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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

SPELLING, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

"Spelling" is a poem by Canadian author and poet Margaret Atwood, first published in her 1981 collection, "True Stories." The poem explores the power of language and its ability to shape our perception of the world.


The poem begins with a depiction of a classroom where the teacher is drilling the students on spelling. The speaker of the poem then imagines a world where spelling is no longer important and words have lost their meaning, resulting in chaos and confusion. The speaker ultimately concludes that correct spelling is crucial for communication and understanding. The poem contrasts the way in which language is typically taught, with a focus on rules and structure, with the fluidity and creativity of language in everyday life. Atwood highlights the limitations of spelling and grammar rules to fully capture the complexity and richness of human experience.

Poetic Elements:

  • Imagery: Atwood uses vivid descriptions of the natural world, such as "luminous coal," "orange-silver fish," and "liquid moonlight," to create a sense of wonder and mystery.
  • Tone: The tone of the poem is wistful and reflective, as Atwood muses on the inadequacy of language and the transience of human experience.
  • Structure: The poem consists of three stanzas, each with varying line lengths and no consistent rhyme scheme. This lack of formal structure reflects the poem's theme of language's ability to transcend rigid rules and boundaries.


"Spelling" is a poignant reflection on the limitations of language and the power it holds over our perception of the world. Atwood's use of imagery and fluid structure create a sense of wonder and mystery that speaks to the beauty and complexity of human experience.

Poem Snippet:

My daughter plays on the floor

with plastic letters,

red, blue & hard yellow,

learning how to spell,

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