The Blackbird of Glanmore’ by Seamus Heaney + Analysis

The Blackbird of Glanmore’ by Seamus Heaney

On the grass when I arrive,
Filling the stillness with life,
But ready to scare off
At the very first wrong move.
In the ivy when I leave.

It’s you, blackbird, I love.

I park, pause, take heed.
Breathe. Just breathe and sit
And lines I once translated
Come back: “I want away
To the house of death, to my father

Under the low clay roof.”

And I think of one gone to him,
A little stillness dancer –
Haunter-son, lost brother –
Cavorting through the yard,
So glad to see me home,

My homesick first term over.

And think of a neighbour’s words
Long after the accident:
“Yon bird on the shed roof,
Up on the ridge for weeks –
I said nothing at the time

But I never liked yon bird.”

The automatic lock
Clunks shut, the blackbird’s panic
Is shortlived, for a second
I’ve a bird’s eye view of myself,
A shadow on raked gravel

In front of my house of life.

Hedge-hop, I am absolute
For you, your ready talkback,
Your each stand-offish comeback,
Your picky, nervy goldbeak –
On the grass when I arrive,

In the ivy when I leave.


There are times in life you never forget and I have one that in its entirety, is immense. In 2000, my wife and I, along with 200 others of course, were privileged to have a sit down dinner with the late, great Seamus Heaney at the 2000 Whitbread Book Awards annual dinner and presentation of the book awards. Somewhere on this blog there is a poem called ‘Meeting Seamus’ and although he was sat on a different table to my wife and I, and because I was just too damned nervous to go up to him and say hello, I remember feeling that just the chance to be with the rich and famous is something was the best thing ever and is something that I will never forget. Read the poem and see what I felt and why I feel Heaney is one of the greatest writers we have ever produced. His poetry has an element of place in it throughout.

The first Heaney poem I ever taught was ‘Digging,’ where we feel the earth around us as we read. This poem is no different and as I remember this great man, I do so with a certain sense of pride. For this poem is set in a wonderful setting, hence its placing in the section of the anthology called Place. This is a poem that shares his love of nature from the very first line where we feel the “grass” underneath our feet as we share in his journey. As he arrives he feels the grass “filling the stillness with life.” It is as though the very essence of nature is all around him and when one considers his countryside background as a young man we see why he loved it so much. For him, this is a special place, but also a place of sadness, as we see later. He is viewing a blackbird as it goes about its business and is immediately aware of the fact that one “wrong move” will cause the bird to fly off. He shows his love for nature in the presence of this “blackbird,” that he loves to see. For him, this is a symbol of what is right in the countryside and in the towns. This is nature at its best. This place is a snapshot of heaven.

This is the returning young man being remembered when he returned from his first term or semester away from home. The poem shows how when he was younger he did not have the same kind of liking that he has now for that which we call home. As he returns, he parks and does what would be natural, to “park, pause, take heed.” It is that sort of moment when we return to somewhere in our past, where we pause and reflect on how that place has shaped us and made us into the person we are now. I live away from my home town now so I know what this is like, and for a long time, I hated going back, to see family, but the years have turned the wheel of my life and now I see how that town has shaped and moulded me into the person I am now. This is what Heaney is reflecting on, autobiographically sharing a moment in his life.

He breathes and sits in his car, pondering on this place of old and decides that he wants, in another man’s words, to be “away to the house of death, to my father under the low clay roof.” This is where his brother is now laying, in death, like a leader who lays in state for the people to come and mourn. In Heaney’s earlier life his brother died and this therefore, is a memory and a poem written to share the he feels as if there is a sense of loss as he remembers, like “a little stillness dancer,” his “lost” brother who used to cavort “through the yard” when he was always so “glad to see [him] home.” This is dated to the end of his first term at school when he was young so is a memory of place, something we do with places, where we associate good or bad things to a certain place.

By now the reader is aware of the structural aspect of this poem, the mixture of five line stanzas and one line stanzas but the reader automatically sees the poet as he reminisces on the cruelty of life. And the use of the blackbird, almost a symbol of the thing that separates humanity from the animal world, is brought together as we see that there was an “accident” that took the life of his brother. That blackbird “on the shed roof” in his memory is the symbol used to link place to life and also to death. In the past we see that he “never liked yon bird.” Whilst this is a factual moment in the poem it also shows how one person can hate something at one point in their life and then love something later on.

As the poem continues, we hear “the automatic lock” as it “clunks shut” and how “the blackbird’s panic is short lived,” We see how Heaney sees this as something that represents the finality of death as he remembers his brother. And the poet then adds that “for a second” he has a “bird’s eye view” of himself, as a “shadow on raked gravel In front of [his] house of life.” There is a romance in his words here, a magic that transcends normal language, a way of seeing the world through a unique set of eyes, helping him to paint this picture in our minds of both place and person. Thinking of that bird, he recounts how he was with his brother, as if the bird has almost taken the place of his brother in that moment as it does a  “hedge-hop,” just like his brother when alive, how he was always ready with a riposte, as brothers are, a “talkback” and his “standoffish comeback.” It is clear that here, he is remembering the personality of the brother and sees elements of him in this blackbird.

What is clear here is that he misses the relationship he once had with his brother. He has seen the sort of pain that a young boy should not see and this has formulated itself into the words of this poem. This resonates so well with me, for I lost a Grandmother at the age of five and never got over the loss until when in my mid 40s I visited her grave for the first time. Maybe, if I had written a poem shortly after, my poem would sound similar as I use something in nature to remember my lost Grandmother? This is what is happening here. If we take this to be the truth behind the poem we see a man recollecting the life and impact of a brother, using something in nature to bring back to life once again, the brother he lost so long ago. This is the wonder of the words we speak and their ability to bring something long gone back to life. Such is the beauty of the English language.


Using The Title Of A Poem – Creative Writing

There is a task that can come up in coursework or exam and it is where you are asked to use the title of a poem in the anthology and use it as the basis for a piece of creative writing.

