Unseen Poetry – An Attempt

Okay, so you do the paper where the unseen poetry is and if you go to the AQA web page and download the exam paper that has the two poems about London and Edinburgh at the end, you will see what is needed but you will miss something that is unique to this paper.

Check out the marks for the unseen poems and their respective analysis.

The first is 24 marks, plus 4 for SPAG. That is a LOT of marks, to say the least, so it is a straightforward and simple question to answer.

The next and last question on that exam paper is worth 8 marks!

That, to me, means not a lot of time should be spent on it.

With this in mind, I decided to have a look at one particular year and here are my thoughts on both poems, which are included.

***

A London Thoroughfare 2 A.M. 

They have watered the street, 
It shines in the glare of lamps, 
Cold, white lamps, 
And lies 
Like a slow-moving river, 
Barred with silver and black. 
Cabs go down it, 
One, 
And then another.

Between them I hear the shuffling of feet. 
Tramps doze on the window-ledges, 
Night-walkers pass along the sidewalks. 
The city is squalid and sinister, 
With the silver-barred street in the midst, 
Slow-moving, 
A river leading nowhere. 

Opposite my window, 
The moon cuts, 
Clear and round, 
Through the plum-coloured night. 
She cannot light the city; 
It is too bright. 
It has white lamps, 
And glitters coldly. 

I stand in the window and watch the moon. 
She is thin and lustreless, 
But I love her. 
I know the moon, 
And this is an alien city. 

Task

  1. Analyse the first poem. Look at methods used to create meaning. 
  2. Compare how both poets use similar devices to portray their cities at night. 

In ‘A London Thoroughfare. 2 A.M’ the poet presents the speaker’s feelings about the city at night as being quite negative, even though she loves the street she lives on when it is dark. With one person speaking, these are the thoughts of someone, who is possibly an insomniac, being that it is 2am in the morning when she notices these things, but she begins with a strange word, in “They” because when she uses it, the reader is left wondering who has just “watered the street.” It is an interestingly odd word to use at the beginning and the reader is left thinking whether this is a workman from the council who has done this, or some other person who could do such a thing.

  Her attitude is one of negativity and this is borne out in the words she uses to paint the image in the head of the reader, or audience hearing this poem, when it says, “it shines in the glare of lamps.” The road shines indicates the sheen from the road after it has been made wet by one form or another, but the use of words like “cold” and “white” make the reader shudder at the image before her eyes. They are meant to have that effect on the reader as they contemplate the simile that follows, when she says the road “lies like a slow-moving river.” The image in the mind of the river flowing endlessly onwards to its destination is one thing, but this river, this road, is “barred with silver and black,” which makes the reader think of the lines at the side of the road and the colour of the tarmac itself as the camber of the road drifts down to the side, where there is usually a kerb and some form of white line. 

  She then explains what travels up and down this road at night by telling the audience that “cabs go down it.” In this way, she is using the senses and in particular, the element of sight, but in the mind rather than her actual seeing of the cars that travel this road. So far, the scene is a dark one, representing the darkness of night and the colour of corruption that enters the world when daytime falls and night takes over. She mentions how first it is “one” cab and “then another” and how she can hear “the shuffling of feet” as she gazes down this dark and dismal street. 

  This sense of agony and dismay at the darkness pervades the rest of the poem through to a point where she tips it on its side and then goes at it from another, more favourable angle. She says that “tramps doze on the window-ledges,” which is an interesting, if not provocative word to use in this modern age. Perhaps this is an older poem and not so modern because people tend not to use the word “Tramps” any more. She then follows this up with another insulting term, which is “night-walkers” as they “pass along the sidewalks.” This should tell the reader where this poet is based, by the use of the word, “sidewalks,” as this is typically an American term, whereas in Great Britain, the term would be “pathways” so there is little doubt that culturally, there could be issues with reception and meaning when a British reader picks this up and reads it. 

  She also says that “the city is squalid and sinister,” a marvellous use of alliteration and immediately, it puts the idea into the head of the receiver who is already thinking about tramps and beggars, with a whole concoction of words going around their heads as they read and think an assortment of negative things about this city. The “silver-barred street” is one that is also very “slow-moving” and she describes it as “a river leading nowhere.” This is a road to nowhere, an endless and dark snake-like road that leads to nothing but trouble and yet, she says she loves the sight before her later in the poem. 

  From her window, she can see certain things. She sees the moon, “clear and round,” in the clarity of a full moon and a “plum-coloured night. Unable to see the city, she knows its brightness and she knows it has lots of “white lamps” and that it simply “glitters coldly” in the darkness of the night. She stands in her window watching the moon, which a lot of people do, but describes it as “thin and lustreless,” possibly because it represents her own heart towards life in general; dark and unsympathetic, critical of all things around her, she herself is living in darkness, but she is redeemed by the fact that even though this city, her city, is dark and dismal, “squalid and sinister,” she knows one thing that is true in her life. 

  She says the words, “but I love her.” She sees the black and she loves it. She sees the crime and she still loves the city. It seems then, that there is nothing, not even the melancholy moon, which she knows so well, possibly because she has been up many nights watching the moon until she knows it, to be able to write such a poem as this. 

  This is how she knows the moon and her city as well, because one has become synonymous with the other and this is why she is able to say “this is an alien city,” full of people from all over the world, full of immigrants brought into the United Kingdom to live and to work and to enjoy what life can bring them as they pursue the dream of health, wealth and the pursuit of happiness. This is why this poem is an effective one at showing just how important the place where we live is to our very psyche. 

November Night, Edinburgh 

The night tinkles like ice in glasses. 
Leaves are glued to the pavement with frost. 
The brown air fumes at the shop windows, 
Tries the doors, and sidles past. 

I gulp down winter raw. The heady 
Darkness swirls with tenements. 
In a brown fuzz of cotton wool 
Lamps fade up crags, die into pits. 

Frost in my lungs is harsh as leaves 
Scraped up on paths. – I look up, there, 
A high roof sails, at the mast-head 
Fluttering a grey and ragged star. 

The world’s a bear shrugged in his den. 
It’s snug and close in the snoring night. 
And outside like chrysanthemums 
The fog unfolds its bitter 
Scent.

By comparison, even though the use of metaphor and simile, alliteration and differing stylistic devices are used in November Night, Edinburgh, are similar to that of the Lowell poem, this is more positive, so they are similar in a lot of ways, but only to the extent of sharing something of the grandeur of their differing cities at night time. MacCaig says that “the night tinkles like ice in glasses” and the simile is not lost on the reader as the poet describes two things to paint in the mind of the reader the idea of a glimmering, shimmering city, just like ice cubes once liquor has been poured over them. There is a sensuousness to this description which makes the reader feel the warmth of feeling that the poet has for the city of Edinburgh! 

