Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Our Love Now

There's already plenty of really interesting comments about the layout and language of this poem in the original post from February here.

Some additional thoughts:

The man's language is very much focused on renewal and repair, such as "the wound heals" and "it will soon be gone". This language suggests in part that he wants to fix their relationship. However, if we look deeper, we can see that he is a flawed character. First of all, he speaks in imperatives, such as "observe", "remember" and "listen". On the one hand, this can show his desperation to be listened to and to make things right, but on the other hand, it could show his need for control, such like the Duke in 'My Last Duchess' or the speaker in 'Song For Last Year's Wife'.

Furthermore, the fact that he says "the red burnt flesh... can be hidden" suggests that he does not really want to fix their relationship, but to ignore the cracks in it. The colour imagery of "red burnt flesh" has connotations of anger, rawness and pain, but the speaker does not seem to want to soothe this. Again, "people will forget it ever existed" suggests that the man's solution is to ignore the problem until it fades in their memories.

On the other hand, the female speaker uses the language of permanence, suggesting that the damage to their relationship can never be repaired. She speaks of "a permanent reminder", "a numbness prevails" and "forever dead". This final phrase is the key indicator at the end of the poem that the woman has made up her mind and is ending their relationship.

The image of the "bleached" skin is quite a telling one. I remember accidentally bleaching my mother's towels as a teenager and her shrieking at me that they were 'ruined'. Bleach not only removes the colour from fabrics, which is impossible to re-dye without looking obvious (sorry, mum), but it is used as a cleaning product to kill bacteria and germs. Therefore, the idea that it kills and damages life is key in understanding how their relationship is viewed. The loss of colour also suggests that the fun and vibrancy has disappeared from their relationship.

Throughout the poem, the woman rationally counter-argues the men's points, thus suggesting that she is the reasonable one in the relationship. She tries to rein in his unblinking belief that they can survive whilst appealing to his sense of logic. There is a sense of contradiction throughout, for example when the man says "the hair grows - before long / it is always the same" the woman replies "it grows again slowly". This subtle detail shows how she is gently coercing him into facing reality through slight contradictions of his ideas.

At the end of the poem, she changes her repetition of "such is our love now", which describes the state of their relationship after the "breach" to "such is our love". This comes immediately after "The tree is forever dead", thus suggesting that there is no longer a current state of their love and it is a thing of the past to be grieved, but never resurrected.

Hopefully, that makes the poem clearer.
Get a good rest and don't stay up too late revising!

Miss D

Song For Last Year's Wife

Alice fell through the looking glass. Before that, she disappeared down the rabbit hole. Each time, she entered a magical, parallel world to the one she had previously been in. Is it a coincidence that Patten begins his poem with "Alice"? Perhaps. For the purposes of making clever comments in your exam, however, I'm going to say "NO".

'Song For Last Year's Wife' is a poem which reveals a divorced man slowly getting over the end of his marriage. In a variety of images, he shows the two of them to be living parallel lives, but never crossing each other's paths (like Alice!). Consider the line "you, dressed in familiar clothes / are elsewhere", which suggests that although she is the same person (signified by her wearing the same clothes that he knows and recognises) she has shifted into a new social sphere which doesn't include her ex-husband. He returns to this image later with "I imagine you, / waking in another city", which (along with the line break) suggests their geographical separation to be reflective of the two different worlds they live in.

Further imagery used to portray the end of their relationship includes "winter", "hard" earth and "empty gardens". Like in 'Pity Me Not', nature imagery is used to show the death of a relationship, with nothing allowed to flourish, and a sense of death/things ending. However, much like 'Pity Me Not', the entire idea of the seasons has an underlying indication that things will change, as life goes in cycles. Perhaps this could be a cycle of grief, and he is going through the final stage of emotionally letting go of his wife. The images of death are continued when he speaks of "your ghost". This is a poignant image, as it infers that he acknowledges that the woman she was is no more, she who was defined by her role as his wife has now started a new role, which is presumably indicated by a name change/new identity.

However, it is apparent that the speaker hasn't completely let go, due to the sinister statement "I send out my spies / to discover what you are doing". This gives us a sense that, like the Duke in 'My Last Duchess', the speaker has an obsessive, controlling nature, and needs information in order to feel in control. Here, he sees himself as the ruler, with his "spies" serving him only, almost as if this is a wartime situation. Indeed, the petulant "love had not the right to walk out on me" suggests that he wants life to go as he wishes, and sees his loneliness as deeply unfair.

The reports he receives from his "spies" have a physical appeal, such as "your body's as firm / you are as alive, as warm and inviting". This could show the reader that he is still physically attracted to his ex-wife.  This also forms a direct contrast with the image of the "ghost" in his bedroom, which could indicate that he accepts that she can only be a fulfilled person in her new life. On the other hand, the "ghost" could imply that the speaker is haunted by her memory, and his physical desire for her.