Now, if this was me sitting there in the exam, my creative juices would start to flow like mad, so I share now a story from my family history. My Great Great Grandfather served in the British Royal Navy as a Stoker in 1853 and was awarded the VC, the highest medal for bravery. But he was a German [or Swedish, we are not sure] which makes it possible that I may have German relatives now called Johannsen or some other such surname living in Germany. Using that knowledge and an idea that has sat in my mind for some time, I created this piece that follows, within the time limit for the exam. Enjoy. Watch how it unfolds until the sucker punch at the end. That ending is designed to make the reader think “oh I did not expect that!”


At the heart of mankind there is a sadness now for we are at war for yet another Christmas, yet another moment when man pits himself against man, when hatred and dislike appear to be more important than love and peace. Oh, we imagine a time when once again we will walk tall, rise up out of this muddy trench and sing our songs and anthems once again, but that day seems a long way off now, like some ethereal existence that eludes and evades us. This is the life that we are resigned to, the futility that we expect, hoping to be able to sit out this horrible war without getting shot, or worse.

The rats are the biggest danger now. They seem to be everywhere, rummaging around the dead and decaying corpses, hunting for that morsel of meat that will last them yet another festering night. We see them on a daily basis now, since the last barrage of artillery landed and blew everything to hell. Now, where there was grass and flowers, rises only the ruby red poppy in the summer. They seem to reflect the blood that has been shed. Other than that, nothing grows here any more, not even the hope that used to exist within our hearts.

Oh the Generals come round and they say how well we are doing, how good and fine a soldier we are, how smart our uniforms look, considering the hell that we live through each day. They ask us about how the enemy seem to be withering under the onslaught of daily bombardment and we give out our stock response of how proud we are to be here, fighting this battle, but what we do not tell them is that really, truthfully, we want to be elsewhere. We want to be home and as far away from this bloody mess that we can. This is a war that will never end.

It is Christmas now and so we sing our songs of when the Christ child was born, to help us bring back some semblance of normality to these trenches. We sing of a Saviour and hope that sooner, rather than later, the shelling will stop. And when it does, the sense of relief is palpable. We hear from across No Man’s Land, the faint strains of the enemy as they join in the song. We cannot remember who began this song of hope, this ode to a child, but we know and understand each other in this time of woe.

What is this all for, we ask, as we sit under the moon, sharing the frozen frost that glistens on every breath. What is it all for, this war to end all wars? Is it for the land that we so crave? Have we become so entrenched in a land locked battle that we cannot see the woods for the trees any more? Trees, now there is a thought, for many of them are now decimated under the barrage of shell and the shock to the ground. There is not a piece of land left with a tree round here, for miles. All we see is desolation. All we see is despair. All we see is death and decay!

But wait, what is that we hear? Across the barricades we hear the sound of a soft trumpet and it is not one used to sound an attack. No, this one is softer, more harmonious, more melodic, like the strains of a bird on a spring morning, singing its marvellous tune to its creator. No, this is better than that. This is greater than any song. This, in this time of war, is a symbol of hope, a metaphor for living, a truly beautiful sensation that drifts across the land between us. This is their song of Christmas, their words, not ours. This is the embodiment of what it means to have a silent night and there is not a thing I can think of but how beautiful those words sound in another language than mine.

I wonder sometimes, who might be in those trenches across from me. I remember my father telling of his Grandfather and how he served in the Navy. I remember how he stayed there in that country and brought up a family, how that family prospered and now, are relatives of mine. I think now of the possibility of one of my cousins being perched on that opposing trench and I do not want to fight any more. I do not want to be the one to kill one of my brothers. God forbid that I should be the one to do that! After all, I do have my pride in my homeland. I do have my family to think of and I do have the pride of the whole German people resting on my shoulders!

Of Mice and Men – Creative Writing Exercise

Of Mice and Men – A Creative Writing Exercise

When looking on my ‘stats’ page, I noticed someone had put something specific into Google, or some other such search engine. What they had added in was “Of Mice and Men takes its title from an old Scottish poem. Use an idea from a poem [to create your own unique piece of writing].” The last part in brackets is a guess at what the end said for it faded out on my page.

This got me thinking, how would someone go about creating this piece of writing? It also got me thinking how that first choice would be made. The thing is, that there are millions of poems out there that you could choose. So, from a teacher’s perspective, I find this task very intriguing indeed.

So, how would you create this?

The answer is not that complicated,, especially if by now, you have pulled your hair out trying to figure it out. The first thing to do is choose the poem. You might be thinking that is easier said than done, but I would advise going with a favourite poem, or choosing what you would write about and then see if there is a poem out there to use for this purpose. The aim is NOT to write a story that follows the same plot of the poem.

So, if I was doing this, I would use this plan:

  1. Choose the poem – keep it simple; go for the famous poems.
  2. Notice that the task says use an idea, not a title, for your writing.
  3. When the theme is chosen, then plan the writing.
  4. Plan it paragraph by paragraph, writing the first line of each paragraph first.
  5. Then see how you can develop that into a completed task.
  6. Then write the thing in rough, or type it, to have a ‘first go’ at the thing.
  7. When you are done, revise it, making suitable changes, to improve it.
  8. And then, if it is to be a Controlled Assessment, create a plan from your writing.
  9. Now, you are ready to complete the thing on the day.

So, here are a few ideas off the top of my head.

  1. Sonnet 18 – A description of a beautiful summer’s day – your choice where.
  2. Hunchback in the Park – A Day In The Life Of……A Vagrant.
  3. Salome – A story that shows a passion from one person to the next.
  4. Futility – A monologue from the point of view of a soldier in the trenches. Do a German soldier to make it unique. Maybe involve the Christmas Day footie match? If it was me, I would have a story where a British soldier makes friends with a German soldier only to find they are related [this may have happened in my Grandfather’s Somme experience].
  5. Digging – Seamus Heaney poem about his father – write a letter from a father to a child. The Dad knows he is dying so he puts his feelings and emotions down for his child to read after he is dead. You give him some terminal illness and go from there.
  6. Praise Song for My Mother – now here is a chance to describe the person who has inspired you the most in your life, whoever that might be, male or female.

Choosing the poem might be as easy as looking through the anthology for a poem. If you choose a war poem, you can then go pro war or anti war. The choices are endless almost. When you have made that choice and the idea is blossoming in your mind, write a plan for the thing. Now the plan structure is up to you. I would write a list out of first lines. These would be first lines of each paragraph, so thinking logically is important here. 5 lines would do it, if you then write 2 paragraphs for each section, you would have 10 paragraphs. If each page has 3 paragraphs, that makes 4 sides of writing [just].

