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Letters from Yorkshire: Love and Relationships Analysis

Letters from Yorkshire was written by Maura Dooley and published in 2002.

Dooley grew up in Bristol and spent a few years of her adulthood in Yorkshire. After that, she moved to London to teach Creative Writing.

Poem Summary

The speaker describes a man gardening on a cold day in February. He writes to the speaker about seeing the season’s first lapwings (a type of bird). The speaker thinks about their different lives: he gardens outdoors while she writes indoors. She questions whether either type of work is more worthwhile than the other. She then notes that he also uses the written word for his letters to her, and they can stay in contact from a long distance through their exchange of letters.

The poem’s key message:

Writing letters is a powerful way for humans to share their different experiences and connect with others.

Language

  • Dooley uses verbs to show the man at work in his garden – “digging”, “planting”, “breaking ice”, and “clearing the path”. These contrast with more metaphorical verbs used for writing, with the speaker “feeding words” and the man “pouring air and light into an envelope”. This reflects the speaker wondering whether gardening is “more real” than writing, as she questions the worthiness of her work compared to his.
  • Romantic and pleasant language is used to describe the man’s work. The speaker imagines his “knuckles singing”, showing the joy that comes from the man working outdoors with his hands. The alliteration of “planting potatoes” and “seeing the seasons” adds to this gentle, happy image of his working day.
  • A rhetorical question asks, “Is your life more real because you dig and sow?” This remains unanswered, so the reader is invited to consider the worthiness of different types of work.

Structure

  • The first two stanzas show the speaker imagining the man’s day as he gardens.
  • In the third stanza, she compares this to her working life.
  • The final two stanzas show that they have a deep bond even though they live different lives.

Form

  • The first stanza is written with a third-person narrator describing the man going about his work. This could be the speaker, a writer, imagining the man’s life in more literary language.
  • After this, it changes to a first-person narrative from the writer’s perspective. She addresses the man directly with second-person pronouns (“You wouldn’t say so”). This gives the language the feel of a letter being written to another person.
  • It is written in free verse (no regular rhythm or rhyme). This also makes it feel more like a letter written in a natural, free-flowing style.

Themes

ThemeAnalysis
Strong bondsThe connection between the speaker and the man is enhanced by the letters they send each other. She says that he “sends word of that other world”. The “other world” is working outdoors, and by reading about these experiences, she thinks deeply about him and his way of life.

She also shows their bond by saying that their “souls tap out messages”. The use of “souls” gives a sense of their spiritual connection. By sending written messages to each other, they can be spiritually close even when physically separated.
AdmirationThe speaker shows great admiration for the man’s way of living. She shows the physical challenges that he overcomes with his work, such as “breaking ice on a waterbutt” and “clearing a path through snow”. She also thinks enviously of him being able to appreciate nature, “seeing the seasons turning” and “the first lapwings” returning after the winter.
DistanceThe speaker discusses the physical distance between them. This is shown in the title, that these letters come “from Yorkshire”, indicating that she is elsewhere. We also see that their messages are sent “across the icy miles”, which could show that she wishes they had the warmth of physical proximity. But, despite this geographical distance, they keep their emotional closeness by exchanging letters.

Key Quotes to Learn

QuoteWhy is it important?
“his knuckles singing”This shows the joy the speaker imagines the man gets from his gardening. Although his hands are sore, they are “singing” from the satisfaction of the work completed.
“feeding words onto a blank screen”In contrast, her “feeding” words into a “blank screen” sounds tedious and less fulfilling.
“pouring air and light into an envelope”This describes the man’s letters. That they contain “air and light” shows that his words come to life as she reads them, allowing her to imagine his life fully.

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