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A-level Literature poetry comparison essay

Hi, I am currently in year 12 studying A-level English Literature with the edexcel exam board and was wondering if anyone would be able to give me feedback on my essay (whether that be feedback containing what level/mark you think it would be worthy of or specific things I could do to improve). The essay question is:
Compare the methods both poets use to explore relationships.
My answer:
In “Two Trees” by Don Paterson and “EAT ME” by Patience Agbabi, both poets explore relationships through distinct methods, drawing upon the intricate and sometimes toxic nature of relationships. While “Two Trees” reflects on the interconnectedness and fragility of relationships through the utilisation of the metaphor of two grafted trees, “EAT ME” delves into the objectification and degradation within a toxic relationship.

The title of “EAT ME” is symbolic within itself; it symbolises the growth of the words as the poem evolves, mirroring the growth of the third-person narrator who becomes “too fat to leave…” Moreover, the title is also written as an imperative showing that “He” commands her in all stages of her life, even the food can be perceived as commanding her although he is ultimately the voice behind the entirety of it. Additionally, there may be an allusion to ‘Alice in Wonderland’ due to the associations “EAT ME” carries with the book, where Alice grows larger after consuming the piece of cake labelled “EAT ME”. This highlights the unnatural and fantastical nature of the poem, as nothing about the relationship depicted is normal or normalised. Alice is to some presented as being mentally unwell which emphasises the level of sickness this is associated with; perhaps the poet is suggesting that an individual must be sick in order to do such a thing to another human being, it is simply abnormal and in some ways even sickening to read. The relationship between the narrator and “him” is further explored through the continuous link to Alice in Wonderland, the speaker is presented at the beginning of the poem as being of a childish nature and very submissive to the authority her partner carries over her, she quite simply does as she is told despite it having negative consequences on her (to which it is hinted she is aware of) and there is a strong suggestion that “he” is the adult figure in the relationship because he essentially ‘cares for her’ and provides for her as a result of her rapidly increasing weight and the limitations that are simultaneous with it.

While, in “Two Trees” Don Paterson explores the theme of interconnectedness and fragility within relationships through the utilisation of the metaphor of two grafted trees which may symbolise two individuals in a relationship, whether that be romantic or platonic is perhaps due to interpretation. The act of grafting the orange into the lemon tree symbolises the desire for unity within a relationship, reflecting human impulse to intertwine with others when a connection is present and mutual. However, the eventual separation of the two trees highlights the inevitable dissolution and loss that can occur within a relationship and in a way, this imagery is prevalent in every relationship since everyone must part eventually due to death. Therefore, this metaphor of the two trees can be utilised within a wider context and applied to ultimately all relationships. The poem's setting, suggested to most likely be a rural area of some sorts, adds a sense of timelessness and reinforces the university to the metaphor, reinforcing once again the universal inevitability of connecting with an individual and departing from them.

In the opening stanza of “EAT ME”, the poet introduces the imagery of “three layers of icing” which serves as a metaphor for the narrator’s current (and continuous) weight gain. This progression reflects the deterioration of the relationship, a common theme in many abusive dynamics. The repeated use of the assonance with “A” and “E” underscores the abnormal nature of this relationship, suggesting that while each woman may experience unique circumstances, there is a universal aspect to the conformity and manipulation inherent in abusive relationships (where the woman is the abused). Additionally, the imagery of the white cake acts as a symbol of innocence or purity, possibly reflecting the initial perception of the narrator by her partner as a blank canvas to be moulded according to his desire and societal expectations of women’s roles within a relationship. Furthermore, the inscription of “EAT ME” on the cake may allude to the suffragette movement, subtly referencing the struggles women face with their relationship with food and the prevalence of eating disorders around the world, emphasising the universal nature of the poem despite it being seemingly extremely unique. This symbolism hints at the narrator’s internal resistance and desire to protest against the control exerted over her, reminiscent of the suffragettes’ acts of protest through hunger strikes, which may also foreshadow the eventual outcome of this disturbing relationship.

Turning to Don Paterson’s “Two Trees”, the poem’s structure characterised by its progression through distinct stages, reflect the development and eventual destruction of the relationship. The poem begins with Don Miguel’s intention for the trees, setting the stage for the interconnectedness of the trees and the potential, growth and unity. This introduction is followed by a series of twelve-line stanzas, each detailing a different stage in the trees’ development, perhaps mirroring the stages prevalent within a relationship. The first stanza symbolises the attempt to merge two separate individuals into one cohesive unit, as time passes, the trees become increasingly intertwined, with “limbs… so tangled up” that they appear to give a “double crop”, suggesting a deepening of their connection over the years echoing that of a human relationship which strengthens over time. However, this overwhelming sense of unity is shattered in the final stanza, as the new owner of the house maliciously severs the connected trees, symbolising the abrupt and devastating end of the relationship. Despite this departure, the poem concludes with a reflection on the resilience of the trees and the universality of their experiences, highlighting the timeless nature of human relationships. Perhaps by using trees within the poem, Paterson suggests that much like trees, connections between two living things, whether that be people, animals or nature have somewhat always be around, it is simply embedded in an individual to grow connections to something else which is explicit in people's relationships with their dogs, their parents, their siblings; it is in some ways, a universal consensus. Furthermore, the use of the rhyming couple in the final two lines, “They were trees, and trees don’t weep or ache or shout. And trees are all this poem is about”, further emphasises the cyclical nature of life and the enduring presence of the natural world amidst human turmoil and suggests that the two are perhaps more alike than many are aware.

In conclusion, the exploration of relationships in both Patience Agbabi’s “EAT ME” and Don Paterson’s “Two Trees” provides readers with a deeper understanding of the dynamics within relationships and the somewhat universal desire one has to love and be loved. Agbabi captures the darker side to a relationship where a woman is objectified and degraded by her lover, reflecting female oppression and resilience through the third-person narrator while Paterson explores the connection built up over time within a relationship and the departure which is arguably inevitable through the process of life. The differing presentations of relationships and the exploration by each poet may leave readers with a broader view of all relationships they have experienced so far and perhaps impact the way in which they approach new ones within the future; keeping in mind that much like ‘Two Trees’ we are all more connected than we are aware of.

Thank you!

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