Mothers - 'Mossbawn Sunlight' by Seamus Heaney and 'Not yet my mother' by Owen Sheers

John O'Donoghue


How do poets depict people who have been close to them in their lives? What kind of literary, rhetorical and grammatical features do they choose in portraying characters? How do they shape their poems to explore themes of kinship, relationship, and closeness to others? Using a mixture of textual analysis, creative writing, and sharing of work, this lesson is designed to develop reading, speaking and writing skills through teacher-led activities, pair work and individual writing activity.


To develop and adapt speaking skills and strategies in formal and informal contexts To analyse how writers' use of linguistic and literary features shapes and influences meaning To generate poems, through planning, drafting, and rewriting

Resources needed

Poetry Archive recordings of Owen Sheers reading 'Not Yet My Mother' and Seamus Heaney reading 'Mossbawn Sunlight' Whiteboard linked to the Poetry Archive website for viewing the texts of the poems Students' own photographs of family members or people who are close to them

Teaching sequence of activities


Check all students have photographs of their 'significant other'. Why are they significant? What do we mean by the term 'significant other'? Ask each student to come up with five adjectives to describe their own 'significant other'.


Poets write about their 'significant others' using a variety of means both to describe the person in a poem, and - more subtly - to evoke their relationship. This lesson will explore the ways two poets do this, and, after the class has analysed the two poems, students will write their own poem using some of the techniques uncovered in class. The teacher plays the recording of Owen Sheers reading 'Not Yet My Mother'. Students read the text of the poem as they listen to the recording. Students in pairs discuss the poem and feed back to class, focusing on: ALLITERATION, eg Yesterday I found a photo of you at seventeen, holding a horse and smiling, not yet my mother. The tight riding hat hid your hair, and your legs were still the long shins of a boy's. You held the horse by the halter, your hand a fist under its huge jaw. REPETITION, eg 'yet', 'still', 'seventeen', 'horse', 'smiling' STRUCTURE: the poem is circular, ie ends with the photo, as it opened. But by the end a paradoxical change has taken place. Teacher to check on and prompt discussion by circulating round the class. Then feedback is taken, and points noted on the whiteboard. Repeat this process for Seamus Heaney's poem, Mossbawn Sunlight: Play the recording, as students follow the text. Students then discuss the poem and feed back to class, this time focusing on alliteration, assonance and imagery. The teacher again highlights points on the whiteboard. The teacher now leads a discussion on the two poems, looking in particular for points of similarity and difference, and sums up the kinds of technique each poet uses in order to convey 'the significant other'. Students look at the photos they have brought in. They are asked to 'cluster' (mindmap) around the five adjectives they came up with at the start of the lesson, in order to create a 'verbal palette' from which to 'paint' their poem. For example: young-vulnerable-childlike-toys; cricket bat-cricket-match-summer-ball falling. For more information on clustering, see 'Meade Communications' Students write their own poems using 'clusters'.


Students read finished poems out to class, and share feedback.

Extension Activities

Students take drafts made in class and polish them for homework. Students write a short essay comparing and contrasting the two poems used in this lesson.

Further Reading

Other poems about 'significant others', including 'My Papa's Waltz' by Theodore Roethke, 'Timer' by Tony Harrison and 'Granny Is' by Valerie Bloom.

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