Discuss the shifts of register and their effects i

n the following twopoems: Thomas Gray, “On a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes”
and James Kirkup, “A Correct Compassion”. You should make use of the
following terms where appropriate: field, tenor, mode, intertextuality.

The shift of register and the effect it has in poetry can make a major
impact on the reader.Thomas Gray, “On a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub
of Gold Fishes, and James Kirkup’s “A Correct Compassion”, both equally
make use of this effect and by examining both poem’s in detail we will see
how effective this can be.Also we will look at their style and use of
different fields and modes of language. They may use and include,
intertexuality, as it may add to the substance and feeling of the poem.

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We will examine what comparisons in style the poets have and where they
possibly got their inspiration and genius from.

The poem “On a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes” was written
in 1747 and Thomas Gray expertly uses shifts in register to relate
information to the reader. His choice of words, colour, and reference to
Greek heroism enables the reader to see the comparisons between the two
parallels and this helps explain the subject of his poem.The
intellectual use of register communicates important information to his
audience, through certain modes and fields of language.He uses
intertexuality to make references from other centuries and their society to
convey knowledge to the reader to help them comprehend the moral or proverb
in the poem.Poets like Shakespeare, and Chaucer have influenced Gray,
and we will see why he borrowed from their works, and by examining his
choice of words, and morals used it will become clear they helped to put
across his own statement.

The poet shifts and mixes vocabulary by changes of register and using
different lexical fields to structure the poem.From the title, the poet
captures the reader’s imagination by his choice of heading “On a Favourite
Cat Drowned in a Tub of ‘Gold’ Fishes. Straight away the word ‘gold’ is
used and it creates a curiosity in the reader, and we question, is there
possibly is a moral to this story?The semantic field of colour is used
to put emphasis on the colour gold, and this mention of gold recurs
throughout the poem, mainly the brightness, and gleam of gold. In line 17:
“Through richest purple” a colour also used by the poet, and the colour
was also regularly used in medieval texts to signify religious
connotations, or regal.Gray, uses the colour purple to make historical
reference to the famous battle between Aeneus and Turnus, where the Greek
heroin Camilla dies. The colour of her armour was gold and she was
“Betray’d a golden gleam” (Line 18).The poets word choice and reference
to the gleam of the water, but importantly the intertexuality that connects
the gleam of Chloreas’s armour made of gold and purple, and the fact that
it caught Camilla’s eye in battle, and led to the golden bow that killed

This shift of register to make the reader realize there are comparisons
and links between the greek heroin and the real world, and subsequent moral
of the poem.He uses lexical bundles of works to show the brightness,
words like gleam and gold. The feline cat was drawn into the water by the
hunger, and desire to catch the fish, but was drowned. This also happened
when the heroin Camilla, charged in, lusting for battle and heroism, but it
ended in tragedy, as she was killed. The two parallels that the poet uses
to relate his message.The other moral or myth used is a cat has nine
lives, and in Line 31 we are told the cat “emerged eight times”, before
drowning and calling on “every watery God, changing register from the
social situation to the Roman God of the sea ‘Neptune’.James Kirkup
again shifting continuously, from one register to another to create effect
and impact, as he states: “no Dolphin came” relating to the story of Arion
carried on the dolphin’s back, then immediately he goes back to reality and
uses the word choice of: “no Tom nor Susan heard” and a cat that is male
is called a tom cat.He mixes the sociolinguistic language with more
historical, and mythical related characters and words to explain his points
to the reader.

This symbolic mode of communication relates to the reader feedback from
another era to help understand the subject of the poem and prepare the
reader for the outcome of the poem or story being told. Thomas Gray uses
this method of contact admirably. The intertexuality helps the reader
understand the poem and see what the moral of the poem is.Gray’s moral
is;if the cat had saw ‘gold’ in the water and not ‘fish’ she would not
have fallen in, so therefore she would still be alive. This runs parallel
to Camilla when she foolishly looked at glittering trifles, the glitzy
armour Choreas’s was adorned in, and lost her life. Both are of the female
gender and seen as unwise.

