Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, CONTRASTS, by JOHN NICHOL

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

CONTRASTS, by                

"Contrasts" by John Nichol is a thought-provoking poem that explores the stark differences between two individuals. The poem delves into the themes of greatness, success, and the contrasting paths taken by the speaker and the subject. Through vivid imagery and introspective reflection, Nichol invites readers to contemplate the complexities of character and the consequences of choices made.

Provenance and Context:

"Contrasts" was written by John Nichol (1833-1894), a Scottish poet and biographer. Nichol's works often delve into the human psyche, exploring themes of identity, ambition, and the contradictions within individuals. "Contrasts" exemplifies Nichol's ability to capture the nuances of human character and present them in a compelling and reflective manner.

Theme Analysis:

The central theme of "Contrasts" revolves around the juxtaposition of two individuals and their contrasting paths in life. The poem examines the concept of greatness and success from different perspectives, highlighting the divergent approaches taken by the speaker and the subject. It explores the consequences of these choices and reflects on the lasting impact they have on their lives. The speaker acknowledges that while they may have taken a more cautious and restrained path, the subject has chosen a grander and more assertive approach. The subject possesses qualities of leadership and authority, as seen in phrases like "the eye that claims command" and "the kinglier way." This implies that the subject's choices align with traditional notions of success and greatness. On the other hand, the speaker admits to having pursued a different course, one that may have been more measured and virtuous in terms of personal virtues and achievements. However, the speaker feels a sense of regret and acknowledges that their path may have been less grand but also less burdened by the pressures of expectation.

Poetic Devices:

Nichol employs various poetic devices to convey the contrasting nature of the characters in the poem. The use of imagery, such as "He had all the march of a monarch" and "I am a broken pillar," vividly portrays the difference in their stature and accomplishments. The poem also utilizes repetition, as seen in the repeated references to the subject's success and the speaker's struggle. This emphasizes the stark contrast between their paths and enhances the thematic impact of the poem.

Rhyme Scheme:

"Contrasts" follows a consistent rhyme scheme, with an ABAB pattern in each stanza. This regular rhyme scheme contributes to the musicality of the poem and provides a sense of rhythm and structure. The use of rhyme also serves to unify the contrasting ideas presented in each stanza, creating a harmonious flow to the poem.


In conclusion, "Contrasts" explores the consequences of divergent choices made by the speaker and the subject. The subject's path leads to immediate success and admiration, but it may be accompanied by shallowness and a lack of self-awareness. In contrast, the speaker's path may be filled with struggle and introspection, leading to a deeper understanding of oneself. Nichol's poem prompts readers to consider the trade-offs between external success and inner growth, encouraging us to reflect on the choices we make in pursuit of greatness..

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