Elements of Poetry

Poems are forms of literary work that have hidden meaning and require keen analysis to understand the work is vital. Some of the elements found in poems are; sound and sense, assonance, meter, form, imagery, speaker, listener, lineation and consonance among others. Based on these elements, poems tend to differ or have similarities. “Twelve-Hour Shifts” is a poem written by Jill Macdonough that focuses on the life of a drone pilot. The drone pilot goes through a lot of hectic time while watching out for enemies and using robots in wars. The other poem to analyze, “What Work Is” by Philip Levine, is about a laborer who goes to seek a job in an automobile plant. The speaker is not sure whether he/she will get the job or not because the person hiring employees can decide not to hire a particular person based on whichever reason he/she pleases. The two poems above are similar in evoking emotions, use of imagery and in citing economic and social aspects of the society but are different in terms of who the listener is, the choice of imagery and form as discussed further in this paper.

Sociological Criticism

The two poems can be criticized from the sociological perspective. Sociological criticism looks at the social, political, and economic ideas presented by the author. Using the Marxist approach, it is clear that Levine cites the social inequalities existing in the society. The narrator presents the employer being unfair by saying, “No we are not hiring today,” for any / reason he wants” (Levine 20-22). People go looking for jobs but are not sure whether they will get any due to the inequalities in the society. Conversely, McDonough focuses on the struggles people go through to reach economic stability. She says, “another day, / another dollar” (McDonough 10-11). People have to work in tiresome jobs for so many hours in order to get a dollar. The two poets therefore made their attitude toward social and economic ideas in the society clear.

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In both poems, work has an impact on the listeners. In the poem “What Work Is”, the listener is the one who can relate to working or looking for jobs. The work affects him/her so that he/she does not get time for their loved ones. The speaker asks the listener, “How long has it been since you told him / you loved him” (Levine 33-34). This indicates that the listener spends a lot of time either working or seeking a job which makes him/her be short of time to spend with the people he/she loves. Similarly, in the poem “Twelve-Hour Shifts”, the listeners are the citizens who enjoy protection by those people who are working (drone pilots). The drone pilots work hard fighting the enemies in the air but, the listeners are ignorant. The poem says, “It’s done in our names, but we don’t have to know” (McDonough 21).The speaker says this to explain to the listeners how those pilots are important because if they stopped working, the lives of the listeners would be in danger. Hence in both poems, the listeners are affected by the work described.

Another similarity in both poems is that the demography of the listeners is not known. Even if the listeners in “What Work Is” are those working or looking for jobs, the poem does not specify whether the listeners are male or female, young or old. Similarly, in “Twelve-Hour Shifts” the gender or age of the listener is not specified. These two poems have therefore not cited the demography of the listeners.

Although, the poems differ in terms of who the listeners are, in the poem “Twelve-Hour Shifts”, the listeners are those people who benefit from the services of the military. The protagonist says that, “It’s done in our names… / Our own lives, shifts, hours, bounced off screens all day” (McDonough 21-22) showing how drone pilots work day and night in shifts while those who enjoy the safety continue with their normal lives. On the contrary, the listeners in “What Work Is” are those people who are working or looking for jobs. In the poem, the speaker says, “We stand in the rain in a long line / waiting at Ford Highland Park” (Levine 1-2). The listener here is that person in the queue waiting to get a job. In the next lines the poet speaks to those who already have jobs, “You know what work is – if you’re / old enough to read this you know what / work is” (Levine 3-5). The person being referred to here already has a job therefore understands the hustle of getting one. The listeners in the two poems are therefore different.

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Imagery uses words to create sensations or images in the readers’ minds. Levine creates a clear picture of what job seekers go through. In the poem, the poet says, “Feeling the light rain falling like mist / into your hair, blurring your vision” (Levine 8-9). Levine makes the readers feel as if they are in the queue in the rain. In a way, the reader understands what seeking work feels like. Another image is when the speaker asks the listener when the last time he/she had a good time with the brother was. The listener feels “love flooding” (Levine 24) for his/her brother, yet he/she does not get time to kiss, hug or talk to him.

In the poem by McDonough, she describes the place from where the pilot controls the drone as a “small room, pilot chair, the mic and headphones / crowd his mind” (McDonough 9-10). The room is described in such a manner that the reader can get a sensation of how small it is. The items in that room are so few creating a clear image of the limited space the pilot has to work in. In addition, the drone pilot works twelve-hour shifts while other twelve spends with the family but it is not enough. The picture gives a feeling of how the pilot does not get time to play with kids or go to the gym.

The use of imagery in the two poems is similar in that it is used to evoke emotions of the reader. Levine uses imagery to stir up the emotions of the reader in order to sympathize with the person who goes through misery while seeking a job making him/her lack time for the people he/she loves. Similar emotions are evoked by McDonough when she describes the situation of a drone pilot who only gets twelve hours of free time which are not enough to spend with the family. Additionally, the feeling of depression is deepened by the fact that the pilot works for people who do not care for his work (McDonough).

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However, the difference exists in the use of the descriptive elements in the imagery. Levine uses natural phenomena such as rain and light to create an image of the struggle a job seeker goes through. On the contrary, McDonough uses artificial features such as a microphone, a chair and headphones to create a clear picture of what the room of a drone pilot looks like. The two poems utilize imagery but the exact means of creating a visual perception used in the poems differ.

Another difference is the area the imagery is settled in. McDonough’s imagery creates a picture of one that is very specific regarding the environment that the speaker wants to address. “A drone pilot works a twelve-hour shift, then goes home / …Twelve hours later he comes back” (McDonough 1-3). The reader gets a clear picture of the place where the drone pilot operates in. At the same time, in the poem “What Work Is”, the author is not specific about the area  the imagery is to do with . The job seeker gets rained on somewhere outside the queue but it is hard to specifically define the place. The imagery is hence used to describe the places employing different approaches.


Poetic form is the physical structure of a poem, namely, the way the poem looks like and  sounds. The two poems can be referred to the narrative form of poetry. Narrative poems tend to tell a story which has characters, a plot, and narration. In “What Work Is”, the character is a job seeker; the story starts from the point when the character goes to look for a job and ends with the character considering his/her life. At the same time, McDonough’s narration is about a drone pilot (the character). The plot focuses on the shifts at home and in the workplace and the protagonist’s feelings. Therefore, each poem has a character, a plot and narration, hence they both fall under the definition of narrative poems.

The poems, however, differ in terms of structure. McDonough’s poem is arranged in the form of four lines to make six stanzas. It is only the last stanza that has five lines instead of four. The poem can be categorized as a quatrain poem. Levine’s poem is not divided into specific stanzas. This poem is rather a free verse poem since the author has not followed any rules to create the lines. Furthermore, the lines in “What Work Is” have a common rhyme scheme: the ends of the first lines of the stanzas rhyme with the words in the last lines. For instance the first line of the first stanza ends with “home” and the last line in the first stanza ends with “drone” (McDonough). Conversely, Levine’s poem has no specific rhyme. The ending sounds have no specific pattern.

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Just like any other literary work, poems are created to pass specific information to the intended audience. The idea being conveyed may not be literal, which requires the reader to think critically. Comparing and contrasting involves looking for the elements that are similar and those that differ in the poems under analysis.

The poems “Twelve-Hour Shifts” and “What Work Is” are similar in terms of evoking emotions, the imagery created and the narrative form employed. In addition, they are focused on indicating the social and economic conditions in the society. Nevertheless, the two poems have different listeners, use different features to create imagery and they differ in terms of structure.

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