The rest is up to you. Try to use alliteration, similes, lots of adjectives, lots of colour, emotion, description. But above all, enjoy the creation of such a thing. If it is a story it needs to be in past tense [Sean saw no reason for worry]. If it is a description it is present tense [David is the most inspirational person I know….] and in both you can mix some future tense as well [he said he will see how things go before making a decision whether to kill the man or not].

Finally, there is only one thing to say; have some fun with this. If you have a wicked sense of humour, like me, this is where you can be ultra cheeky. Your favourite teacher can end up in your story, but as the villain of the piece, the killer, the stalker, the parasite on the prowl. Anything is possible. Just have fun. That is what writing is all about as far as this English teacher is concerned.

Monologues – How On Earth Do I Write One?


Okay, so your teacher asks you to write a monologue. You sit there and think one thing; what is a monologue? Well, the answer is something that is remarkably simple. It is, in effect, a diary entry, but whereas a diary is only to be read by the person writing it, this is meant to be recited, out loud, or read with meaning out loud. It is then, a collection of thoughts from the perspective of a character in a play, or prose, or even a poem. Okay, you think, that does not sound too bad. I can do that. And do you know, that is the best attitude to have. The “I can do that” attitude gets C grade and above, generally speaking.

So how do you write one?

As with any other piece of writing on here or in your exam, or at the moment, for coursework Controlled Assignments, there are stages and the first one is planning. Then, when you have planned it out, you can write it. But how do you plan it? Once again, there are easy ways to do it and my 5 point plan, as shown on other items in this blog, becomes usable in this instance. For example, the Introduction, Point 1, Point 2, Point 3 and conclusion idea works well here.

I hear you begging for an example.

Well here is one. Consider for a moment, the character of Jenett Humphries in Woman In Black, by Susan Hill. If you are not new to this blog, you will know I taught it last year in Leeds. If you were fortunate to see me and be in the classroom at the time, you will know my love for this novella. But you will also know who Jenett Humphries is, for she is the mysterious woman in black. She is the vengeful ghost who steals babies away.

But what do we know about her? Well, once again, go to your notes on the novella and you will see the following:

1. Jenette Humphries was a single mother in a time when it was not acceptable.
2. She had a sister, called Alice Drablow. The sister was married.
3. She was forced to have the child and give it to her sister to bring up.
4. She was made to see her son grow up knowing her as auntie rather than mother.
5. She followed the rules to the letter of the law. But she did not enjoy it.
6. She lived with her sister and brother in law at Eel Marsh House.
7. One day, she saw from the upstairs window something that would change her.
8. She witnessed the death by drowning, of her infant son and his maid.
9. This sent her over the edge because she was planning to escape with the boy.
10. She went mad with grief and died; she came back as the woman in black.
11. She now haunts Eel Marsh House. There is suspicion that she killed her sister.
12. After her sister dies, she haunts the town of Crythin Gifford.
13. It is said that each time someone sees her, a child will be taken and die.
14. When Arthur Kipps arrives to sort out her sister’s papers, he sees the ghost.
15. She haunts Kipps until he is desperate to escape back to London.
16. She kills Kipps’ wife and baby son at the end of the story. That is her revenge!

Now, armed with all that information, you can plan your monologue, which is the woman in black herself, speaking her thoughts out loud. The writing is exactly the same as your teacher will have given you [or should have – if you never did one of these at KS3 then your teacher needs sacking!] in Year 7 when you had to write a diary account from a character’s perspective. This is no different.

But here is where the tricky part hits home – what you write depends on where in the story it has to be placed. If your teacher wants it after the scene in the church with Kipps, then there can be no reference of the haunting of Kipps afterwards in the house, apart from an “I will terrify him when he comes to my house later.” This is because it has not happened yet. Likewise, if your teacher wants it written at the time when she has just killed Kipps’ son and wife then all the details can be added. So, your writing has to be time specific.

Everything has to make sense.

Let’s say it is at the end. How do you plan it? Well, using that 5 point plan, I would suggest the following:

1. I remember the first time I saw that strange young man from London.
2. He had the temerity to live in my house, my family home. How dare he?
3. I then terrified the life out of him [and his little dog too].
4. I caused him to run away, scared for his life. He escaped, or so he thought.
5. He has seen me, so I have to take the child, his newly born son.

You need to get over the idea of her thinking “I cannot have mine, so he is not having his! I will have my revenge.” But be careful with number 3 above, because this is not the Wizard of Oz [sorry,  could not resist that one].

Now, whereas an essay about this novella is written in present tense [Kipps then asks…..] this style of writing is written in past tense, like a story [I taught him a lesson he will never forget]. The key word there is “taught” rather than “teach.” Your task is to get the feelings and emotions of the caracter across to the reader. Be emotional if needs be. Be cold and callous where the need arises. Be wicked or evil, if the character is like that. And above all, have fun doing it.

Be a show off! Show off your brilliant writing skills because this is assessed for spelling, punctuation and grammar!  So, without me writing one up for this blog, which makes it too easy for you, may I now suggest you have a go at one based from a prose text you have read this year. When it is done, add it and leave a message here so it can be added onto the blog by me, or better still, go to the Facebook page and add it there as a note. I look forward to reading your glorious work.


On A Portrait Of A Deaf Man – John Betjeman

On A Portrait Of A Deaf Man – John Betjeman

The kind old face, the egg-shaped head,
The tie, discreetly loud,
The loosely fitting shooting clothes,
A closely fitting shroud.

He liked old city dining rooms,
Potatoes in their skin,
But now his mouth is wide to let
The London clay come in.

He took me on long silent walks
In country lanes when young.
He knew the names of ev’ry bird
But not the song it sung.

And when he could not hear me speak
He smiled and looked so wise
That now I do not like to think
Of maggots in his eyes.

He liked the rain-washed Cornish air
And smell of ploughed-up soil,
He liked a landscape big and bare
And painted it in oil.

But least of all he liked that place
Which hangs on Highgate Hill
Of soaked Carrara-covered earth
For Londoners to fill.

