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Subject Matter - What is a Subject Matter in Poems?

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Last Updated: 15th September, 2020

Ready? Attempt these Poems Exercises (Answers Available)

Subject Matter

- A poem's subject matter is what the poem is about.
- To understand subject matter, you need to answer the questions below:
  • a) What event, situation, or experience does the poem describe or record?
  • b) Who is the speaker? Is the poet speaking in the role of another person, an animal, a thing?
  • c) To whom is the speaking talking?
  • d) What is the time setting - hour of day, season, era?
  • e) What is the place setting?

Example 1

Below is a freedom poem by Marjorie Oludhe-Macgoye.
Can you identify what the poem is all about?

Atieno washes dishes,
Atieno plucks the chicken,
Atieno gets up early,
Beds her sacks down in the kitchen,
Atieno eight years old,
Atieno yo.

Since she is my sister’s child
Atieno needs no pay.
While she works my wife can sit
Sewing every sunny day:
With her earnings I support
Atieno yo.

Atieno’ sly and jealous,
Bad example to the kids
Since she minds them, like a schoolgirl
Wants their dresses, shoes and beads,
Atieno ten years old,
Atieno yo.

Now my wife has gone to study
Atieno is less free.
Don’t I keep her, school my own ones,
Pay the party, union fee,
All for progress! Aren’t you grateful
Atieno yo?

Visitors need much attention,
All the more when I work night.
That girl spends too long at market.
Who will teach her what is right?
Atieno rising fourteen,
Atieno yo.

Atieno’s had a baby
So we know that she is bad.
Fifty fifty it may live
And repeat the life she had
Ending in post-partum bleeding,
Atieno yo.

Atieno’s soon replaced;
Meat and sugar more than all
She ate in such a narrow life
Were lavished at her funeral.
Atieno’s gone to glory,
Atineo yo.

Subject Matter

The poem is about a young girl called Atieno who is mistreated by her own uncle. She works without pay and ends in death due to post partum bleeding.

Example 2


"Today I did my share in building the nation.
I drove a Permanent Secretary to an important, urgent function
In fact, to a luncheon at the Vic.

The menu reflected its importance
Cold bell beer with small talk,
Then fried chicken with niceties
Wine to fill the hollowness of the laughs
Ice-cream to cover the stereotype jokes
Coffee to keep the PS awake on the return journey.

I drove the Permanent Secretary back.
He yawned many times in back of the car
Then to keep awake, he suddenly asked,
Did you have any lunch friend?
I replied looking straight ahead
And secretly smiling at his belated concern
That I had not, but was slimming!

Upon which he said with a seriousness
That amused more than annoyed me,
Mwananchi, I too had none!
I attended to matters of state.
Highly delicate diplomatic duties you know,
And friend, it goes against my grain,
Causes me stomach ulcers and wind.

Ah, he continued, yawning again,
The pains we suffer in building the nation! So the PS had ulcers too!
My ulcers I think are equally painful
Only they are caused by hunger,
Not sumptuous lunches!

So two nation builders
Arrived home this evening
With terrible stomach pains
The result of building the nation-in different ways!"

1) Who is the persona in this poem?
2 What is the subject matter of the poem?
1) The persona is the senior government officer’s driver who drives him to an expensive hotel.

2) The poem is about the government officer who attends an official function at a hotel. The meals he takes here are expensive. The driver looks at him as he eats.

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