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War Photographer – Carol Ann Duffy
In his dark room he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
The only light is red and softly glows,
as though this were a church and he
a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.
He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays
beneath his hands, which did not tremble then
though seem to now. Rural England. Home again
to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
to fields which don’t explode beneath the feet
of running children in a nightmare heat.
Something is happening. A stranger’s features
faintly start to twist before his eyes,
a half-formed ghost. He remembers the cries
of this man’s wife, how he sought approval
without words to do what someone must
and how the blood stained into foreign dust.
A hundred agonies in black and white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday’s supplement. The reader’s eyeballs prick
with tears between the bath and pre-lunch beers.
From the aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns his living and they do not care.
I love the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy, from Salome to Miss Havisham, she is always there with a point to make and a certain style in which to do it. This poem is no different either.
It we adopt a title theory attitude to it, then we see the title and we expect it to be about a man or woman who has seen war torn situations and has come home and is getting to grips with life back in civilian homecomings. Or we expect it to be set in a war torn situation, mentioning bombings and the likes, the brutality of what they are photographing. If you watch Full Metal Jacket, although for the younger audience that might be a bad idea just yet, then you will get the idea.
But then we get to the poem and we see the setting and the brutality all rolled into one short and quite poetic style. Following a rhyme scheme of abb abb and a certain flourish of the pen, what Duffy writes about is a man who has returned home from a war torn place and is finally in his dark room. That dark room in line one is symbolic, in a way, of safety. It is the only place he feels real safety because of his job. It is the only place on the planet where he feels totally in control with the elements and liquids needed to create the quality photographs he does.
The poem shows us that the man is in his dark room, alone. It is a solitary lifestyle, the life of the old fashioned film developer. It is different now because we use digital cameras which can upload onto the internet straight away, but back then, in the glorious days of the 35mm film that you had to be extra careful with, you had to be in the darkness with “spools of suffering” in his case, spread out before him. Each photograph that such a man or woman takes is likely to be one that shows the horrors of warfare. It is certainly a job I would not want and I am a keen photographer myself and a former soldier.
The fact that there are “ordered rows” shows us that here is a man who is meticulous in what he is doing. Red light softly glows around him and the image of the priest in church is not lost on this reader, because in church, at times, we use lights to signify certain things. It helps to create a mood of sombre reflection to use tea time candles, for example. In this case, the red symbolizes blood that has been shed as he has captured the image for posterity. He is in a way, performing his macabre mass over his bench where all these liquids are laid out in trays ready for use.
The use of the city names of “Belfast. Beirut” and “Phnom Penh” are all meant to reflect something of the horror of modern guerrilla warfare. For those not in the know, Belfast refers to the ‘Troubles’ that were had there between Catholic and protestant at the time in Northern Ireland when the British Army tried to maintain peace, only for terrorist bombings to take place in Belfast and elsewhere on a regular basis. The use of Beirut as a reference shows us an image from a time in the Middle East when the troubles they had were based, for a time, in that city, where Arab fought Jew and Muslim fought Jew and Christian together. The atrocities carried out were regularly photographed by war correspondents.
The title itself, of this poem, speaks for itself. This is a man who “has a job to do.” That much is simple for us all to see and what we see as he does it, using his “slop in trays” is a man who is focusing on what is before him, rather like he would when taking the photograph in the first place. After all, when we frame a photograph with our camera, what do we do? We lift the camera or the phone to our eye height, make sure everything we want is centred and in view in the frame and then we press the shutter to get the best picture. We make sure all is not blurred and we make sure that the final product will be a memory for us to remember. This is what I did recently when I went to the Isle of Man for the TT bike racing. I have lots of memories now, to keep looking at, but this man’s memories are ones that are far more violent and malevolent than mine.
He, like me, is “home again” in “rural England” where the only pain is the “ordinary pain” that we face from day to day, but he has to live with that which he has seen through his camera lens. That cannot be easy, when you think about it. The places he goes to when he is home do not “explode beneath [his] feet” or cause him the kind of “nightmare heat” that he is now used to. This reaction in him is what we call today, PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and requires intensive therapy to help you get over the grief or horror you have witnessed.