He would have liked to say goodbye,
Shake hands with many friends,
In Highgate now his finger-bones
Stick through his finger-ends.

You, God, who treat him thus and thus,
Say “Save his soul and pray.”
You ask me to believe You and
I only see decay.


Sometimes there are poems that simply knock you for six and this, for me, is one of those. John Betjeman poems do this for me. If unsure what I mean, read “Slough” by the same poet. There is a sense in his poems that a hint of sarcasm, or angst, comes through in every single line and as much as “Slough” asks for “friendly bombs” to fall on the town because he does not like the new town of Slough [when it was built], so too do we see here that same rhyming style and use of language that evokes, in this case, a sense of sadness, but also angst at God.

It is as if the poet himself is relating how much an elderly gentleman means to him, like his is looking at him down in the coffin now that he has gone. He sees the “kind old face, the egg-shaped head, the tie, discreetly loud” and remembers how this man used to be. It is a memory of something good. This was a unique man, the sort of man who led his life like he wanted to and unlike the majority of others. He was a man in his life who liked “loosely fitting shooting clothes,” which suggests a country gentleman of sorts, someone who preferred the country lifestyle. This is compounded when we see the word “Cornish” later in the poem. But now, in death, his clothes are not rich and luxurious, but more like a “closely fitting shroud” around him as he lays buried.

In the next verse, we see more of the man when he was alive, a man who liked “old city dining rooms” that served “potatoes in their skin,” or Jacket Potatoes as we know them. It is as if the poet is remembering the old man like he was rather than is and shows something that we as humans do. When someone we love dies, we tend to like to remember them in their glory years, when they were fit and healthy. This is what the poet is doing here, rather than thinking about how now, “his mouth is wide [open in death] to let the London clay come in.” This latter image is one that disgusts, one that makes us shudder and is one we tend to avoid at all costs.

In the next verse this idea is repeated with similar language, where we see the poet remembering the man who used to take him “on long silent walks in country lanes” when he was younger. This was a man who “knew the names of ev’ry bird” which is impressive and shows a knowledge of the natural environment, but then, the next line where it says “but not the song it sung” makes us see a man who although knowledgeable about birds, is someone who is bereft of feeling for them. He was a man who “smiled and looked so wise” and this is how he is remembered rather than thinking of him lying in the ground with “maggots in his eyes.” It is at this point that the reader sees the meaning of the title for we are told that the man at some point was unable to hear him speaking.

And in his silent and insular self at that point, the poet still remembers someone who “liked the rain-washed Cornish air and smell of ploughed-up soil,” showing someone with a love of the countryside, someone who maybe was from Cornwall, a friend of the family or maybe even, someone closer. This is someone who saw the beauty in “a landscape big and bare” enough to paint it with oil paints. So we see a man who had a love of the soil, the earth, the very ground he is to be put in after he dies. And as much as he loved the earth in all its natural magnificence, there was one place on earth he detested and this is painted so well by the poet, who says “least of all he liked that place which hangs on Highgate Hill.” Now, Highgate Hill is a cemetery where the dead are buried. The poet describes it as being something where “soaked Carrara-covered earth” fills the ground. Suddenly, we see someone who both loves and hates, someone who sees both good and bad in the natural world, but the loathing of the place is simply because everything there is dead and decaying. It is a place “for Londoners to fill,” somewhere where negativity resides in slumber.

In the following verses, the attention is taken away from the man and his likes, to the fact that even when he knew he was dying, there were some regrets in his life. We see how “he would have liked to say goodbye,” or “shake hands with many friends,” but maybe because his death was sudden and unexpected, he never got the chance. Now, in the ground, “his finger-bones stick through his finger-ends.” This is a particularly grim image being painted here by the poet who wants to see the man as he remembers him, fit and well, not decaying in the ground. It is a defence mechanism at work in the normal human being, the thing we do with those we love and admire.

Now, if these memories were good enough for the man, as he remembers his friend and the tone is friendly, there comes a sudden change, for the man remembering his friend share his thoughts to someone [or thing] in a different direction. So far it has been fond memories, a warmth towards the man, a sense of fondness, but now, towards his concept of “God,” the man aims an insult, which again, is understandable, but nevertheless a natural response. It is so easy for us when we are faced with something negative, to ask “where is God in all of this?” This is what the poet, or man remembering, does here as he directs the final verse, saying “you, God, who treat him thus and thus, say “Save his soul and pray.””

The tone is very different in this last verse. There is an antagonism as he thinks about how God, in whatever form, asks him “to believe” when the only thing he can see in his vision is “decay.” Tonally there is anger here where there was fondness before. There is a sense of annoyance directed at whoever or whatever is in charge of life. The poet is saying that life is so unfair, so wrong that it can take someone as good as this man being remembered. And in a sense, he would be right in thinking this, for life is, invariably, unfair at times. We see sickness and decay all around us each day. We see parents ageing and decay setting in, waiting for God in their homes, waiting for death to take them and we despair. This is what the poet is trying to say here, that in the end, all we can see “is decay!” That is what makes this poem a sad and melancholic one to read but also a brilliant poem to read because of the dichotomy between what is remembered and what is fact.

Case History: Alison (Head Injury) + Analysis

Case History: Alison (Head Injury)
UA Fanthorpe

(She looks at her photograph)

I would like to have known
My husband’s wife, my mother’s only daughter.
A bright girl she was.

Enmeshed in comforting
Fat, I wonder at her delicate angles.
Her autocratic knee

Like a Degas dancer’s
Adjusts to the observer with an airy poise
That now lugs me upstairs

Hardly. Her face, broken
By nothing sharper than smiles, holds in its smiles
What I have forgotten.

She knows my father’s dead
And grieves for it, and smiles. she has digested
Mourning. Her smile shows it.

I, who need reminding
Every morning, shall never get over what
I do not remember.

Consistency matters.
I should like to keep faith with her lack of faith,
But forget her reasons.

Proud of this younger self,
I assert her achievements, her A levels,
Her job with a future.

Poor clever girl! I know,
For all my damaged brain , something she doesn’t:
I am her future.

A bright girl she was.