Things to consider:

  • Why is the poem labelled as a "song"?
  • Why does it not rhyme or have a set rhythm?
  • What is the effect of sibilance in the poem?
Miss D

Question Breakdown

Many of you have been asking me to go over (again!) how the exam will be broken down, so here you are...

Unseen Question - 45 mins

  • Write a 2 sentence introduction: What is the poem about? On a deeper level, what's it really about?
  • I suggest 2 paragraphs on language (minimum 2 quotes in each) - PQCDQCD is a good structure to follow!
  • Write a minimum of one paragraph on structure - This could cover rhyme, rhythm, stanza lengths, enjambment, organisation of the text...
  • Write a short conclusion - one sentence should be fine.

Question 2a - 25 to 30 mins

  • Write a 1 or 2 sentence introdiction.
  • Write 3 PQCDs
  • For an A*, add an "on the other hand" sentence to each paragraph.
  • Write a short conclusion - one sentence should be fine.

Question 2b i or ii - 30 to 35 mins

Now it is essential here that you realise that you must only answer one of the question options given to you for 2b! Either compare the two poems they give you or choose one of your own to compare with it.
  • Write a 2 sentence introduction, mentioning the two poems and what general thing they have in common
  • 3 paragraphs structured as follows:
  1. POINT about both poems
  2. QUOTE from poem 1
  3. COMMENT/DEVELOP on poem 1
  4. CONNECTIVE then QUOTE from poem 2
  5. COMMENT/DEVELOP on poem 2
  6. Then have a linking sentence which concludes how they are similar or different
  • Short conclusion at the end - Try and make a really clever comment here about what they have in common or differences.
Post any questions below!

Pity Me Not Because the Light of Day

The very title of this poem just screams defiance and frustration at someone looking down on the speaker. 'Pity' can be seen as a word with negative connotations, rather than mere sympathy. In the act of dumping the speaker, her ex has also taken on a role of superiority in being the dumper rather than the dumpee.

In this poem, the speaker (presumably the voice of Millay) is telling the listener that just like the seasons and nature, her heart will emerge renewed with hope and strength.

This poem is rife with nature imagery, most prominent of this is the use of light and dark. The writer presents the sun and moon as sources as light, and therefore hope, in images such as "the light of day / At close of day no longer walks the sky" and "the waning of the moon" ('waning' is when the moon begins to get smaller/thinner in its monthly cycle). Light can also be seen as a source of joy, and therefore in using images of disappearing light, the writer is suggesting that the end of their relationship took the joy and hope for the future from her life. This is developed by "the ebbing tide goes out to sea"; the movement of the waves away from the shore suggests that someone has been abandoned and left behind in isolation. She suggests their love is like a blooming flower, and the death of their love is like "beauties passed away / from field and thicket", therefore becoming barren and without colour.

However, by line 9, the speaker confirms "This have I known always", thus reasserting to the listener that she is not to be pitied, as she accepts that all things go in cycles, such as life and love. The nature imagery is developed as she acknowledges the violence and damage which nature causes as well as creating beauty, such as "the wind assails" and "strewing fresh wreckage". However, these images suggest that the speaker wholly trusts that love will return to her life, just as the sun comes up again every morning.

The final couplet not only switches the rhyme scheme (which was formerly ABAB) but also the direction of the poem. After insisting for the first 12 lines that she is not to be pitied, the speaker admits, "Pity me that the heart is slow to learn". Here we see that the speaker has accepted the end of their relationship as a natural process, but feels foolish or small that she did not see it coming, and therefore was surprised and hurt.

The form of this poem is a sonnet, as it is about romantic love. However, instead of suggesting that Millay is still in love with the listener, the iambic pentameter creates a strong, regular rhythm which suggests defiance, as she is still carrying on and surviving, despite the hurt the man has caused. A "Go, girlfriend!" moment, if ever there was one. By sticking to the strict rhyme and rhythm, the speaker shows that she is in control of her emotions, thus strengthening her message that she is absolutely not to be pitied.

I hope that helps!

Miss D

Tuesday, 21 May 2013


'Nettles' is an account from the perspective of a father of how his son fell into a nettle bed. The poet personifies the nettles to appear like an army, showing how relentless nature can be. This contrasts with traditional views of nature as good and pure.

In the second line, Scannell highlights the irony of the collective noun "bed" which is used to describe a cluster of nettles. Highlighting the discomfort they cause, he goes on to use the metaphor "spears" to compare them with weapons, items which are traditionally used to deliberately cause harm. This introduces the personification of nature, with the idea of intentional harm continuing throughout the poem.

