excerpt from Departure by Edna St. Vincent Millay, which shows a melancholy tone of voice.

I wish I could walk till my blood should spout, 
And drop me, never to stir again, 
On a shore that is wide, for the tide is out, 
And the weedy rocks are bare to the rain.

But dump or dock, where the path I take 
Brings up, it’s little enough I care, 
And it’s little I’d mind the fuss they’ll make, 
Huddled dead in a ditch somewhere.  

Source: Poetry Foundation. 

Seven. Poetry Styles. Explore the many poetry styles available. A poem is a  such a vibrant and versatile art form. There are many composition styles available – Free verse (which does not conform to traditional rhyming stanzas that contain a regular meter or rhythm), or an Elegy that can be used just as a poem or a song that portrays sadness.  

These seven techniques are just a few tools that the poet can access in their toolbox and some of these techniques can be used in writing stories, but they specifically belong to the world of poetry. 

Ultimately, the role of a poem not only serves the purpose of self-expression, but it can teach us something new, and also capture our imaginations and emotions.

If you would like more resources on poetry styles and authors go to the Resources page and click on the link for the Australian Poetry Library and the Poetry Foundation. Or you can have a read of some of my own poetry.


NEXT WEEK: Exploring Poetry Styles.



Knickerbocker, William S 1925. “Matthew Arnold’s Theory of Poetry”. The Sewanee Review 33 (4). Johns Hopkins University Press: 440–50, via Jstor. 

Redmond, John 2006, How to write a poem, Blackwell Publishing, USA. p. 2.



Poetry. Gadini.