The first thing I am noticing when I view this poem for the first time is the title. This is something you need to consider with every poem in the anthology. Some have real meaning, like the Agard poem, where he is checking out his identity. Others, like Shelley’s Ozymandias, tell you very little. Others lead you on into the poem expecting a certain something to happen. Therefore, the title of a poem is extremely worth writing about and is something that a lot of students fail to do in exams [I have marked them don’t forget] to the detriment of their marks. Sometimes the 2 marks missing where a comment could have been made can be the difference between the C and the D grade.

This poem has one of those titles where you think to yourself, okay, now that is a little weird for a title. It is more like a title for a description of a patient, or an essay on the clinical needs and dependencies of a patient. So the first thing to note is that from the very beginning, the poem has the reader at somewhat of a disadvantage [but do not read it quickly like I did first time]. This is continued as we read the words in parenthesis, or, in brackets. We see that one person is looking at a photograph that she owns and is then thinking, out loud when read as a poem. So these words are the thoughts of that person, as she considers the photograph in her hands. She says “I would like to have known my husband’s wife, my mother’s only daughter,” which sounds a little odd and in line with the oddities of the title we looked at earlier. “My husband’s wife” is a statement that sounds wrong, unless the person she was married to was married before their marriage, or even if it was a bigamous marriage on the man’s part [see the comment at the end of this description as the light bulb moment hit me]. Either way, the woman considers how she would like to get to know her because she was “a bright girl,” which shows affection for the woman in question in the first verse. This theme of wondering about this other woman is developed in the next three lines as she considers how the other wife was “enmeshed in comforting fat,” which alas, does suggest she was of the more Matronly figure.

She is looking at a photograph here in this poem, which has just set alarm bells in my head because we recently read another poem where something like this was happening. If you remember the context of My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning, you see here a major similarity and one that you may consider when writing in the exam. If your exam question says something like write about My Last Duchess and one other poem of your choice you have one here that you could use to compare and contrast well. Both have a character looking at an image of a wife. Both have a person considering her beauty, her pose, the way she looks on the image in front of them. In this one, the woman considers the lady’s “delicate angles” and “autocratic knee.” Autocratic means a ruler who has absolute power, so she has the power over her husband, a power to control him, to make him love her, to change the direction of his gaze if needs be. This is one good looking woman, even given her statuesque figure.

She has legs “like a Degas dancer,” and “adjusts to the observer with an airy poise.” She is the epitome of perfection to the man in her life and has the ability to hold in her smile what a person forgets. She is impressive in every way. The woman thinks and knows that the woman in the photo “knows [that her] father’s dead” and as such, she has mourned and grieved for that person. She is a person who has the ability to share her emotions with the world. She is so alike to the Duchess in the Browning poem. The rather beautiful comment that “she has digested mourning” is one that in essence, shows a compassionate and understanding woman who is able to have sympathy and empathy with others around her. She is the sort of person you want in your life, or was! There is that sense of one-ship in her smile, her radiating smile. Not only is she bright and lovely to know, but the lady observing the photo is someone who needs “reminding every morning” because she “shall never get over what [she does] not remember.”

Now we begin to see something different happening in the poem because “consistency matters” in this person’s life. Suddenly, there is a lightbulb moment in this ageing head of mine [oh boy, did it come as a surprise to me when it hit] as I see the truth of the poem and the truth of the situation this lady finds herself in. There are times when I need to sit down and look through some old photographs. As I do so, I begin to remember again the memories I thought I had forgotten, memories of my time before my car crash in 2010 when I passed into unconsciousness and ‘died’ at the scene only to be revived by the paramedics. I have no idea how long I was wherever I ‘went’ in those moments but when I was lurched back into reality, the twelve different head injuries began to exhibit their pain on me, a pain I can remember to this day. So, when I now see this woman and I consider the title once again and how it has the words “head injury” in brackets, I see a woman who is staring at a photo of herself when she was younger, married to the man of her life and seeing her “husband’s wife, [her] mother’s only daughter” and she considers just how much of a “bright girl she was” before the brain injury.

Now, she is a woman who would “like to keep faith with her lack of faith” back in those days of happiness, but she cannot remember “her reasons” or the pride she once had as she achieved glory in her exams and landed the “job with a future.” She looks back and can see only a faded image in her mind, a shady old photograph in her memory that is full of gaps that were brought on by the head injury. My memory sometimes plays tricks on me as well, so I share her despair here at not being able to reach out and make contact with that person of old. After such a head injury, you become a different person, good or bad. You have to make adjustments. You have to operate in a different way. Life becomes something you have to learn how to do all over again, rather like learning to walk all over again with false legs.

“For all [her] damaged brain,” she is all too aware that the future holds something different for her. From “bright girl” and having passed her “A Levels,” she now has to look forward to a life bereft of achievement, or one that she simply does not want to lead. Now here, I see myself in this poem looking back at my old photographs and I sense the heartache and despair of this woman as she looks forward without a sense of hope. “I am her future,” she says but then, using what could be termed an oxymoron, she adds again the repeated words “a bright girl she was.” It is that use of the past tense that for me, makes this such a heart rending poem. It shows and shares a feeling of woe after an accident of some kind leading to a brain injury that has left this once active and very clever woman in a situation that no-one would ever wish on their worst enemy. This is why this is such a good poem because it makes the reader consider just how they would live in such circumstances!

Advertising – Writing About A Printed Advert

The Language of Advertising – Printed Adverts & Images

There are a number of things you have to concentrate on when looking at an image, or an advert, either in class or in the exam.