Other examples of personification of the nettles include "That regiment of spite", "that fierce parade", "the fallen dead" and "tall recruits". What unites all of these images is the military metaphors created, with the nettles being likened to large groups of men intentionally using violence. The collective noun "regiment" emphasises the power created by the sheer numbers of nettles, which are presented as a formidable force. Scannell uses a tone of respect and remembrance with "the fallen dead", thus showing how he recognises that nature simply follows... well, it's nature! Plants and animals are conditioned to survive, and Scannell clearly respects this survival instinct.

Further personification is used to describe "the busy sun and rain", which are seen as controlling forces in the nettles' battle against the speaker. Here, Scannell is portraying not only the nettles, but the whole of nature being at war with humans, especially with him and his son.

Ultimately, Scannell realises through this incident that he cannot protect his son's innocence forever, and that the whole world is a damaging, hurtful place, stating "my son would often feel sharp wounds again". Here, he is referring to both the physical and emotional pain which leads to the loss of innocence. His innocence is emphasised through the image of his "tender skin", which has not yet become hardened by age and experience. Furthermore, the "watery grin" suggests his tearfulness, and the lack of force in his smile, having not yet matured enough to do anything but show how he is truly feeling.

Any questions?
What do you think about the structure of the poem?

Miss D

04/01/07 - Ian McMillan

McMillan's poem is a sonnet which presents his reaction to his mother's death. The fact that it is a sonnet is absolutely key in the presentation of the relationship he had with his mother. Remember that a sonnet is a poetic form most commonly used to present the theme of love. Also take note that at no point in this poem does McMillan state that he loved his mother or any other similar shows of love. It is through the sonnet form that we come to realise his love for his mother. McMillan is clearly pointing us towards this idea (and we're all guilty of this one - sorry mum!) that even if we don't say it, we show that we love people through our actions. In this way, the restricted rhythm and controlled rhyme scheme is his way of showing his mother that she was loved, through his discipline and dedication to sticking to the sonnet form. We could also suggest that this is a tribute to the man she has led him to become, by ensuring that he stuck to the straight and narrow!

Furthermore, the iambic pentameter in the poem reflects the sound of a heartbeat. At first it may been a bit mean that he's doing this (ha ha ha, mother! My heart is carrying on but yours isn't!), but when you look deeper, he owes his entire existence to his mother. Him being alive is her legacy, and this idea of genetics is enforced by the quote "my brother's voice that sounds like mine". Therefore, through his heartbeat and ongoing life, a part of his mother can survive.

McMillan shows not only the fragility of life, but also the fragility of human relationships and happiness through the repetition of shattered/smashed "glass". The onomatopoeia "clinks" then reminds us of this image, as the milkman goes about his deliveries and normal life continues in the outside world. McMillan is clearly reminding us that even those that seem the most dependable (like the milkman!) can be fragile and will eventually break/die. McMillan clearly felt his mother was the one person he could depend upon, and this idea is developed in the quote "I'm trapped inside the empty space / you float in when your mother dies". The image of the son 'floating' without gravity or an anchor really emphasises the stabilising influence his mother had upon his life; she kept him grounded, even though he had grown up and moved out.

The verb "trapped" is also an interesting choice. "Trapped" suggests no escape from a situation. Here the finality of death is hitting McMillan, the lack of reversal offered by death. Furthermore, "empty" emphasises the loneliness he now feels trapped within, his life being void of meaning and joy without his mother. This links to the final line, with "the stream dried up". Here McMillan repeats the idea of loss leading to a lack of nurturing, with the water from a stream feeding the vegetation around it. Now his mother's "stream" has dried up, he has lost this nourishing, nurturing influence.

Things to ponder:

  • Why does he create the image of "dark glass" to describe the night?
  • Why does the glass turn clear at the end?
  • Can the "new year air" have more than one meaning?
Answers on a postcard!

Miss D

At the Border, 1979

This poem presents two very different types of relationships: the relationship between a parent and child, and the relationship between an individual and the land.

First of all, there is the relationship between an individual and the land/country they call 'home'. We all have one, and once we form that bond with a place, we cannot think of it as anything other than home. Notice how the mother's line "we are going home" is presented in italics. Italics are traditionally used to emphasis to show the importance of a word or phrase. Therefore, we can deduce that the idea of home, and the fact that they are returning to the mother's home, is of utmost importance to the parent.

Hardi then goes on to point out how trivial and arbitrary borders are. First of all, there is the image of the sister with her legs on either side of the chain. The childlike excitement ("Look over here") conveyed through the speech is indicative of how simplistically we can view national borders, once we remove the excess emotions and politics that surround them. The child speaker then points out this simplistic way of viewing borders through the straightforward statements "The same colour, the same texture". Perhaps this lack of reverence for the land is reflective of their lack of an emotional bond with the country.

