Here’s a CIE Unseen Poetry Essay Example that I completed for the Cambridge IGCSE Unseen Poetry exam question, based off of the 2017 English Literature exams. I left my plan and notes in there so you could see all the working out! I also wrote the timings there for you to see roughly how long it took me.

For extra revision or help with Unseen Poems, take a look at my Unseen Poetry Course here.


How does the poet’s writing strikingly portray the abandoned factory?

To help you answer this question, you might consider:

• How he portrays the gates and fence that surround the factory.

• How he describes the inside of the building.

• How he explores the relationship between the factory and the people who once worked there.

THE POEM (10 minutes reading/annotating):

An Abandoned Factory, Detroit

“The gates are chained, the barbed-wire fencing stands,

An iron authority against the snow,

And this grey monument to common sense

Resists the weather.”

For the full poem, click this link.

THE PLAN (9 minutes):


  • Man and machine
  • Working-class / factory work


Through layering imagery of abandoned machinery and the neglected building with memories of the people who once worked there, the writer creates an intensely reflective psychological space that in a sense is its own eulogy for the factory and its workers.


  • Sinister gates
  • Appears foreboding / prison-like


  • Inside it’s full of large equipment gone rusty
  • Giant machinery abandoned
  • Silence, stillness, decay


  • Fence is ‘charged’ with memories and emotions


  • Exploration of the passing of time, both for the workers and the place
  • Eulogy
  • Decay / erosion


THE ESSAY (45 minutes writing, 5 minutes checking):

The poem’s title reflects its sombre tone, telling us that the factory is described is both ‘abandoned’ and in ‘Detroit’; a location that was once famous for its industry which has now fallen into disrepair. Through layering imagery of the neglected building and machinery with memories of the people who once worked there, the writer creates an intensely reflective and symbolic psychological space that in a sense is its own ‘eulogy’ for the factory and its workers.

The exterior of the factory is portrayed as sinister, with the ‘chained’ gates and ‘barbed-wire fence’ creating visual imagery with strong connotations of security and protection. The sharp qualities of ‘barbed-wire’ further give the impression of a tightly controlled facility such as a prison or workhouse, suggesting that it was not an enjoyable place to work. After the factory’s abandonment, the poet observes that the fence is an ‘iron authority against the snow’, using personification to maintain the fence’s impression of being unwelcoming and forcefully strict. Furthermore, the abstract noun ‘authority’ implies that the fence is itself a kind of powerful entity, which in present times still serves to keep trespassers out of the grounds. It stands in direct contrast to the whiteness of the ‘snow’, which creates a cold, wintry atmosphere and perhaps symbolises the peace and purity of nature that is juxtaposed with the unnatural and manmade ‘iron’ structure. Ultimately, the gate is physically imposing, but it could also be argued that it is symbolically representative of restraint and strictness; remaining powerful long after those who built it have left.

The interior of the factory creates a more poignant tone to the poem, as there is a sense of silence and stillness, intermingled with decay. The focus of the poem shifts in the second stanza, as the poet invites us to look ‘through broken windows’ at the inner space of the building. There is a semantic field of industry created through the visual imagery of ‘presses’, ‘wheels’ and ‘spokes’; however this machinery is no longer functional which creates a sense of bathos as we realise that its power has long subsided. For instance, we are presented with ‘presses paused between their strokes’, an uncanny picture of the machinery stopped in its function mid-action which almost personifies the presses, suggesting they are frozen in their movement. In addition, the poet observes that the wheels ‘have stopped; one counts the spokes / Which movement blurred’. The use of the semicolon as a caesura demonstrates an abrupt pause to the flow of the poem, which in turn imitates the abruptness with which the factory’s operations ceased to exist; we are given the impression that the factory closed down suddenly, unexpectedly, and that this must have had a devastating effect on its workers, who would have lost their jobs instantly. The use of the past tense intertwined with present here — ‘one counts’ / ‘blurred’ further emphasises this shift between the factory’s busy past and its silent present. It seems an unnatural observation, as if the spokes were not meant to be seen except in constant motion, and it adds to the eerie impression of stillness and decay of the factory’s interior.

With both the interior and exterior, the poet makes clear that it is charged with the energy of the past, in particular of the people who frequented the place daily. The listing of ‘fears of idle hands… in league’ creates the impression of a workers’ union, or a tension that once existed between the owner of the building and its employees; we are told that these fears still ‘charge’ the fence, as if a residual memory or energy trace has left a foreboding feeling there, even after the initial intentions of building the fence have long gone. The phrase ‘slow/Corrosion of their minds’ contributes to the impression of decay, but also creates a sombre tone in that it suggests that the workers eventually gave in to the rules and regulations of the place, becoming more placid over time. It is interesting to note that ‘corrosion’ is a particularly scientific and industrial term, which is being transferred from its common usage in industry to the workers themselves, and this process is further emphasised with the use of enjambment, which slows the pace of the poem down at this point to enhance the image. Furthermore, we are told that ‘nothing’ the workers made ‘outlived the rusted gears’, a curious observation which again implies the erosion and decay of energy and materials over time. It perhaps functions symbolically to creates the impression that the workers’ lives and their products were ephemeral, passing a cynical judgement on the concepts of consumerism and mass production.

Overall, the poet uses symbolism to layer images of the past over the present, and to create a forlorn, sombre tone when describing the abandoned factory. There are possible references to the struggle of workers against higher authorities, as well as suggestions of the tragedy of consumerism. With final word being ‘eulogy’, we are left with the impression that the poem itself is a commemorative piece that seeks to capture the impressions of Detroit, both in the past and its present, creating the notion that the city is no longer thriving and that it has always been a place of hardship and struggle.

Thanks for reading! For extra revision or help with Unseen Poems, take a look at my Unseen Poetry Course here.

Check what else I have prepared for you on CIE IGCSE by clicking this link.