  1. Content. In other words, you need to open with a sentence or two about the advert or image. You need to treat it like a poem, in the sense that when you see it in the classroom or exam, the thing is there, in the present, so it is present tense only. For example, “The advert for Vosene Junior has two pictures of Dennis the Menace in the centre of the page, with text above and below…..” Briefly, in one paragraph, state what you see. You do not need to use PEE chains yet.
  2. Audience. In this second paragraph, you need to think about and write about the audience being aimed at with the advert. For example, a Vosene Junior advert using Dennis the Menace would not be aimed at children, for they do not buy the product. No, it would be aimed at the parents of that child. Think in terms of age, gender, social grouping, why a certain audience would buy that kind of product. Is the advert successfully aiming at the target audience? Here is where the PEE chains begin.
  3. Images. You then move onto the next paragraph by mentioning the pictures that are included, however small. This may involve things like company logos so look at every image. I saw one once, a couple of years ago, for a mobile phone tariff where couples have a phone each but only one bill. The images were of two mobile phones with cartoon faces and arms and legs, running towards each other ready to embrace. The idea is that you would do so too if you shared a tariff. State what you see and give ideas as to why the advertiser may have chosen to use such an image. Is it aimed at a certain audience? If it is a baby pink ipod being advertised, why is it aimed more at the female audience?
  4. Text/Font. Here you need to look at the language used; the words and the fonts chosen by the creator of the advert. Is it successful or not? Is it child-like? If so, why so? Now this is advert dependent, in the fact that words used for selling shampoo, like “aqua,” [meaning water], tend not to be used when selling or advertising Jim Beam whiskey, for obvious reasons. This is where the word register comes into play [look it up on Google]. There are a group of words associated with certain things. Baby wipes have their set of words just as much as Top Gear Magazine has word sets, or a lexical group of words that are used. [Look up semantic fields as well]. You can also refer to how successful you think they are but without using the words “I” or “My” in your writing.
  5. Your Ideas. Here is where you get the chance to really criticise if necessary, the advert in question. Simply state whether the advert is any good at advertising the product in question. Your opinion is vital for success, but again, do it without using the personal pronouns mentioned above.

The Language of Advertising!

There are several ways to approach a non-literature task either for coursework, or for the exam. I tend to use a 5 point plan of Content, Audience, Pictures, Text and Opinion and look at how each affects the audience – are they successful or not? It is a simple way to approach 5 areas of thought in your essay answer.

There are other ways, other forms of thinking through a Language task. Below is just one of them. In order to sell a product, advertisers have to create the necessary illusion of superiority, so  they usually resort to one or more of the following ten basic techniques.

Each is common and easy to identify but how do they work? Make some notes of your own.


A weasel word is a modifier that practically negates the claim that follows. Words or claims that appear substantial upon first look but disintegrate into hollow meaninglessness on analysis are weasels. Commonly used weasel words include “helps” (the champion weasel); “like” (used in a comparative sense); “virtual” or “virtually”; “acts” or “works”; “can be”; “up to”; “as much as”; “refreshes”; “comforts”; “tackles”; “fights”; “come on”; “the feel of”; “the look of”; “looks like”; “fortified”; “enriched”; and “strengthened.”


The unfinished claim is one in which the ad claims the product is better, or has more of something, but does not finish the comparison. Samples of Unfinished Claims are “Magnavox gives you more.” More what? “Anacin: Twice as much of the pain reliever doctors recommend most.” This claim fits in a number of categories but it does not say twice as much of what pain reliever. “Supergloss does it with more color, more shine, more sizzle, more!” “Coffee-mate gives coffee more body, more flavor.” Also note that “body” and “flavor” are weasels.


This kind of claim states that there is nothing else quite like the product being advertised. For example, if Schlitz would add pink food coloring to its beer they could say, “There’s nothing like new pink Schlitz.” The uniqueness claim is supposed to be interpreted by readers as a claim to superiority. Samples of the “We’re Different and Unique” Claim” There’s no other mascara like it.” “Only Doral has this unique filter system.” “Cougar is like nobody else’s car.”


“Water is wet” claims say something about the product that is true for any brand in that product category, (for example, “Schrank’s water is really wet.”) The claim is usually a statement of fact, but not a real advantage over the competition. Samples of the “Water is Wet” Claim are “Mobil: the Detergent Gasoline.” Any gasoline acts as a cleaning agent. “Great Lash greatly increases the diameter of every lash.”


This is the kind of claim to which the careful reader will react by saying “So What?” A claim is made which is true but which gives no real advantage to the product. This is similar to the “water is wet” claim except that it claims an advantage which is not shared by most of the other brands in the product category. Samples of the “So What” Claim are “Geritol has more than twice the iron of ordinary supplements.” But is twice as much beneficial to the body? “Campbell’s gives you tasty pieces of chicken and not one but two chicken stocks.” Does the presence of two stocks improve the taste? “Strong enough for a man but made for a woman.” This deodorant claims says only that the product is aimed at the female market.


The vague claim is simply not clear. This category often overlaps with others. The key to the vague claim is the use of words that are colorful but meaningless, as well as the use of subjective and emotional opinions that defy verification. Most contain weasels.  Samples of the Vague Claim are “Lips have never looked so luscious.” Can you imagine trying to either prove or disprove such a claim? “Take a bite and you’ll think you’re eating on the Champs Elysées.” “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.”


A celebrity or authority appears in an ad to lend his or her stellar qualities to the product. Sometimes the people will actually claim to use the product, but very often they don’t. There are agencies surviving on providing products with testimonials. Samples of Endorsements or Testimonials are “Joan Fontaine throws a shot-in-the-dark party and her friends learn a thing or two.” “Darling, have you discovered Masterpiece? The most exciting men I know are smoking it.” (Eva Gabor) “Vega is the best handling car in the U.S.” This claim was challenged by the FTC, but GM answered that the claim is only a direct quote from Road and Track magazine.


This kind of ad uses some sort of scientific proof or experiment, very specific numbers, or an impressive sounding mystery ingredient. Samples of Scientific or Statistical Claims are “Wonder Break helps build strong bodies 12 ways.” “Easy-Off has 33% more cleaning power than another popular brand.” “Another popular brand” often translates as some other kind of oven cleaner sold somewhere. Also the claim does not say Easy-Off works 33% better. “Special Morning–33% more nutrition.” Also an unfinished claim.


This kind of claim butters up the consumer by some form of flattery. Samples of the “Compliment the Consumer” Claim are “We think a cigar smoker is someone special.” “If what you do is right for you, no matter what others do, then RC Cola is right for you.” “You pride yourself on your good home cooking….” and “The lady has taste.”


This technique demands a response from the audience. A question is asked and the viewer or listener is supposed to answer in such a way as to affirm the product’s goodness.

Samples of the Rhetorical Question are “Plymouth–isn’t that the kind of car America wants?” “Shouldn’t your family be drinking Hawaiian Punch?” “What do you want most from coffee? That’s what you get most from Hills.” “Touch of Sweden: could your hands use a small miracle?”