  He describes leaves that “are glued to the pavement with frost.” It is a particularly strong image that makes the reader think of times like in winter, due to the frost, when dirt and grime of an industrial city gathers and destroys the foliage around it which has fallen and is decaying as we turn from winter into spring. The fact that “the brown air fumes at the shop windows” and then “tries the doors and sidles past” makes the reader all too aware of the industrial grime and the mire of the city in the darkness of winter, but he then says that he gulps “down winter raw” which is a strange mixture of Standard English as well as a Scottish colloquialism, because the Standardised way to say that would be to say “I gulp down the raw[ness of] winter,” like he would gulp down a stiff whiskey to ward off the badness of the weather and the cold it brings. 

  There is a “heady darkness” about the city as he sees it, a brooding danger that seems to always be there, swirling like a tornado among the many “tenements” where he lives, large, tall tower blocks of dingy flats that in Edinburgh in generations not too distant, were known for being dirty, seedy and filled with very poor people. The poet says that there is a “brown fuzz of cotton wool” about the place, a feeling that this is about as good as it is going to get any time soon and how life in that area at that time leads only to one thing; death. 

  Then the reader sees the idea of how there is “frost in [his] lungs” due to the coldness of the environment as well as the harshness of the weather. The two have become synonymous with each other as leaves are “scraped up on paths.” As descriptions go about the city of Edinburgh, this is one that shows how grim life is there at that time. But then, he looks up, seeing “high roof sails” and “at the mast-head” there flutters a “grey and ragged star.” This could represent the idea in the mind of the reader as well as the poet that the only thing to come out of such a place like this would be someone who would be almost piratical in nature as the flag and ragged star come to represent someone trying to climb out of this pit of poverty as they try to get on in this life for their better future. 

  This is then backed up in the final verse, if it can be called that, because this is a graphologically deviant poem, as is the first, but the poet uses a fantastic metaphor in “the world’s a bear shrugged in his den” to paint the image in the mind of the reader or audience of a hibernating bear and to him, that is what this world of ours represents, something that when quiet and peaceful and placid, can move along at a soft and steady pace, but if cornered, or trapped into having to defend itself, it can turn on us in an instant. The poet shows us the image of the bear, “snug and close in the snoring night” as outside, where the cold remains, “the fog unfolds its bitter scent.” This is the epitome of perfection at the end of this poem because it shows the one thing he loves in the guise and shape of a sleeping giant and that, in essence, is beautiful to read and consider in any form of poetry. 

  Both poets love their city. They see the negatives as well as the positives and they use a number of devices each to get that meaning across to the reader. Where they differ, where one uses more personification and devices, due to its length, they differ in how precise such a description of a city at night can be and as a result, both are successful in portraying the city in the blackness of night.

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GCSE Paper 2 – The Article

Arguably, if this is the final thing you do in your GCSEs, then it will be the hardest, for it is extremely hard to get the language and the tone right in this one.

Have a look at a few articles online now, about things like the abolition of school uniform, or euthanasia (killing humans when terminally ill in a kind way) or some other such thing that is both contentious and has two very equal sides to it and you will see what I mean. Trying then, in section B, to write a good, strong, argumentative article, for those hitting the 5-7 grades, is hard.

But hey, if something is worth doing, it is worth doing right!

So, here is an example a student did for me, over 2 one hour tuition sessions, working on the 2021 Paper 2 exam paper, which asked questions based on 2 sources in the usual fashion and then, it asked him to write an article based on the idea that we as consumers need to change our attitudes to buying cheap clothing.

You know the one, I am sure.

This is his work, unedited. See what you think. He did not give it a title and found it very hard going so there are weak areas, but, and I stress this vehemently, this is a student who a year ago, was a low level 4.

***

Must we change our attitudes to buying clothes now?

Is it ethically sound to purchase more and more at the expense of children in less affluent countries being exploited?

The British Standards Agency has quoted Hugo Boss, saying “Consumers should be able to purchase goods without the burden of having to worry about where they are made or sourced from.”

There are two ways of looking at any argument. On one hand, it is seen as unethical to ask every consumer to purchase extravagantly priced items, which they are unable to afford. This is because of the fact that not all consumers earn £50,000 a year to spend on designer brands and the costs that come with them. For example, Apple devices are associated with rapidly increasing prices and the additional costs/ subscriptions. In the same way, the fashion industry uses similar methods to up sell more goods.

On the other hand, customer choice has become paramount in all things. There are many consumers who choose to wear both cheap fashions and designer fashions. A man may choose to wear Lacoste or Hugo Boss shoes but wear Primark socks. There is nothing wrong with this at all.

Perhaps, the only reason why we must change our attitudes to buying clothes now could be because of how top fashion houses advertise their products. For example, the clothing brand Balenciaga created a series of advertisements where they received backlash for how the advertisements exploited children to the extent that the company was seen to be approving of child abuse. This caused the brand to release a statement explaining how they “Strongly condemn child abuse.”

The only way a consumer can overcome this issue when buying clothing, whether that be designer or not, is to research and make an educated purchase. This is so the consumer can ensure that they are not buying from corrupt brands.

One way this could happen is if large corporations, such as Amazon were to oversee how the products sold on their platform are manufactured. If a product is made by children working in poor conditions, Amazon should remove them from the platform indefinitely, because of the fact that large corporations should not stand by as young children are exploited. Balenciaga has amassed a net worth of $51.28 million. If they were to be challenged to the extent that a large sum of profits were lost, this may make the brand reconsider how they present themselves.

Likewise, the same could be said of the giant superstore, ASDA UK could be held accountable for the way they sell clothing. Their brand name known as “George” is best known for selling school clothing at a cheap rate. Blazers and ties will be bought via the school supplier whereas, the more common basic items are mainly bought from ASDA or similar stores.

Should the seller be held accountable for how the goods are sourced?

In the end, the responsibility must be held with everyone to make sound and just decisions when purchasing from preferred brands.

E3YK0A George at Asda fashion2014. Image shot 06/2014. Exact date unknown.

***

Given the fact that on Monday, if when he takes his Paper 2 Mock, for Y11, in preparation for his GCSE exams in June, if he does something like this in the mock and then improves on it in the real thing, as I am sure he will with my help, then he should do very well indeed.

Have a look at some of the finer things in it, like the use of rhetorical questions and make a list of the things contained therein. See what he does with his language and try to emulate him, or even better, write on on the same subject that improves on this.

I dare you to try!

RJ

Paper 1: GCSE AQA – Creative Writing

In section B of the first paper is a task that is given as one of two choices, the first coming with a picture to help you keep on task. I normally tell students to do that one if they are 3/4 borderline as new ideas keep coming.

But for the 6/7 and above students, my advice is to try to tackle the second choice, which is usually to write a story on a given theme.

So, let’s go back a year or two to the Source A that was a story of a woman with two children, who were new to their new house. The source has a moment where the lady is in her kitchen and sees a strange girl playing silently with her two children, but not entirely joining in and where the girl slowly turns around, like the ghostly figure she is in the text, it is an eerie moment in the middle of the source and when the source ends, as a reader, you groan because you want to know what happens next.

A surprisingly good source for a GCSE exam. They are normally BORING!

In your mind, if you then got a task where it was to write your own ghostly adventure, how would you react? For some, the obvious choice would be option 1 using the picture. I understand that – I really do.