Let me give you an example from real life!
Imagine coming home from a war zone like Iraq. Imagine it being near to November 5th. Then imagine sitting in your Mum and Dad’s house, aged 23 and an almighty great firework goes off with a terrific bang outside. What would you do? One of my ex students hit the floor when this happened, put his hands over the back of his neck and shouted, “take cover” as if he was calling to his comrades. His reaction was instinctive. Now, in the poem, we see the photographer doing the same thing as something begins to happen and “a stranger’s features faintly start to twist before his eyes,” as if he is seeing some “half formed ghost.” This is a vision of horror akin to that of the men in the poem, Dulce Et Decorum Est, by Wilfred Owen and shows the nastiness of warfare in all its grievous evil. Not one of us would survive the hell that such an image would bring. We would all be affected in one way or another.
Then the memories kick in and he begins to hear “the cries
of this man’s wife,” as she sees the horror of the moment and how she seeks “approval without words,” in silent movements of the arms to do something for her dying family member who is at her feet, blood stained in the dirt of the day in a “foreign dust.” This image is one that is full of colour; the red of the blood, the brown of the dirt, the colour of death; black. And then there is white, the colour of peace, but this image is flipped and subverted by the writer as she makes her war photographer [and us] see “a hundred agonies in black and white” all hanging there in photographic form. Life and death in monochrome. That is what he has captured.
There is one more thing that the photographer and the editor has to do, if they are not one and the same person and that is to choose “five or six for Sunday’s newspaper supplement.” Just how do you look at photographs such as this and then choose one for use in a magazine? I suppose in time, the editor and the photographer would become immune to the horrors. The more of these they see, the more blase they would become about them. The more they see them, the more they would think to use the next ones which are worse than those that have gone before them. In this way, when we see them in our magazines, our “eyeballs prick with tears between the bath and pre-lunch beers.”
We tend to view photographs such as these nowadays as just another thing to view in the harshness of life, but what Duffy is doing here is writing a poem that shares the idea that when these people go to these places and take these photos, there is an element of danger, in taking them, as well as in seeing them, in producing them for public consumption. The man “earns his living” and the “they” who “do not care” is us, the consumer who voraciously seeks after one image or another in the desire to read about the next fight that has taken place. In this way, the writer is making a social comment about our need to rubber neck when there is something horrible to see, using the image of war and a photographer to bring the idea home to us all.
When we see the photographer, we are meant to see ourselves. When we see the images of war, we are meant to see our need for titillation. When we see the horror, we are meant to see our need to see even more. This is what we are like as human beings! That is the power of this poem, for she allows us to see into the soul of our conscious thinking about how we treat others across the world.
One of the things that gets set in an examination is an extended piece of writing where they usually give you a title, or sometimes, a final sentence and you have to create something than ends with that sentence.
One year, three or four years ago now, an exam board set a task that asked each GCSE student to choose a season, such as winter, spring, summer or autumn and then write something about that. In a setting where 300 students are sat in rooms across a High School, with 200 or so of them in the main hall, all sat in rows at individual chairs, these tasks are the ones that can be terror inducing to most students, but the advice I give to all my GCSE students is that when you get one one these tricky tasks, where you think you are forced to write about flowers budding and snow and ice freezing everything to death, the trick is to change the focus in a way that is new and ingenious, for that is what the examiners are looking for.
Imagine being the person who has to mark 300 exam scripts and all are the same task; write about a season you like the most. The trick is to think about the title and then add some subversion into it. One student chose to do this and scored an A grade for her efforts. She chose to focus on the word Summer and then go off on a tangent and write something extremely creative, resulting in an examiner seeing it who had most likely see 245 others are had imbibed a gallon of coffee to stay awake and then, saw this one below.
Have a look at it. She is now an A Level Literature student of mine, going through all sorts of poems, stories, plays and the dreaded Mr. Shakespeare. I think this tack is a good one to take, if you have the imagination. The trick is allowing your imagination in these exams to take off and so long as you keep to the task, write something highly original. It is simply called Summer.
