In February, digging his garden, planting potatoes, he saw the first lapwings return and came indoors to write to me…Letters from Yorkshire – Maura Dooley.
Beyond returns to provide even more AQA Love and Relationships poem revision for GCSE English. This week, we’re looking at Letters from Yorkshire by Maura Dooley, exploring:
- Letters from Yorkshire context
- Letters from Yorkshire structure
- Letters from Yorkshire analysis
Are you comfortable? Let’s begin…
Letters from Yorkshire Context
Letters from Yorkshire is a modern poem by the poet, Maura Dooley. She was born in Truro in Cornwall in 1957 but is of Irish descent. She grew up in Bristol and then attended the University of York.
She has published a number of poetry collections over the years. In 1997, her poem ‘The Message’ won the Forward Poetry Prize. Both the Kissing a Bone anthology (1996) and Life Under Water (2008) were short-listed for the T. S. Eliot Prize.
She has lived in a number of places in her life, although she has now settled in London where she teaches Creative Writing at Goldsmiths University. She once lived in Yorkshire and Letters from Yorkshire is possibly influenced by the homesickness felt upon receiving letters from a friend in Yorkshire.
The title of the poem reflects the subject matter exactly. Dooley writes about the experience of receiving letters from a friend in Yorkshire while living in London. She contrasts her daily life of ‘feeding words’ into her computer with the letter writer’s life of quiet, physical pursuits ruled by the seasons. In the opening stanza, the letter writer is planting potatoes and looks up to see some birds returning in their annual migration. He goes inside to write to her. Dooley describes what he writes as ‘pouring air and light’ into an envelope, indicating that the letters give her hope and a sense of the fresh air of the countryside.
- Letters from Yorkshire is a modern poem by the poet, Maura Dooley
- Dooley was born in Cornwall 1957 but is of Irish descent
- Dooley now loves in London
- Letters from Yorkshire is possibly influenced by the homesickness felt upon receiving letters from a friend in Yorkshire
- The poem’s opening stanza explores the idea of the natural world, in contrast to her London-based living
Letters from Yorkshire Structure
The poem is written in first person and probably reflects the poet’s own experiences as we know she once lived in Yorkshire and remembers it fondly. This first-person narration makes the poem’s message more potent and personal and we feel the connection between the pair. While the letter writer is referred to as ‘he’ in the first stanza, he quickly becomes ‘you’, again indicating a closer relationship as she turns to speaking to him directly.
The poem is written in free verse, meaning there is no regular rhyme, rhythm or line length. Everything is varied and changeable in the poem, just like the seasons she writes about. The lines flow from one to the next with much use of enjambment. This gives the sense of real speech or perhaps the style of the letter written by the man in the poem. The lack of formality in the poem suggests the personal closeness of the pair. Enjambment is used to particular effect in the words ‘seasons/turning’ as the change of the seasons is mirrored in the change from one stanza to the next.
- The poem is written in first person
- This first-person narration makes the poem’s message more potent and personal
- The poem is written in free verse, meaning there is no regular rhyme, rhythm or line length
- Everything is varied and changeable in the poem
- The lines flow from one to the next with much use of enjambment
- The lack of formality in the poem suggests the personal closeness of the speaker and subject
- Enjambment is used to particular effect in the words ‘seasons/turning’
Letters from Yorkshire Analysis
The poem is one of contrasts, her life in London and the letter writer’s in Yorkshire. The letter writer’s actions are discussed at length, allowing for much use of verbs throughout the descriptions of his life. This gives his life an added potency and vitality that hers does not seem to have. He is described as ‘digging’, ‘planting’, ‘pouring’, ‘breaking’ and ‘clearing’ while she is simply described as ‘feeding words’ into her computer.
We see the poet mulling over the ideas of connectedness to nature. She writes about a male friend who might have a ‘life more real’ because he plants and grows and works with his hands in the natural environment. Dooley may question whether his life is more real than hers because of this but she clearly romanticises the life lived close to nature. The line ‘It’s not romance, simply how things are’ might actually indicate a discussion the two really had, him stating that his life is not romantic while she insists on painting it in a rosy hue.
She sees his actions as more noble than her own: she is ‘feeding words’ into the computer (a thankless task perhaps) while he is ‘planting potatoes’ and feeding people. The screen is ‘blank’ indicating its mundanity and lifelessness. It has none of the lyrical quality of his ‘knuckles singing’ from the cold. In the lines about the letter writer you feel the cold and then the contrast of the warmth indoors. The image of his knuckles ‘singing’ or stinging and then reddening in the warmth is so much more real than anything the narrator says about her own life.
For the narrator, the natural world the letter writer lives in is ‘that other world’. It is so different from the one where she sits with a ‘heartful of headlines’, perhaps indicating a lack of ability to take in anything else as she works. The term ‘heartful’ is interesting when used with something so clinical like ‘headlines’. The alliteration here highlights how wrongly the two words seem to go together as though she struggles with the concept of finding passion and ‘heart’ in her work.
She uses the words ‘word’ and ‘world’ close together in the second last stanza. These two alliterative words remind us of the connectedness/closeness of the pair in the poem but also the difference in their lives and situations. The otherworldliness of his life is further enhanced when she explains that it is him who sends word of his life and that this news of the natural world is like ‘pouring air and light’ into the envelope. His world of nature is all that is ‘light’ and airy in the world, a wonderful separation from, what she sees as, the mundanity of her daily grind.
Their closeness with one another is reworked in the last line when she describes ‘our souls’ tapping out messages. Their letter writing is not a simple act of friendship, their ‘souls’ are connected through it in a kind of magical way. Finally, the miles between his natural world and her in her office are ‘icy’, indicating that this distance is not a welcome one.
This poem could be compared to ‘Follower’ when thinking about how a poet looks at nature and the human connection to the natural world. ‘Neutral Tones’ and ‘Winter Swans’ also deal with the natural world to some degree. ‘The Farmer’s Bride’ also uses a character with a strong connection to the natural world. There is some evidence of desire and longing in the poem and it could also be used to consider the things poets have to say about distance in the collection.
- The poem is one of contrasts
- The subject of the poem is described as ‘digging’, ‘planting’, ‘pouring’, ‘breaking’ and ‘clearing’ while she is simply described as ‘feeding words’ into her computer
- For the narrator, the natural world the letter writer lives in is ‘that other world’
- Dooley may question whether his life is more real than hers because of this but she clearly romanticises the life lived close to nature
- His world of nature is all that is ‘light’ and airy in the world, a wonderful separation from, what she sees as, the mundanity of her daily grind
- Their closeness with one another is reworked in the last line when she describes ‘our souls’ tapping out messages
Letters from Yorkshire Lesson Pack from Beyond
If you’re in need of more Letters from Yorkshire revision, this lesson pack from Beyond might help!
So that at night, watching the same news in different houses, our souls tap out messages across the icy miles…Letters from Yorkshire – Maura Dooley.
Explore even more set texts from the AQA GCSE English syllabus here.