But how could you do the ghost story? Well, if you are a fan of the BBC TV show called Ghosts, one way would be to take something that you know and adapt it. What follows below is my attempt at just that, writing a crossover story based on the BBC Ghosts programme but also crossing over into another show I love, called SAS: Rogue Heroes, also from the BBC.

If you have not seen Ghosts, here is a preamble. A young couple are house hunting, but get a call from a solicitor saying that the lady has inherited a house. They move in and all seems deeply dramatic, when Alison is pushed out of an upper floor window by one of the resident ghosts. She does not die, but can now see and communicate with the ghosts, whereas her husband cannot and the comedy that ensues is massive. 4 seasons in so far as I write this, the fans of BBC Ghosts are a legion of young folk, who are possibly now reading these words.

Here then, is how to write a crossover piece. The fact that it is these two shows means nothing in terms of the GCSE story. It could be two different shows that you adore. Just copy the style. Look in particular, for how speech is inserted into speech marks, how lines are simple, compound or complex and how the paragraphs are put together, especially when indented and where!

***

Animo Semper (Courage Always)

Alison woke to the sound of the letterbox making its usual sound, as it closed shut. The mail had arrived on that cold Autumnal morning. The leaves had dropped and turned brown on the floor outside in the field, as they began their decay and desiccation into the compost that they would inevitably turn into. 


As she went downstairs, wondering just what this new day would bring for the residents of Button House, dressed in pyjamas and a dressing gown, for the heating had not come on yet, she reached for the envelopes inside the door frame and began to scour their contents. 

“Bill,” she uttered, half expecting a bill from someone and then, she stopped at the hand written address which simply read ‘The Occupier. Button House. Bridgeton. Surrey.’ Normally, such things were typed, not handwritten, which made her curiosity increase exponentially. 
As she walked towards the expanse of her kitchen, she opened the mail and read, out loud: 

To whom it may concern,

I am making contact with you because I am researching my Grandfather’s wartime legacy and I am under the impression that before he went to war in the North African Campaign, he served in a detachment of soldiers who were billeted at Button House. 

My Grandfather was called Lieutenant Stephen Michael Havers. He served at your house between 1940 and 1941, when he then volunteered for a new fighting force, whose details, until very recently, have been shrouded in mystery. It was called L Detachment and later became known as the First Special Air Service Brigade. 

His exploits in that war were never talked about much with his family, which has led me recently to begin research on him. He was a lovely, calm mannered man, a businessman, a thinker and a published author of short stories under his own given name. 

He had a friend there at Button House, who was his Captain…..

At that point, Alison froze, standing as rigid as a Guardsman on duty, realising just who this referred to. Of course it had to be him. How could it be anyone else? 

As the sensation sank into her marrow, she began to read on in the letter, as the writer was asking if he could visit the house, tour the grounds, find where his Grandfather lived and worked and hopefully, make connections to complete his knowledge about his notorious Grandfather. He also had a request to locate the grave of the Captain, which was somewhere on the estate. The Army had buried him there because he had no family, being an only child, to send the body to when he died during the war. 

Suddenly, she was brought out of her reverie of thinking about the Captain. Of course it’s him she thought and went to find him. At this time in the day there could only be one place where he would be, making the rounds as he inspected the boundaries of Button House.  

She found him as he was making his way back towards the front door. The two of them stopped and greeted each other. 

“Morning,” enquired Alison. 

“And a very good and brisk morning it is too,” replied the Captain. “Good for the sinews and….”

Alison waited. Then she said,

“I think you need to come in and sit down, because I think I have a surprise for you!” He gave her a quizzical look as if to think there’s no way you can surprise me, you know, but declined to push the notion further and followed her back through the door into the lounge area, as she walked on, to where he was offered a seat and he sat, all too uncomfortably. 

“Are we certain that this is necessary?” enquired the bemused Army officer. 

Then Alison began speaking. 

“I think you’ll like this. I’ve just got a letter from a young man who wants to come and visit our home.”

“Why is that of any interest to me?” 

The Captain’s inquiry was soon answered when Alison said that the name of the person sending the letter was James Havers.

The Captain visibly shook in his chair, but not with shock. He was excited, agitated to think that Havers had made contact with him again after all this time, but then, as his head was spinning from the news, he stopped abruptly. 

“Hang on,” he said, “how can that be?” 

“I know,” replied Alison, “but it is not him. It is his Grandson who is writing and he wishes to stay here for a short time whilst he researches the work his Grandfather had done here, in the house. 

The Captain was silent, which for him, went into realms which were not normal. It seemed like an age, before he thought of something to say. 

“Havers? Here? Coming home?” That was all that he could say, over and over again. He had not heard from Havers since that fateful day when he watched, from the high window, as he gracefully exited his life. Now, it was all going to change. Then a thought occurred. His mouth did the rest without any form of thought.

“But I cannot see him. I must not. I won’t have anything to do with it!”

He then shot up out of his chair, placed his shoulders firmly back as if ready to march and stormed out of the room, to the bewilderment of his host, Alison. 

She looked down at the letter, back up to the space that was now utterly vacant and wondered what was happening. She continued to read her newly delivered letter, silently to see what else he had to say. 

He had a friend there at Button House, who was his Captain, I think. The records show that he stayed there, to continue the work that they were doing, but only mentioned his name and rank, rather than any details about the mission, which I am led to believe, was classified at the time. 

It was called Operation William and had something to do with Ordnance, but after that, I have only snippets of information. 

I am hoping, therefore, that you would allow me to stay with you for a day or two, or possibly a weekend, so I can roam the house and the grounds, looking for clues as to the work there and the living conditions at the time, for my research and also to pay my respects to the Captain.. 

Yours sincerely,

James Havers MD. 

James had left his mobile number at the bottom of the letter, just in case someone made contact with him regarding his intended visit to the house. 

Alison put the letter down on the coffee table and went to the kitchen to make a coffee, but she was soon aware of movement back in the lounge, where when she returned, she saw the Captain, standing over the top of the letter, peering at its contents, with an enquiring expression on his face, growing into that look you give when you are told you are going to see an old friend you haven’t seen in a decade or more. 

For the Captain, it was now seven decades. To be precise, as was his usual manner, it was seventy two years, three months and fourteen days since he had watched the man he admired the most, walk through those Gates at Button House, issuing a faint salute in such a way as to say farewell, thank you and goodbye all at the same time. He remembered that moment now, with fondness as once again, that man walked away from his heart. 

But then he stopped, aghast at the idea his descendant would be coming here, to the house. What will he look like? Will there be any Havers in him? There was no photograph to give him the clue, so he had to wait and see and as he was looking down at the contents of the letter, nodding a faint nod of approval, he heard a short, guttural sound.

It was Alison in the doorway, watching him. 

“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” he said and feeling somewhat ashamed at being caught, he made a hasty retreat through the open door towards one of the other rooms, to hide his shame. 