Each are an example of language use. Each have an effect on the reader. So you should never forget that old three word mnemonic of AUDIENCE, FORM and PURPOSE! Keep these close to your heart and memory and you should do well.

NB. Each of the above ten ideas were generated from another website. They are useful to know, but as secondary ideas to the main ones specified in the first paragraph. I thank the other webmaster for adding the thoughts contained herein.

The Ruined Maid – Thomas Hardy + Analysis

The Ruined Maid

Thomas Hardy

“O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?” —
“O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.

— “You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!” —
“Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.

— “At home in the barton you said thee’ and thou,’
And thik oon,’ and theäs oon,’ and t’other’; but now
Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compa-ny!” —
“Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.

— “Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!” —
“We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.

— “You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you’d sigh, and you’d sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!” —
“True. One’s pretty lively when ruined,” said she.

— “I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!” —
“My dear — a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,” said she.


I have read Hardy poems for some time now and they all seem to have a similar earthy feel to them, being about life and relationships in a Wessex countryside setting. Now the first thing to remember is there is no such place as Wessex, even if there is an Earl of Wessex in the British Royal Family. That aside, before you read this may I suggest you read Woman Much Missed as well, to get a flavour of his poems. Then read some more. They are simply glorious in places. And then read this so it is not your first Hardy poem.

Okay, so what is this one about? Well, one person is speaking of another, someone called “Melia,” or more likely, “Amelia” and that person speaking, we assume, is female because of the ending. She says “O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown! Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?” This is a surprise meeting between the two in the town but we see from the tone of the language used that meeting in town is unexpected.  The words “who would have thought” lead us to that assumption. Then we get something that you need to be aware of; the use of archaisms, or archaic language. This is when someone uses language that is so old and ancient it is considered to be archaic in its use and the word “whence” is one such word. She asks “whence such fair garments, such prosperity?” and is saying where did you come by, or how did you come to own such garments, or clothes that are so expensive?

The next line is therefore slightly confusing. Is she saying it ironically, when she responds with “O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” She has been ruined financially by someone or something and the reader is left wondering if the person in the poem is at any fault. The girl continues by adding “You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks, tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks.” Because the speaker has caused this to happen, the woman in this poem has gone from affluence to poverty and the speaker is to blame.

Or so it seems!

Did she promise to keep her and then go back on her word? Maybe, but she says “now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three,” hinting at the fact that this is a woman well dressed and well looked after, a woman of refinement and style, the style that only lots of money can buy. This is then confirmed rather sarcastically by the words “Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.” At this point, if you are not reading this with the right amount of exactness and accuracy, you can be misled. It is one of those poems. Ask yourself, how many are speaking here? The first three lines are a woman [most likely] speaking or talking to another woman and the last line is the woman replying. The woman then continues with “At home in the barton you said thee’ and thou,” using archaisms once again, as if she thinks she is from a higher class than the other. Couple this with the next line where she adds: “thik oon,’ and theäs oon,’ and t’other’; but now your talking quite fits ‘ee for high company” and you get the impression that she thinks the world of her. She is the epitome of perfection especially because her speech is that which is not pure and perfect. Her language used is colloquial and local to that Wessex area that exists in Hardy’s work, based in the south west of England.

But her response is sarcastic, sardonic even as she retorts with “some polish is gained with one’s ruin.” It is as if she is playing with emotions. The person is “bewitched by [her] delicate cheek,” as if everything in her leads to one conclusion, that she is the image of perfection. To some this might sound a little odd but ask yourself this; when you meet that person of your dreams, you just ‘know.’ That is the myth of love at first sight and when that happens you see your partner as the epitome of perfection. This is what is happening here; one person infatuated with this woman so much that he is unable to see past any imperfections. Her response once again is sarcastic, with “we never do work when we’re ruined.” She does not see herself in the same way. She sees a flawed person, not something that is perfect, but the other is different in assumptions, such is the extent of the love for this woman.

There is also a negativity to this woman as she sees that she has been ruined. “You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,” does suggest she at some point in their relationship, was not happy with her life, or lifestyle. She would insult where she was and what she had got. She would “sigh” and “sock,” which presumably is a term of negativity towards something, but in this present time she does not seem to know the boundaries of being “melancholy” or sad. The use of language here is interesting because although sarcastic, it shows the difference between how a man views a woman and how a woman sees a woman. “True,” says she, “One’s pretty lively when ruined.”

At this point the narrative of this poem has dealt with the past and the present in their relationship, but in the last verse it takes the reader into the future. The speaker says “I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown, and a delicate face, and could strut about Town!” Clearly, this is something she has the ability to do. It is also something that some of the others are able to do as well. “My dear,” she asks, “a raw country girl, such as you be, cannot quite expect that.” In her eyes, she cannot claim to be on the receiving end of negativity, her being a country girl, as perfect as she sees her.

But this response is interesting in that she simply adds back “You ain’t ruined.” Being ruined makes it so that you feel as if you can do nothing. Her use of non-standard English, even as basic as it is, coupled with her sarcasm, makes for an interesting person being created in this poem. She has everything compared to the other’s very little. She is the epitome of Tess of the D’Urbevilles [give it a read – you’ll love it] and she is the simple country girl. There is a chasm between the two and she knows it, but she sees someone that has the ability to see beyond class boundaries and into the heart of a relationship. But she feels she has been ruined; by life, by another man maybe, or even by the narrator himself, who is trying desperately to redeem himself in the sight of her inability to forgive. This is why this is such a good poem to unlock.

The Hunchback In The Park – Dylan Thomas + Analysis

The Hunchback In The Park – Dylan Thomas

A solitary mister
Propped between trees and water
From the opening of the garden lock
That lets the trees and water enter
Until the Sunday sombre bell at dark
Eating bread from a newspaper
Drinking water from the chained cup
That the children filled with gravel
In the fountain basin where I sailed my ship
Slept at night in a dog kennel
But nobody chained him up.
Like the park birds he came early
Like the water he sat down
And Mister they called Hey mister
The truant boys from the town
Running when he had heard them clearly
On out of sound
Past lake and rockery
Laughing when he shook his paper
Hunchbacked in mockery
Through the loud zoo of the willow groves
Dodging the park keeper
With his stick that picked up leaves.
And the old dog sleeper
Alone between nurses and swans
While the boys among willows
Made the tigers jump out of their eyes
To roar on the rockery stones
And the groves were blue with sailors
Made all day until bell time
A woman figure without fault
Straight as a young elm
Straight and tall from his crooked bones
That she might stand in the night
After the locks and chains
All night in the unmade park
After the railings and shrubberies
The birds the grass the trees the lake
And the wild boys innocent as strawberries
Had followed the hunchback
To his kennel in the dark.


