Glossary

Term: Tone


A poem's tone is the attitude that its style implies. Brian Patten's 'A Blade of Grass' has a tone of sad acceptance toward the loss of childlike wonder that could have accepted the blade of grass, for example; 'The Happy Grass', by Brendan Kennelly, has instead a hopeful tone toward the prospect of peace that the grass represents, tempered by an awareness that there will be graves on which the grass will grow.

Tone can shift through a poem: 'A Barred Owl', by Richard Wilbur, has a first stanza with a comforting, domestic tone, and a second that insists this kind of comfort plays a vicious world false. The shift in tone is part of what is enjoyable about the poem.

How to use this term

U. A. Fanthorpe's 'The Master of the Cast Shadow' begins in a tone of admiration for the painter's skill, but moves into a tone of unease toward the way that skill hides the history behind the images.

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Daljit Nagra

From time to time a poet is in residence at the Poetry Archive, talking about poetry with anyone who wants to join in the conversation.

Comic Verse

I'm troubled, as you can tell by my introduction, about comic verse. Comic verse gets bad press because rigid notions of comedy foreground throwaway poems. Surely the best comedy is when the poem surprises us into laughter rather than setting up t... >