***

Just eighteen days later, the Captain was in his usual spot, walking the grounds of Button House, when he noticed a vehicle turn into the long driveway up to the house. He peered at it but soon dismissed it, because there were so many vehicles driving down that drive to the house now; visitors, guests who had booked rooms and friends of Mike and Alison, who came over for parties and moments together. 

He still liked neither of these things. He detested parties, with all their incessant noise. He needed quiet, peacefulness, rest and time to reflect, a regimented time to be what he was, a unique soldier. His was an existence of routine, a life, if he could call it that, that meant he was supposed to be in charge, but that was slowly eroding as each of his friends had passed on.

As the car got to the end of the drive and parked in front of the grand house, a tall, slender figure emerged, transfixing the Captain to the spot for what seemed an eternity.

The image! The likeness! It was truly amazing and for what seemed to be an age, he stood silently looking at this being of wonder, this beautiful man he saw before him. He had to go over and investigate, but his legs would not move, until the man and Alison had gone inside, but not before Alison had cast him a soft, reassuring glance and motioned for him to come to the house. 

As the man entered, he did so looking around him, trying to take it in; the grandeur of the place. Its opulence and state of decor was mesmerizing to him. When he was finally invited to take a seat and offered coffee, which he gladly accepted and it had been made, he asked the first question. 

“What was this house like when you inherited it?” 

“A bit of a mess really. My Aunt Heather owned it and it was passed down to me when she passed on.” 

“Do you happen to know the living arrangements at all during war time? I understand the soldiers were billeted in huts, but it is my understanding that my Grandfather and the other officers lived here, inside the house.” 


Alison was careful not to share too much, for fear that her truth would sound odd, when suddenly, the Captain appeared in excited tones. 

“Is this……………” he asked in an audible whisper, stopping short of completing the sentence when he saw Havers. 

“Why, he is the image of him,” he said after a thought. He simply could not believe what he was seeing, so he went to a spare chair and sat down. He knew not to interject at these times or it would get awkward for Alison. 

Alison and Havers continued. 

“I am so interested in knowing about this house,” said James. 

“I know that the Captain was billeted in a certain room, if you would like to see that?” she asked, knowing before she asked what his answer was likely to be. 

“Yes please,” he uttered. 

“But I am not too sure who had each room.” 

“That’s not the issue. I wanted to see the place, smell and feel the ambience of the house. These old houses do not lose their feel, no matter what.” 

Alison and James discussed life for the soldiers during the war, how she knew that the Captain had been involved in something called ‘Operation William’ and that Havers had left to join in the North African Campaign. She even showed James some of the paperwork she had still from the Captain during his time at the house. 

It fascinated him. 

Then she asked the question she had been dying to ask all the time. 

“What was their relationship like, your Grandfather and the Captain?” 

James sat and thought for a while and then he shared what he knew so far. 

“From my Grandfather’s letters and writing – he wrote a journal here and in North Africa – I know that the Captain was close to him, very close indeed. My Grandfather liked him in return, but he writes that he got the impression that the Captain wanted something more in a time when clearly things like that were not allowed.” 

Alison remained quiet, nodding silently. Perhaps now, the truth would emerge after all? “But in the end, after volunteering for the North African Campaign and meeting his new commanding officer, Major Stirling, he took another direction. 

SAS Rogue Heroes,13-11-2022,Ep3,3,David Stirling (CONNOR SWINDELLS),Kudos,Robert Viglasky


As he was saying this, Mike appeared with the groceries from the local store. He had been out in the car and had just come in to hear James mention the name of Captain Stirling. 

“Hello,” uttered Mike, “Am I missing something?” 

“Hey, this is James,” said Alison. “He is the Grandson of the Captain I was telling you about.” 

“Oh, Hi,” said Mike. “I have heard all sorts about the things that went on here back in the day. You must be proud…….”

He stopped, putting two and two together. 

“Wait,” he said, “Major Stirling? David Stirling? The Phantom Major?” he asked. He had read the book the previous year and knew a lot about him. 

“Yes,” said James, “You’ve heard of him?”

“Who hasn’t?” he replied. 

By now, Alison was looking bemused, unsure what was happening and gave her husband the look to get him to explain. 

“Oh yeah,” said Mike, “Major Stirling is the man who more or less invented the Special Air Service.” 

She looked at him even more quizzically, shaking her head.. 

“Y’know, the S.A.S?” Alison shot a glance at James. 

“He must have been brave, your Grandfather, to join those men in the desert.” 

“Oh, he was,” replied James. “He was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry in the face of the enemy and went everywhere that the unit went until his capture in 1944.” 

By now, the silent man in the room erupted, sharing his thoughts. 

“Oh bravo that man,” he shouted, so proud of his one time friend and protege. He had not taken his eyes off this new Havers since he arrived, such were his feelings for his Grandfather. He then interjected. 

“But what happened to him after the war?” he asked.

Alison joined in.

“Yes, what happened to your Grandfather after the war? What did he do exactly?” 

“Oh, he stayed in the Army for the full twenty two years, did his time and rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, before leaving the forces and setting up his own security business.” 

The three of them looked on, clearly impressed. 


“He had two children, a boy and a girl. He called the boy William, my father and the girl, Sarah, my Auntie. She died a few years ago, just after Dad passed, but his last request for me to do before he died was to come here and meet the people who owned the house, as well as settling a promise that he made to honour the Captain.” 

Six eyebrows raised instantaneously. 

“Oh, nothing nasty,” said James, seeing their surprise, “but he wanted me to perform a small ceremony, if you would let me.” 

“Just what exactly does it entail?” Mike was the one to ask. He looked slightly worried at what might be coming. 

“Oh nothing much. I have with me something that my Grandfather says belongs to the Captain and I understand he is buried here in the grounds.” 

This was common knowledge and so, Alison suggested that they all go to the spot in the garden, near to where the explosion had taken place and so, one by one, they rose and departed through the front door, around the side of the house and to that spot where the Captain had secreted the limpet mine in the box those years ago. 

When they arrived, it was James who seemed to know where to look. Just a short stroll away was a small cemetery with four headstones, one of which was that of the Captain. The headstone was faded, but his name could clearly be seen by all. They stood around it for a few moments, before James slowly brought something out of his pocket. 

It was a badge, a cap badge that had belonged to his Grandfather and before he had passed he had instructed his Grandson to go to Button House and give it to the Captain, as a sign of his affection for him. But it was not the cap badge of the regiment that he had served in with the Captain. No. This was a more desirous one, a more prestigious one and one that his Grandfather had worn with honour, throughout Africa and Europe before the war ended for him as he was held prisoner in the German castle called Colditz. 

As they stood, he slowly placed the badge of the Special Air Service onto the top of the stone, stared down at the name on the stone and said one thing. 

“My Grandfather wanted you to have this, Sir. He said that without your care and guidance, without your loyalty and grasp of command, he would never have been able to be the soldier he became. He thanks you for your service and simply wishes that you know that you are loved.” 

