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Taking your first steps into higher education
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4.1 Effects

Most texts are intended to have some sort of effect on the reader, and the Barrett-Browning sonnet was intended to have a particular effect on you. Do not be tempted to concentrate only on what techniques are used in a text, or on what you think it might mean. Note, as accurately as you can, what your responses are. So, by looking carefully at how a text strikes you, you are trying to engage very directly with the author.

Here are three steps to help you to note as fully as possible the effects that a text has on you.

  1. Your initial response

    Note the points that strike you after your first reading. For example, you might simply say things like:

    • a. ‘I like some of it.’
    • b.‘The language is old and so I find it difficult to understand.’
    • c.‘The opening grabbed me.’
  2. Your second response

    Use this list of six questions to try to probe your responses a little more. Try to apply each of these questions to the texts you study.

    • a.Do you like the text?
    • b.Describe your reaction to the text as fully as possible. Are there any parts that strike you more than others?
    • c.Is there anything in the text that you feel is too obvious to mention?
    • d.Do you have any feelings about the text which you are not clear about – for example, mixed feelings about whether you like it or not?
    • e.Did your responses change as you analysed this text?
    • f.Have you had similar responses to other poems (for example, the Shakespeare or the Frost)? If you have, looking at these other texts again might help you.
  3. Other responses

    At this point, you might want to leave the poem for a little while, and then come back to it. Read it again, and consider for a moment, have any of your responses changed? Are there questions you find yourself asking without quite having a clear answer yet? Does the poem evoke a similar response to a lyric you know, or a film you have seen, or a scene in a novel you know?

In trying to consider as many aspects of the effects of a text as possible, one invaluable approach is to think how it might have different effects on other people. Think of three or four people whose feelings you could guess at, or who are likely to see things differently from you, in at least some ways. You could also ask people outright how they would respond to the text.