tense in answering a question about prose or poetry

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Subhajit12

Banned
Hindi
Hi there, can anyone please tell me if I am asked questions in present tense from a prose and poem, should I give answers in present tense or in past tense?

Here is the poem 'The Owl' by Edward Thomas from which A question was asked in my exam:

<-----Excess quote removed by moderator (Florentia52)----->

And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird’s voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.

Here is the question that was asked in the exam:

  • We generally add salt to our food to improve its taste. So, what does the poet mean when he says 'salted was my food'? Why does he feel that way?
Answer:- Salt improves the taste of food. But here the poet uses the word 'salted' in the sense of 'oversalted'. His food appeared to be tasteless to him.

It is the thought of the miseries of the helpless poor people and the soldiers serving at the front which makes him feel that way. Unlike him, these people suffers the biting cold of the North wind, without food and shelter.


I gave the answer written above. My question is should I answer in present tense as the question is in present tense or in past tense. As the poem was written in the past and everything happened in the past, does the present sound appropriate there?
 
  • The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    [...] My question is should I answer in present tense as the question is in present tense or in past tense. As the poem was written in the past and everything happened in the past, does the present sound appropriate there?
    By convention, we use the present tense when discussing what is written in a literary work: "The poet uses...," "These people suffer..." An exception might be made when the poet is speaking retrospectively about events that had happened much earlier.
     

    Subhajit12

    Banned
    Hindi
    By convention, we use the present tense when discussing what is written in a literary work: "The poet uses...," "These people suffer..." An exception might be made when the poet is speaking retrospectively about events that had happened much earlier.
    So is using present tense to answer in that context as I have done, grammatical?

    Answer:- Salt improves the taste of food. But here the poet uses the word 'salted' in the sense of 'oversalted'. His food appeared to be tasteless to him.
    Please notice in the last sentence of the answer to the first question I have used past tense. Is that grammatical?
     

    The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    So is using present tense to answer in that context as I have done, grammatical?

    [...]

    Please notice in the last sentence of the answer to the first question I have used past tense. Is that grammatical?
    It's all "grammatical"; the issue is the conventions that we use when describing the action in a literary work and when describing how a poet expresses himself or herself in the course of a literary work. If the poet is not merely using the past tense but describing himself as looking back at how his food appeared earlier (that is, earlier than the main action of the poem), then you could and should use the past tense.
     
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