I remember seeing this poem for the first time a couple of years ago as I was teaching the poetry section in the anthology and was required to teach this, along with three or four more, to my classes to get them to write a Controlled Assessment on them. So it comes as no surprise to see it here in this section, because it is about a character that I can relate to so well and it shows how we take away the voice of one so lowly at times because of our horrible actions and attitudes towards such people.

There is a saying in the UK that “it does what it says on the tin” and this poem is no different. Simply entitled “The Hunchback in the Park” and written by Dylan Thomas, from his Collected Poems 1934 – 1953, we see a tale of a man who is living on the streets. As I type this, there is a reminder in my head, as should be in yours if you are following this blog, that there is another poem in this section that could be linked with this, to be able to write a response in the exam. Can you figure it out? Have you got the same idea as I have? This is what you need to do as you study these poems, assuming your teacher, like me, would let you read ALL of them one after another, so as to be able to let you have the choice in the exam.

This then, is the story of someone who lives not in a house or home, but in the park! This is the story of a “solitary mister,” a term we use to show respect to our elders in the UK, or at least we used to, but this one is not so well off as we are, not so fortunate, for we see him “propped between trees and water” in a situation more than likely, not of his choosing. We know from the title that he is a “hunchback,” that he has a disability and so, we are being asked to consider just how we treat people with disability here. This man is to be found in the “garden lock that lets the trees and water enter,” a space of land that through the day may be busy with people seeking their place of peace and tranquillity, but at night would be isolated and relatively safe to bed down under the stars.

As a reader, we are left to assume whether it is his choice or not to be there. Some choose to walk away from the pressures of life and live different lifestyles. To these people comes derision and contempt from those who have homes, mortgages etc. Comments like “get a job” when they are begging on the streets are common, but this man is different to those because of his disability. He can be found in this place in the park “until the Sunday sombre bell at dark,” which suggests he then moves on from “eating bread from a newspaper” and “drinking water from the chained cup that the children filled with gravel in the fountain basin” to somewhere quieter.

It is a sad existence he lives, one that is filled with pain. And the voice of the narrator in the poem comes through now as he says that where this man is seen is where he “sailed [his] ship.” To the man [or boy] in question, he is associating the place with the man, in a way saying that the two always seem to go together. But then we get the next line where suddenly, the tone changes in the poem for we see that the hunchback man sleeps “at night in a dog kennel.” This darkening of tone is meant to have an effect on the reader. It is meant to make us feel sorry for this man, for the fact that the only place he has where he feels safe is in a dog kennel. It is quite a statement that the poet is making about how we treat people near us in our society. And even though it was written approximately 70 years ago, the same still rings true today.

But there is a difference with this man, for “nobody chained him up,” showing that this is by choice that he lives like this. In a way, this is his ‘normal.’” Once again the reader should respond in support of the man. This is a man who, “like the park birds [he] came early” into the park, who “like the water [he] sat down” to take in the beauty of the day in the park. People call him “Mister” as a sign of respect for him, but those who are cruel, and it is aimed at children on purpose for they can be so cruel at times, aim insults at him. It is the “truant boys from the town,” the ones who are sent to school by their parents and then choose to walk out of school and get up to all sorts of antics, many illegal, that hurl their abuse at him and treat him harshly.

These boys from the town mock him and then run when he is “out of sound,” and laugh when he shakes his paper. They make fun of him, mocking him for his disability. In truth, they should be ashamed of themselves, but they are children who know no better because they do not understand disability yet. At this point the reader must be asking themselves the question: has the poet been in a park one day, seen something like this happening in front of his eyes and then penned the poem? When we talk of ‘intentional fallacy,’ we need to ask these questions. [There is an explanation of this on a previous post]

The use of the rhyme with the words “rockery” and “mockery” is a particularly good one, showing the mockery from the boys but also how the man is realistically and metaphorically “hunchbacked in mockery.” It is as if the mockery from the boys makes him stoop all the more, such is the pain inflicted by these boys. All this happens until the “bell time,” or the time when there is a sound that tells all in the park it is time to leave. The park is about to be closed. This is when we see the picture being painted of a “woman figure without fault, straight as a young elm,” seeing this man before her, seeing his plight, standing there “in the night after the locks and chains,” watching what happens next. Whether the poet intended us to take this in this way is uncertain, but one can see this from this reading and it becomes a man watching a woman watching a hunchback. It is a vignette [a short impressionistic scene] that is being shared here.

It is at night when we as readers see the extent of this hunchback’s plight and we feel for him, because after all that he has seen and put up with through the day; “the railings and shrubberies, the birds the grass the trees the lake and the wild boys innocent as strawberries,” we see him followed until he gets to his “kennel in the dark.” At the end, the reader should be feeling that feeling you get when you know someone is being treated harshly and there is little you can do about it. This is because that is the intention of the poet, to make you think about such people in society, who are forced to live life in a certain way that is not necessarily the same as ours.

This theme of ‘difference’ and how we deal with it is something that can and indeed must be written about in any exam setting. There are all sorts of differences here; the difference between the narrator and the hunchback, the difference between the woman and the hunchback and then the difference between each of us who reads this poem. All will have different experiences of people with disabilities [never ever write the words ‘disabled person’ in an exam!!!] and therefore will react to the themes of this poem in differing ways. It is true therefore, that when writing about literature, like this, there is no wrong answer, so long as your comments can be backed up with evidence from the poem.

This then, is a very effective poem, that shares a story about a man who lives in the park. It also shares a theme for us to consider; that of disability and how we deal with it. It depicts young, innocent children who hurt the feelings of the man, mocking him and running away from him when he reacts. It shows the reader just how not to treat someone who is different and is therefore, a polemic [look it up if not sure] in its style and content.