Mood, Attitude and Tone in Poetry - English Poetry Notes

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  • Mood refers to the feelings you get when you read a poem or the atmosphere that surround events in a poem and that could influence how the reader or the audience feels after reading or listening to the poem.
  • A poem that centres on a funeral/death will certainly have a sorrowful or sad mood, whereas, one that centres on a wedding or any celebration of an achievement should have a happy, contented or jovial mood.

Adjectives for Mood in Poetry

Serene/calm respectful happy fearful sorrowful sombre melancholic jovial reflective/meditative angry nostalgic thoughtful


  • Attitude refers to the feelings that the persona has towards the subject the persona is talking about. For instance, in the poem the persona may describe someone who is corrupting children and oppressing people using words like disgusting, blemish, rogue etc. We can define attitude into two:
    • The poets attitude towards his subjects (what he is writing about)
    • A poet may choose to write about attitudes that are not his. His subjects (characters in his poem) can have their own attitudes towards one another or towards a certain issue e.g in the poem, ‘Building the Nation (9) what is the drivers attitude towards the PS? Sometimes a poet may show disapproval without using negative words.
      In the poem, ‘Cow for breakfast’(16) the author 
      disapproves his subject without using negative words instead he makes us laugh at him. This is called satire. Satire is the mocking or ridiculing or ridiculing people and their characteristics to expose their foolishness and weaknesses.
      In the poem, cow for breakfast (16) greed is satirized without being mentioned. In satire the poet attacks indirectly.
  • The attitude therefore would be resentful or hateful or even malicious. If the persona uses polite and loving terms to describe an event or a person like charming, amiable, kind etc. Then the attitude of the persona towards the subject is approving, welcoming, sympathetic etc. It is important to use the persona’s words in determining his or her attitude towards the subject.

Adjectives for Attitude in Poetry

Joyous angry sad cold Warm agreeable contemptuous calm delightful kind trustful sadistic cheerful playful appreciative fearful resentful



  • Tone refers to the nature of the voice used in a poem. It is important to know what the poem is talking about in order to identify the tone of the persona. The tone of the persona is closely influenced by the attitude towards the subject and the general mood of the poem. For instance, if the persona loved the subject and his attitude towards it was loving; if the subject is dead, then the tone would be sad, if the subject is around it might be loving tone etc. If the persona is a father talking to a son in a polite way then the tone can be patronizing.

Adjectives for Tone in Poetry

Sarcastic, remorseful, obnoxious, dull, guilty, alarmed, fresh, dreary, light, startled, sadistic, happy, heavy, horrified, secular, sad, quizzical /inquisitive, disgruntled, political, narcissistic, sardonic/ mocking, hurtful, social, devoted, foolish, loving, liberal/democratic, bitter/sour, sympathetic, mysterious, conservative, angry, intelligent/enlightened/clever, religious, resentful/hateful, irritated, despiteful, prayerful, annoyed, suspicious/doubtful, melancholic


Read the poem below and establish its mood, tone and attitude.

A Pregnant School Girl

He paid her seat in the matatu
And walked away:
As he disappeared in the city crowd
All her dreams vanished

One more passenger squeezed in
And lit a cigarette
She opened the window
And spat cold saliva out
As the cigarette smoke intensified
She wanted to vomit
She remembered the warm nights
When she was her man’s pet
She remembered the promises
The gifts, the parties, the dances

She remembered her classmates at school
Who envied her expensive shoes
Lipstick, wrist watch, handbag
Which she brought to school
After a weekend with him

The future stood against her
Dark like a night without the moon
And silent like the end of the world

As the matatu sped away from the city
She began to tremble with fear
Wondering what her parents would say

With all hope gone
She felt like a corpse
Going home to be buried

  • The mood of this poem is sad because when you read you feel sad and a bit sympathetic for the pregnant school girl who has been used by her lover and dumped and who now feels like a corpse with no future.
  • The attitude of the persona towards the school girl is sympathetic. The persona feels sympathy for the girl and that is why he dwells on the consequences of her condition by saying the future stood against her; she began to tremble with fear etc.
  • The tone of the persona is calm/indifferent because the persona remains calm throughout the poem only showing a bit of sympathy for the girl’s condition but not getting emotionally involved in the life of the girl
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