The four people stood, looking at the name on the gravestone, but only one saw the golden light framing the Captain, as he was ushered from this life into the confines of heaven. His love had returned, maybe not in the way he had anticipated, but he now knew that his love for Havers, although more than platonic, was in some small way reciprocated in friendship and so, he was able to depart the house for the final time. 


As they slowly walked away, the sun hit the name on the stone and it seemed to shine in the sunlight as the name shone for all to see: Captain William John Pritchard. Underneath it lay the words, in Latin, saying “Animo Semper.”

WARNING: Ignore All Reports On GCSE/A Level Exams

Why the title? Well, read the words below and you will see that reading reports on Google is about as useful as reading your illness symptoms on Google. It just drives you insane! So avoid such activity at all cost.

***

Two reports in the news today have prompted me to write these words, because I am so appalled, as a professional teacher, at what this present government is doing to the education profession and the students in their care. 

The first is this one. 

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/alevel-gcse-exam-mistakes-unions-b2104881.html?fbclid=IwAR1fHB7pzMGtAjUec3-HX_Va3rjeYt_1E8N_CeMbzaYTsIV_j8rrCEbe1ic

It details how so many errors were made in preparing for this year’s exams at GCSE and at A2 (A Level), but what it does not go near (very much) is the problems this will cause the present crop of students, three of which, as my latest students, need as much confidence and help to achieve those grades as possible. 

You see, I am now a tutor, offering online tuition. I did offer face to face until one of them unwittingly gave me Covid which had been caught by them, at their school. 

So now we are in this position of delivering online lessons at GCSE and when I look at the content, it makes me want to weep. To then see in these reports, however accurate or not they are, that the exam boards; AQA and Edexcel and the likes, are messing about saying do not revise for one thing and do revise for the other and then swapping them round on exam day is nothing short of scandalous. 

You are being let down on a huge scale by the very people your parents voted into power and it needs to stop now!

The second report seen this morning is even more damning and more frightening for the current crop of students having just finished, last Monday, their final A2 Language exam. They breathed their final sigh to know that the exams are finally over, only to see this. 

https://inews.co.uk/news/education/exam-results-2022-every-school-drop-gcse-a-level-grades-ofqual-head-1692533?fbclid=IwAR3yzu_sNouxsmIyIY1prIK3juE4fVPa5ZvXS-ZG_eVk1cipW5NQHnZTvdc

In this article, the news writers are saying that we should expect a grade drop from last year, which makes this teacher of English respond in two ways. 

The first is political, I am afraid, for I am of one persuasion that sees what the present Tory government is doing and hates them for it. 

You see, if they mean to mess around with the grade boundaries yet again, as they tend to do each year, to keep the numbers getting a Level 3 or a level 4 at GCSE and a C at A Level, lower than normal, then two things come to mind – well a lot more than two but they are unprintable and ethically unsound, as well as physically impossible – one of which is the effect on the student. 

The student at A Level who has been hitting B grades all year in class work will suddenly get a C and think they have screwed up the exam somewhere. They will begin second guessing what they did wrong and that will stay with them for decades! 

Some students and their families spend from £20 a week on tutors – one was two lessons a week this last year with me so you do the Maths – so they are forking out a lot of cash to get their child over the line when Covid, crappy platforms like Google Classroom, really poor teachers hiding behind Covid as an excuse and not teaching the skills and information the student needs and then exam boards are all messing it up for all our  students. 

There is little wonder that the education system in this country is messed up beyond measure and before my left leaning principles come out to play, the same would be true with any Labour or LibDem government if they were in power because they break the one rule that is quintessentially true to us all that if it is not broken, then do not fix the thing!

So, if and when you see these reports on Google and the likes, ignore them. If after each exam, you were able to say that you revised like mad, did your best in the exam, scoring what you think is your predicted grade – itself a fallacy as we are all different in exam stress situations – then you have done your best. At the end of the day, the exam mark and grade will not represent what you did or how well you did, but will show and share just how corrupt and twisted this current system actually is. 

So do not worry about these reports, or about your grades. Because the exam boards mess about with exam boundaries – what is a C and a B and so on – at both GCSE and A Level, you are at the mercy of a bureaucrat rather than a teacher and their  professionalism. 

This is why I think all assessments should be teacher assessed as we, your teachers, know you best. It is about time we began trusting our teachers rather than belittling them just to make it so that exams either become harder, or grades harder to achieve, over teaching our students to shine, which is what they will have done this and every year, regardless of their final grades. 

R Johnson
Premier Tutors: Sheffield

A Level English Lit Paper 2B – A Moan + Tasks!

When I talk to students of any level who have had two years of teaching in their school and they tell me certain things, I want to shout out my ranting obscenities at their teachers. I really do. Teachers may blame Covid but that is no excuse for being rubbish at their job! Today has been no different because I shared my final tuition session with a student today on the subject of Protest Writings at A Level and the 2B paper he is about to sit on June 20th, 2022. 

It is now June 14th so he has six days left, so we went through the novel, The Kite Runner and although he knows the novel well and can tell me about themes and ideas, characters and stylistic devices, authorial methodology and the likes, he knew nothing about the context of when and where this novel was written. 

Now this got me asking him questions. Did the teacher teach him about the theatre in Shakespeare’s day when reading King Lear? Did she teach him about the political and social ramifications of Shakespearean England and its monarchs when reading Richard II and all that that does entail? Did he know about the 1980s when reading the five Tony Harrison poems, one of which is a real beast? To each question (and the same before, in previous sessions, with Gatsby) did he have that in his lessons with his teacher? 

The answer was in the negative!

Did he know why Hosseini wrote Kite Runner? I found out the answer before I saw him. He saw that before 2003, when it was published, the Taliban had banned a very popular pastime in Afghanistan, which is why he chose initially to write a short story because they had banned children from flying kites. I have zero idea why they banned it as an activity for children, neither do I care regarding their choices made, but the fact that this was missing from his knowledge and skill set six days before the final exam of 2022 made me want to scream! 

And I can scream with the best of them! 

So, I had to backtrack and thought of sharing it here, but in more detail. 

Ask yourself what was happening when the writer you have studied was writing. Then make a list of what life was like then and in which country. Taking the Hosseini novel for a second, as an example, it was published in 2003, so presumably it was written post 2001. 

What does that date mean to you, as a reader? What would it mean to him, as being from Afghanistan, but living in America at the time and presumably being the recipient of some serious racism? Do you, when you see 2001, remember the history of the 11th September in that year? Does the thing known as ‘9/11’ mean anything to you? It should, for that is when the planes hit the twin towers and within two years, this novel is published, suggesting a causal link between the after effects of that heinous day in American history, with the inception of this protest novel. 

The World Trade Center south tower (L) burst into flames after being struck by hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 as the north tower burns following an earlier attack by a hijacked airliner in New York City September 11, 2001.

Now consider what I created with this student’s aid. 

1950-59……children expected to obey parents and much more confined in their attitudes to home and life. Rebellion building though with the inception of Rock n Roll in 1958. Elvis Presley. Jerry Lee Lewis. Cliff Richard et al. 

