tense in answering a question about prose or poetry

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:

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved;
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry

Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.

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 suffer 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?

 

Please notice in the last sentence of the answer to the first question I have used past tense. Is that grammatical? **"His food appeared to be tasteless to him."**

Original Post
subhajit123 posted:

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? [. . .] 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?

Hi, Subhajit: When we speak about events in novels and poems and films, we generally do so in the present tense. No matter when the novel or poem or film was created, its events will continue to take place forever; they never move into the past. So, yes, it is perfectly fine for the question about the poem to use the present tense, and it is also perfectly fine for you to use the present tense in your response.

subhajit123 posted:
Please notice in the last sentence of the answer to the first question I have used past tense. Is that grammatical? **"His food appeared to be tasteless to him."**

Yes, it is OK to use the past tense there. Here you are adopting the perspective of the poet, who is (present tense) describing something, real or imagined, that occurred (past tense). However, it would also be OK to use the present tense. If you did, you would be representing that particular event within the past-tense poetic narrative as something that continues to take place within the "world" of that poem.

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