Gray makes reference to Dryden’s “Alexander’s Feast” in the first verse of
the poem, a mock heroism, again parallel to the greek heroism.The
intertexuality proving to add depth and it helps the reader understand the
subject of the poem He uses the sematic field of colour borrowed from
Chaucer, and the proverb “All that glitters is not gold” used by Chaucer in
“A Yeman’s Tale”, and Shakespeare in “The Merchant of Venice”.All these
factors contribute to his ability to use the linguistics of language but
also his great knowledge of history and other poets to create a key impact
on the reader. This mode of communication is also used by the poet James

In the poem “A Correct Compassion” by James Kirkup, the poet uses shifts of
register to help the reader understand the poem. He uses Lexical fields in
his structure of the poem, and this makes reference to the real world to
help the reader relate to what is happening in the poem.The semantic
field of colour is again being used to emphasize and create a vivid image
to the reader. James Kirkup uses tenor to create and portray dramatic
images of the scene and autopsy that is being performed.He uses
intertextuality but not in the same way as Gray, he uses it more in a
rhetoric sense to convey the subject to the reader, a different mode of

The poem from the onset makes references to a sterile clean procedure that
is about to take place with word choices like “Cleanly” (Line 1), and
“Glistening theatre” (line 5) which makes us think of an operation being
performed.The bright clean theatre and in contrast the register shifts
to the brightness of the” lamps”, (Line 16) “illuminations” (Line 17) all
these words have been chosen by the poet to emphasise the brightness and
clean Sterile conditions.Also to put light on the subject of the poem,
the female patient who is deceased and has no memory of what is being done,
as they perform an autopsy to establish cause of death. He expertly uses
the register to make his point.

Kirkup uses fields of language and tenor to convey his statement and the
subject of the poem to the reader. The lexical field or semantic field of
colour again used with the colour green that is mentioned: “The green-
clothed tables” (line 6) and the shift of register at certain times to the
natural world, to make an important comparison with quotes like a “tent of
green”, (line 15) as he compares the green sterile sheets to a tent. He
tells us there is a cover, that is like a shield of protection over the
woman, but then by breading up the register again to say: “A garland of
flowers unfurls across the painted flesh” (line 21) which takes us out into
the natural world again with flowers and nature, also the flowers that will
be present at the patients funeral.The poet uses tenor with the use of
a simile to help the reader visualise the procedure, and expertly uses it
again with moverment of register.This takes the reader back to the real
world, away from the medical terminology and more formal genre of the poem.

The tenor works well throughout the poem with quotes like: “The pink
black-mottled lung like a revolted creature heaves” (line 29)and this
emotive language gives the reader a vivid image of darkness and death, and
through the shift of register we see the contrast with the brightness of
the lights and the natural world of the living. In line (39) we also see
this when the poet states: “The heart, black-veined, swells like a fruit
to burst” and the imagery is so apparent to the reader, the black that
symbolises death, as they are not in this world anymore.Kirkup again
moving the register to the natural world by saying: “The watchers breathe
an air far sweeter, rather than the room’s. The cold wall listens.” (Lines

We understand that the surgeons are alive and breathing but the coldness of
the patient is seen by the: “cold walls” in the operating room.The poet
skilfully moves the register to make this effective, but also to make it
clearer to the listener so they will comprehend it, and understand the
subject of the poem. Death. The woman is dead but they operate on her
just as if she was alive and she is undergoing a surgical procedure, and
they treat her with the compassion and dignity she deserves.

James Kirkup by creating this lucid image for the reader, so we can relate
to the way the patient was treated with decorum in death, as this is the
point the poet is trying to convey through his writing.We appreciate the
way he can expertly moves the register from the autopsy that is taking
place to the natural world, to convey a point to the reader, but mainly to
help with our interpretation of the complex medical terms.His use of
tenor in this poem is vital, as it shows the reader the black and darkness
of death, and what caused the death of this patient. The formal genre with
medical terminology is broken up by the shifts of register to outside of
the room and even as far as the walls in the room.This ability is an art
and James Kirkup demonstrates his genius to us throughout the poem.

The two poets have comparisons in their style of writing especially using
the lexical fields of colour terms and change of vocabulary by shifts of
register.They both use words like ‘gleam’ to emphasis the brightness.

James Kirkup uses tenor more than Gray to show a visual image to the
reader, whereas, Gray uses certain semantic fields that are of cultural and
historical importance to the poem and they help convey his message to the
reader.Many references are made by him to greek heroism, which skilfully
shifts the register to another century to explain the moral of the poem.

This complements the more informal mode of register used to tell the story
of the cat drowning. He also uses historical references from other poets
and their work through his poetry which makes these poets live on through
the decades.These two poets have similar styles of writing but their
poems are totally different in content and what the story was about. The
main comparison is they were about the same subject, ‘death’.Their word
choices were similar to give the reader a visual image of glittering and
gleaming and using the semantic field of colour again to explain the
reason for death. The gender chosen by both men was also female, and they
both met their Gods. They were both masters at shifting the register to
present their subject to the reader.