1960-69……the rise of the Swinging Sixties, flower power, the summer of love, drugs, drink, rebellion happening between parents and families, Vietnam, wars on different continents et al

1970-79……in the UK, the 3 day week, unemployment, recession, the rise of the Thatcher government and all its austerity measures that would destroy and devastate the UK. worldwide panic and loss of confidence. Punk Rock. Sex Pistols. New Wave music (just) et al. 

1980-89……1982 Falklands War, 1984 UK Miners’ Strike (watch Full Monty again) and the effects of the now ensconced Thatcher reign. Trouble and strife everywhere, riots, protest marches against nuclear weaponry (I went on one in London) and rebellion, as well as major poverty, Thatcher being outed. Continued rebellion across the country. 

1990-99……changing times across the world as policy regarding all manner of things changed. New Presidents and Prime Ministers, but never a real change for the better or for the positive. The O. J. Simpson trial. American President Bill Clinton was accused of dodging the draft and doing naughty things with his intern. But, 1997 though, in the UK, saw a real change when Labour won their election and Tony Blair entered Number 10. A landslide victory for a centrist candidate (he was never so far left or right but more like a Liberal) but jobs started happening as we went into the year 2000, often remembered as Y2K. 1997 saw the death of Princess Diana and the rise of dislike in how the Queen dealt with it. In the end, it was Blair who helped her to see a better way. A very rocky decade for some.

2000-2009…..this is a time when Labour lost power in the UK because of what happened post 9/11 and because Blair went into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein, with President GW Bush at his side. British troops died in Iraq and the country became disaffected by his desire to go to war. Britain was fed up with war after Thatcher in 1982. Lies were told and the Tories came back into power under David Cameron and then, later, Theresa May. Facebook appeared in 2005. Twitter thereafter. Social Media became a platform for anyone to add comments, whether true or not. The Beslan Murders. Soham Murders. The arrival of the CRB and now, the DBS Disclosure. Thousands accused of crimes they never committed. Growing distrust in the authorities, Police, justice system. 

2010-2022…..same sex marriages legalized. Prince William and Katherine married. War on Terror still going on. British Olympics in 2012. Queen longest reigning monarch. Brexit (need I say more?) Boris Johnson. Freedoms being eroded yet again. Covid19 emerged to kill indiscriminately, throughout the world. Russia invading Ukraine. 

We did this in a short time and I have since added to it here, but the point is to look at when your writer was writing? So, if it is Tony Harrison and X, on the death of coal, it is the 1980s to 1990s and how Thatcher closed them all (the mines) more or less, down and we started buying coal and energy from the likes of Russia. Need I say more there in the present climate of war in Ukraine? 

When you look at the context of when the texts you have read over the past two years were written, you then understand more about why a writer chose to put pen to paper, or press a key on a computer and create a masterpiece. 

That much is important to remember as you revise for this exam.

So, here are some tasks for you to do before the 20th……..have a go at them all, where applicable. 

  1. Read about when Shakespeare was alive. 
  2. What was society like?
  3. What was the attitude of the ruling classes to those in the theatre? 
  4. Why did he write the play he wrote? 
  5. How was it received by the public and those in authority?
  6. Did it (Richard II) cause things to happen? 
  7. Why did your writer actually write their work? 
  8. What socially was happening at the time? 

Do it for all your texts read and studied before the 20th June exam. Google has all the answers so there is no excuse. Make your own mind up on each text. 

By doing this, you will be able to add some real and concrete, social and historical context to your exam answer. You will score more points and get a higher grade, for sure!

God bless. 

RJ

WHY?

I always ask my students a question that annoys the life of them, whatever we are reading.

An example is Macbeth! I ask WHY Lady Macbeth is so manipulative. They give me an answer and I reply with WHY? So they give me a deeper answer and I ask WHY? again. After about 4 or 5 times, they are infuriated with me but finally get to the deeper understanding I am trying to teach them.

Try it now.

Answer this one – WHY DID SHAKESPEARE WRITE MACBETH?

Try to ask WHY 3 or 4 times, based on each answer and see where it goes.

***

Done it?

Now watch this and wonder, why did Shakespeare actually write Macbeth? (hopefully, outside of UK viewers will be able to access the iPlayer)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0bvhk3w/lucy-worsley-investigates-series-1-1-the-witch-hunts

Was he saying something to the newly crowned King? If James I was so into getting rid of witches and witchcraft, then what is Shakespeare doing by introducing 3 of them right at the beginning?

I know what I think.

Try it with your other texts and see where asking WHY leads you.

RJ

*WARNING*

Just a brief warning to anyone who is copying and pasting from this site.

That is okay for your notes or revision purposes, for you can do this, but please do not print off an analysis and then present it to your teacher as your own words. That is cheating. That is plagiarism. That gets a big, fat, zero mark, especially from me. I would give a FAIL mark immediately, and have done only once in the past.

I say this because this site below has been checking someone’s work….and found this site to be the one that they stole words from.

https://plagiarismdetector.net/

So be careful. All a teacher needs to do is Google a sentence that does not sound like your words and find this page or site and then you are in trouble for cheating.

Do the work! Achieve the grade! Do it on your own merit! Then it will mean something!

Stop the cheating!

Exposure – Wilfred Owen

Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knive us . . . 
Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent . . .
Low drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient . . .
Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,
       But nothing happens. 

Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire,
Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.
Northward, incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,
Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.
       What are we doing here?

The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow . . .
We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.
Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army
Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of grey,
       But nothing happens.

Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.
Less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow,
With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause, and renew,
We watch them wandering up and down the wind’s nonchalance,
       But nothing happens.

Pale flakes with fingering stealth come feeling for our faces—
We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed,
Deep into grassier ditches. So we drowse, sun-dozed,
Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.
       —Is it that we are dying?

Slowly our ghosts drag home: glimpsing the sunk fires, glozed
With crusted dark-red jewels; crickets jingle there;
For hours the innocent mice rejoice: the house is theirs;
Shutters and doors, all closed: on us the doors are closed,—
       We turn back to our dying.

Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn;
Now ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.
For God’s invincible spring our love is made afraid;
Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born,
       For love of God seems dying.

Tonight, this frost will fasten on this mud and us,
Shrivelling many hands, and puckering foreheads crisp.
The burying-party, picks and shovels in shaking grasp,
Pause over half-known faces. All their eyes are ice,
       But nothing happens.

Analysis

Wilfred Owen is famous for many reasons, but most notably for his diatribe aimed at those foolish types back in Britain who (like Jessie Pope) were saying things like “it is sweet and fitting to die for your country” in the Great War of 1914-1918. Owen was an officer in the trenches and a poet of note and is famous for many poems, but my ultimate war poem, which is called Dulce Et Decorum Est, an analysis of which should be on this site, is his best.

But he is also famous for showing us just what the men were exposed to in the trenches in WW1 and this poem, aptly called ‘Exposure,’ does just that. Title theorists will say that this is about a man who is exposed to something that is not very nice, assuming you just read the title and nothing else. This is what we expect from the title (unlike Tissue in the same power/conflict grouping) and we certainly get what we expect, but in the usual, graphic, realistic style of Owen. 