At the end of the poem, Hardi highlights how all people are linked through our tendency to develop a strong attachment to the place we consider to be 'home': "The same chain of mountains encompasses all of us". All of us could refer to the "dozens of families" waiting to cross the border, but if we consider this on a deeper level, I think that Hardi is saying that national identity and a sense of home traps us, restricting our identities, and preventing us from having the freedom to explore. Hardi and her sister are too young to have been 'encompassed' by these emotions and patriotism, and in a way are still free.

Furthermore, there is the relationship between a parent and child, and in Hardi's case this is specifically a parent who is imposing their own notion of 'home' upon their child, who sees the land in a very different way to their mother. Compare the mother's use of "much cleaner... more beautiful... much kinder". All of these phrases suggest comparing her home to everywhere else she has been, therefore presenting Kurdistan as an idyllic place. Hardi's speaker, on the other hand, uses language which puts Kurdistan on an equal level to other countries, with "the same colour, the same texture" drawing out a direct contrast with her mother's "more". The term "muddy" could also suggest disgust at the home which the mother has positively exaggerated. This therefore shows a lack of understanding between mother and child, and a lack of shared identity.

Indeed, the introduction of the mother ("my mother informed me") has a cold formality which suggests that the two are not close, and lacks affection. "Our mothers were crying" further develops this idea of distance between mothers and children, as the speaker groups herself with the other children through the collective "our", treating the "mothers" as a separate group to themselves.

I hope this helps! Post any questions below :)

Miss D

Monday, 20 May 2013

Sonnet 116 (Eleventy Six!) - an essay

In 'Sonnet 116', Shakespeare presents his ideas about what love is, with reference to romantic love. We can deduce that he writes of romantic love through the phrase "Let me not... admit impediments", which is reminiscent of marriage vows. Shakespeare outlines his definition of love through a series of images, which is developed through his use of the sonnet form.

First of all, Shakespeare believes that love in its truest sense is unchanging. He writes, "love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds". By stating "love is not love", he attempts to undermine the very definition of 'love', reshaping it into his own ideal. Furthermore, the repetition of words such as 'love', 'alter' and 'remove' show a lack of variety in vocabulary, therefore reflecting the constancy of true love. However, by slightly altering the word in the repetition, such as 'remover' and 'remove', or 'alters' and 'alteration', Shakespeare is highlighting the frequency of changes within relationships, and therefore suggests that few examples of love will survive these and therefore prove themselves to be 'true'.

Moreover, Shakespeare presents love as a nurturing and guiding influence. He writes "It is an ever fixed mark / That looks on tempests and is never shaken", thus likening love to a celestial presence, connoting guidance and goodness. Indeed, by using the metaphor of a "star to every wandering bark", the image of a star adds to the notion of a guiding presence, adding the idea that it gives light, and therefore hope and joy. Comparing a romantic relationship to a "wandering bark" and "tempests" shows Shakespeare's acknowledgement that relationships are not perfect and without their troubles, suggesting that exterior influences can steer them off course. The wholesomeness of love is also developed in the colour imagery of "rosy lips and cheeks", which suggest youth, beauty and health. Here, Shakespeare is suggesting that although a couple may age, if their love remains unchanging, it will remain fresh and youthful. Indeed, by comparing the soft "rosy" colouring to the violent "Time's...bending sickle", he further exaggerates the goodness of his ideal love, and the extremes of external forces, which love must withstand.

Finally, Shakespeare uses the final couplet of his sonnet to state that this belief of 'true love' is ingrained in his identity, and disproving it will undermine his whole being. He writes "If this be error and upon me proved, / I never writ, nor no man ever loved". As writing is Shakespeare's profession and therefore an integral part of his identity, his final statement "I never writ" therefore suggests that his whole understanding of the world and his place within it will be upturned "if this be error". On the other hand, it could be argued that Shakespeare is using a conditional statement next to something which is impossible to undermine or disprove, therefore making it impossible for the reader to disagree with him. Indeed, the rigidity of the structure and iambic pentamenter is reflective of how Shakespeare is unwilling to accept any other viewpoint than his own.

Therefore, in 'Sonnet 116', Shakespeare presents romantic love in a somewhat didactic way, detailing it as unchanging and invulnerable.

Questions from previous papers

Well done for today's exam, chaps and chappettes! Only one more to go!

If you are trying to predict the question that has come up through process of elimination (which is exactly how I knew GEORGE would be on the paper today!) then here is the vital info you need on past questions. Poems in brackets are ones which were suggested for 2b part (i).

  • Even Tho’ (& Rubbish At Adultery)
  • Lines To My Grandfathers (& My Last Duchess)
  • One Flesh (& Kissing)
  • Valentine (& The Habit of Light)
Which leaves the following...
  • Sonnet 116
  • Our Love Now
  • Song For Last Year's Wife
  • Pity Me Not Because the Light of Day
  • Nettles
  • At the Border, 1979
  • 04/01/07
Make sure you know these poems like the back of your hand and plan out your three points in advance!

More to follow.

Miss D