He does not pull his punches this fellow and never did. Dulce Et Decorum Est details things like a soldier’s “froth corrupted lungs” as he spits up his internal organs after a Mustard Gas attack – for that, see the final ever episode of Peaky Blinders – and this poem is no different to that one. In fact, it is, perhaps, more graphic than that when you unpack every line, which is how I tend to teach poems such as this. 

For this analysis, or my interpretation, for that is what all these are, just my take on it, we see the initial idea of how a man’s brain can actually “ache” in the first line and how the setting sets the tone for the rest when he mentions the “merciless iced east winds that knive us” as they sit, stand, or lay in their trenches. These are men that are dug in well and not going far very fast. Indeed, the English and German forces, for a large part of the war, hardly moved a foot over such long periods of time and when ground was won, it was soon lost again. But like with Heaney’s Storm On The Island, this is a wind that can feel as if you are being “knived” or cut in two. It is severe. Imagine being in a trench 365 days a year, exposed to the elements, the snow, the hunger, the desperation and then think how you would deal with it, if indeed, you actually would, for a lot of young folk today would desert, be captured and executed for desertion and be branded a coward where they lived, such is the nature of humanity in the present day. 

Then we see how in their exposed state, they are “wearied” and how they “keep awake because the night is silent.” Is a part of you thinking that this sounds odd at all? Surely, silence through the night would enable you to rest and sleep and wake up refreshed? But not in a trench in northern France or Belgium in 1916, just before Owen was shot and killed. (he died 2 weeks before the end of the war) Imagine, if you can, seeing the “low drooping flares” that “confuse our memory of the salient” and you realise that silence is an enemy because that is when they fear that the enemy are up to no good, especially at night. Try watching We Were Soldiers, with Mel Gibson and see what I mean. 

So they are “worried by silence,” as they should be, as “sentries whisper” and everyone around them seems “curious” and “nervous, but nothing happens.” The positioning of that last line of the verse makes this a graphologically deviant poem, especially as it is repeated, in that we expect lines to begin in a certain place, but it is done so for effect, for drama and to get the point across to those in charge, who will read this, that this life we are living as soldiers is pointless because nothing ever happens. Back then, both forces were at a point of stalemate on the front lines and so it was a case that nothing ever happened for most of the time. 

So you have imagined being there on the front line. Now try to imagine watching and listening for what comes next. The poet says they “hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire,” as the wind rustles through the barbed wire and the safety wires in what was called “No Man’s Land,” the place in between the two opposing lines. He describes it as being “like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.” Just close your eyes for a moment and try to visualize that in your mind and see what he was exposed to in that place of horror and then you will see why he chose the title of the poem in the first place. 

Then you hear the “the flickering gunnery rumbles” from somewhere where the heavy artillery is based, ready to pound the enemy, or you, in your trench and you, as the soldier stuck there, begin to ask a simple, single question, when you ask “what are we doing here?” It is a question worth asking too, for as I type this, there are Ukrainian soldiers in similar trenches, fighting an enemy of advancing Russian soldiers who are intent on killing their way of life, their country and their independence from Russia. How might they be feeling at this moment in time, when the weather is not that brilliant either here in the UK or in eastern Europe? 

There is a poignancy to this poem therefore, that is shared through the power of the words used, for when he says that the “misery of dawn begins to grow,” we sense that the new dawn will not be looked at with finesse and affection, but with a sense of here we go again! Thus, we sense in this section of the poem that what must be done must be done and like with the 600 in the Tennyson poem, theirs “is not to reason why, theirs is but to do and die.” So as dawn gathers and comes on them, revealing them to the elements of daytime, when they have just suffered the harshness of night, what we see as readers, is the idea that war is a futile waste of human life. Owen therefore, was a pacifist in his thinking, even though he would have done his duty if and when needed. He knows that “war lasts, rain soaks and clouds” do the thing they do to us all. The sense of melancholy is palpable at this point in time, as Owen describes the horrors before him each night and day. 

He then repeats the phrase from earlier, when he says “but nothing happens,” as if to repeat it makes it true. The sense of truth and realism in this poem is something that is also palpable as well, because this maelstrom of emotion he is feeling in the trench is then suddenly interrupted as “sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.” To me, this shows that when you least expect it in the trenches, that is when the enemy will appear, this time in the form of bullets, of large caliber and very powerful weapons, aimed at killing or maiming at the very least. But these ‘rounds’ or bullets are nothing compared to the other stuff they need to live with each and every day.

They live with rounds, flares, gas attacks (that were banned) and also, a sense that this war will never end, because nothing ever does change when you leave politicians in charge. Instead, what the soldier has to deal with in this situation is a series of “nonchalance” where “nothing happens.” It is the same thing, every day and this is what they are exposed to. Likewise, the same is true of when they think back on “forgotten dreams and stare, snow-dazed, deep into grassier ditches.” Owen describes his men as being “sun-dozed” and tired, something they will need to change, or die, when he is no longer the officer with them. He then asks an all too pointed and fatalistic question when he says, “is it that we are dying?” 

He senses his own end in this poem, as if he is exposed to the last days of his life in this mud infested trough. This is further portrayed as he uses words like how he sees their own “ghosts drag [themselves] home” and how life in the trench becomes worse by the day. References to “crickets” and of how the “innocent mice rejoice” make us cringe and that is the effect he is wanting, for he is wanting to show the truth of the matter, unlike Tennyson (COTLB) who is wanting to promote the idea that it is indeed, a brave and noble thing to do for your country from the confines of his very comfortable leather backed armchair. 

And so, the men “turn back to [their] dying” and the war that rages on, dispassionately and without a care for the common soldier. Then, it comes down to belief and what you believe regarding war. Is it a waste of life? Is it a noble thing to fight for? The answer is in each of us and may be different from one to the other. But in the end, what we believe dictates if we go or not, to where there is a war. Scores of English men are signing up for the Ukraine Defense Force as I type. They shall fight in the front lines within the next two weeks. The same is true for them as it is here as well, because it is true that “God’s invincible spring our love is made afraid.” As such we shall always be prepared to act on our instincts and if that takes us to battle, then so be it. 

But in as much as there seems to be a dwindling of faith in the men, there seems also to be the idea that the “love of God seems [to be] dying” and if that is true, then we can see the relationship between one nation and another (GB v Russia) depleting as well, which is also what they are all exposed to. This is the reality of warfare. It knocks all the humanity out of you, just as much as the night frost does and did in those trenches. Just as later that night, there were shriveled hands and burying parties, where the enemy allowed you to collect the dead and wounded so they could be buried, so too is there that sense of the “shaking grasp,” the “pause over half-known faces” and all their “eyes are [like] ice,” as  the same sense of nothingness comes over them, that “nothing happens” and that in the end, it will always be the case that nothing ever changes in war. Man hates man. Wars begin and words become twisted, especially when coming out of a politician’s mouth, but in the end, the gravity of the exposed situation is heralded by the degree of shot played. Sometimes, you need to cease asking what the problem is and then offer a solution when they tell you just how bad life is, given their life situation.

Storm On The Island – Seamus Heaney

We are prepared: we build our houses squat,
Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate.
This wizened earth has never troubled us
With hay, so, as you see, there are no stacks
Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees
Which might prove company when it blows full
Blast: you know what I mean – leaves and branches
Can raise a tragic chorus in a gale
So that you listen to the thing you fear
Forgetting that it pummels your house too.
But there are no trees, no natural shelter.
You might think that the sea is company,
Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs
But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits
The very windows, spits like a tame cat
Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives
And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo,
We are bombarded with the empty air.
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.

Analysis 

In the past, when I have had to read Heaney for my own GCSEs and then, in teaching terms, with a class from an anthology of works for their exams, one thing has always struck me above most other poets today, or in his time, or before and that is the richness and colour in his imagery and this is no different. Entitled with the word “Storm,” the use of title theory makes you think that this is going to be about the raw power of the elements as the island is battered and bruised in a storm and you would not be wrong, but it is also about the things that we fear the most, acting as one big metaphor for the minor things that batter and assail us in our own lives. 

I remember having a short little moment with Heaney at the Whitbread Book Awards in 2000. It was a glorious moment but I was so nervous that I could not speak too much to him, but I wish I had now, instead of getting tongue tied and silly, thinking that ‘God has just walked into the room.’ Such was the effect of his arrival on my senses. I even wrote a poem about it, called ‘Meeting Seamus’ which may, if I remember right, be on here somewhere. 

This poem then, is about a major storm on an island, as the title suggests, but it is also about so much more. If symbology was a thing, as Robert Langdon says in The Da Vinci Code, then what his words symbolize is the context of our fears about one thing or the other. For example, consider the opening salvo of “we are prepared.” Those words alone denote that they are prepared for something nasty that is coming, so as an act of preparation, they have done all they can to alleviate the issue, just as much as we would, had we got to go to hospital, or the Dentist’s, or somewhere else that we fear the most. “We are prepared” also denotes that they recognise danger when they see it, so preparation is key to success in these matters. 

Then we see that the poet says “we build our houses squat,” which signifies a small house; a hut of sorts, that can withstand what the elements throw at it, day in and day out. Squat signifies small, so perhaps this is a smallholding, like a Croft, where subsistence farmers lived and eked out their meagre existence? I seem to remember teaching another Heaney poem in recent years, on a similar subject – Digging maybe? Look it up and see the similarities, if any.

So this is a small place with walls made of rock and where they “roof them with good slate.” This is a solid, hardy structure that could even be metaphorical for our own lives and minds, for when our fears do get the better of us, how do we respond? Is our house built on strong stone and firm foundations? Can we say that “this wizened earth has never troubled us?” If we can then we have led a truly charmed life indeed. But this is a threadbare existence that is being shared here as well and one which would bring with it its own fair share of conflict as the crofter battles the harshness and true brutal power of the natural elements.

Single tree in the fog, struggling the strong wind

There are “no trees which might prove company when it blows full blast” and raises “a tragic chorus in a gale.” There is hardly any protection from the “thing you fear,” which again, can be either analogous or metaphorical for other, more human things, as the house gets a pummelling from the elements. The lack of “natural shelter” shows an image to the reader of the barren nature of these surroundings and makes the reader think of how remote and even dangerous this place could be to live in. Heaney says that “you might think that the sea is company,” but it is not. It is a pure danger to anyone who ventures out on it or in it. This is the power of nature versus the absurdity of humanity in one short sentence being shared here and Heaney is a true artist in his own right at work, putting his ideas into effect as he shares his metaphor of fear with us all. 

When it comes to power and conflict therefore, this is a poem showing opposing forces at work; nature and humanity. The storm rages as it “spits like a tame cat turned savage” and “we just sit tight while wind dives and strafes invisibly.” We know, don’t we, that in the end, the storm will subside and things will get back to what we consider to be ‘normal,’ but in the heat of the storm, that is when the power of Creation is at work and when we need to do the only thing worthy of doing and that is staying inside our safe, if not barren homes, even if that barren home is our heart and mind as we face the normal fears of the day.

 

In the end, there is a ‘strangeness’ to this poem, because the poet says that “it is a huge nothing that we fear” and he is right. We are right to fear the dangerous storm or the hurricane or the tornado. They can and will kill anything out inside them, but for me, this just shows the power of one over the other and at times, even with our basest of fears, we are prudent if we just sit tight till we let it pass.

Macbeth Act 5 Scene 1 – Student Reply

I love it when a student suddenly gets brave and writes something that is worthy of adding here, so we shall call this student S, to hide his identity, but when asked to complete a past paper question on Macbeth and how the character of Lady Macbeth changes, starting at Act 5 Scene 1 and mentioning other parts of the play, he did this for me.

Student Exam Answer (completed within the given exam time frame)

On the whole, in act 5 scene 1, Lady Macbeth is portrayed as guilt ridden and melancholic because this is a poignant moment in the play. This is because she has killed King Duncan with her husband and she is feeling the guilt attached to the act.
Lady Macbeth is guilt ridden and this is shown in the text when she says “Hell is murky” in her mind. Because she is sleep walking, she is reliving the after effects of killing Duncan. In her waking moments, she is too aware of what she has done, but because she is sleepwalking, she is not conscious of the words or actions she is expressing. These are the things that the Doctor and the Gentlewoman see or hear and this is why they are confused. In support of this the Doctor says, “the heart is sorely charged” when observing Lady Macbeth’s words and actions and the Gentlewomen says, “heaven knows what she has known,” which shows the level of her unhinged nature at this moment in the play. There is a sense of melancholy in Lady Macbeth at this moment which makes this a very poignant moment in the play because it shows her guilt and the taboos she has taken part in.
Before the death of King Duncan she is a different personality to the rest of the play. However, she is manipulative towards her husband and exploitative. When she first receives the letter she starts to exploit Macbeth because of her avaricious nature. For example she tells her husband “look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under’t.” The serpent is a biblical allusion referring to the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent (Devil) in the Garden of Eden. Additionally, Lady Macbeth portrays herself and women in general as being weak and feeble in their gender.
After Act 5 Scene 1, she begins to unravel and loses her grasp on reality, which leads to her killing herself. This starts in Act 5 scene 1 when the doctor says, “this disease is beyond my practice,” which implies at the time that madness is seen as an incurable disease. Furthermore, when Lady Macbeth says, “to bed, to bed: there’s knocking at the gate. Come, come, come, come give me your hand: what’s done cannot be undone” shows the depth of her mental struggle and the emotions that Lady Macbeth is going through. When she then says, “what’s done cannot be undone” she is talking to Macbeth in her sleep and is implying that even though Macbeth has killed Duncan, he cannot change that and he should continue with life as it was before he killed Duncan.
In conclusion, Lady Macbeth at the start of the play is seen as a very persuasive person as she manipulates her husband, but near the end of the play, her true form is shown as she spirals out of control, leading to her death.

Can you do any better?