I met her at a bonfire. The flaming tradition for the new season. I only knew her for a few weeks but at the time, it felt like forever. As the hot sand squished between my toes, and the roaring sound of countless people singing around the flames rang through my ears, I saw her; Summer. She seemed somehow brighter than the fire, and I could barely look straight at her. The glow from the flames bounced off her sun-kissed skin, and later, as the fireworks threw colour across the sky like paint from an overexcited child, the girl who made heads turn as she passed, and seemed to shimmer with golden energy sat beside me and my friends, and we decided to spend the summer together.
At the beach, Summer was the way we danced across the hot sand like burning coals. She was the feeling of diving deep in the sea to cool down, hair flying out smoothly like a mermaid’s, sounds echoed into warbled noise; a world of our own for as long as our breath would hold out. She was the way our swimming costumes clung to our body after we resurfaced, like a new skin. She was melted vanilla ice cream dripping down the cone and onto our fingers. She was the way we fell back onto towels for the sun to hit us, and when she let out her musical laugh, we were reminded that we were free from the shackles of everyday life- there was no obligation, no stress, no worry.
One thing she both loved and was, was an adventure. Standing in the back of a truck, arms out, and screaming with laughter, she was the closest to flying we could get. Climbing rock faces, rock pooling, and crashing stranger’s barbecues with the smell of tender steaks floating through the air, all in cut off shorts and floaty tops. They were the ‘big’ ones. But she loved the little ones just as much. Forcing us to get up early, our futures were as free as the kites we flew; swirling through the sky with freedom, but still light enough for us to control. The days were golden.
On the quiet days, we’d walk around with the pavements melting under our bare feet, and Summer would look over her shoulder, flashing a dazzling smile. She was the children running around in bright yellow sundresses, the farmer’s markets that would offer free samples of fruit so fresh the flavour exploded across our taste buds, and the feeling of fresh dirt under our fingernails as we planted beautiful flowers to replace the ones we’d picked and were now dotted in our hair. She was the sound of ice clinking in our glasses of lemonade, of birds tweeting as they flew overhead, and of tennis rackets hitting balls in gardens we couldn’t quite see.
Not every day was so wonderful, however. When she wasn’t so full of bright energy and screaming for adventure, she was the opposite end of the scale- lazy, and making our energy sap out of our bodies from nothing. Waking up from long lie ins, then tempting us to do nothing for that day, that week, possibly forever. She could be sultry, and seductive, but then oppressive and in your face; one moment the sound of nothing but flies buzzing by, the next with words that stung like a wasp. These days were in the minority, but they still burned in our mind.
Overall, she was glorious. It felt like it was going to be the same for the rest of our lives, but as all good things do, it ended. She was there, then she was gone, most likely to brighten some other lucky people’s lives. Thanks to Summer in summer, we felt limitless. Whenever I smell wildflowers, see people running through sprinklers, or taste perfectly cooked smores, when I smell the freshest summer air, or see someone’s eyes shining and sparkling, I think of her, and those weeks, when we had the time of our youth, and perhaps the time of our life.
Now, what elements of that would you have never thought of? The answer to that is something that you may get the chance to add in the forthcoming examinations. If you get the chance and can pull something like this off, then my message to you is simple; go for it! Be brave. Be bold. Be strong in your convictions that you are making the best possible effort to write something truly unique.
As a side thought, now choose one of the seasons yourself and try to do the same thing and see what you can come up with. Writing should be fun. It should be something that you do out of love, not out of exam necessity.
In a recent examination, the following task appeared and threw a lot of people who took it, because they were not used to writing a speech. So I thought I would address that issue right here and show you what happened with my students.
I mentioned it when teaching and how the previous year, whichever year it was, had goofed up on this task. We then had a look at how to write such a thing as this. Take a look at the exam task that was set first. It was this, found in Section B of the second exam, I believe.
Education is not just about which school you go to, or what qualifications you gain; it is also about what you learn from your experiences outside of school.’ Write a speech for your school or college Leavers’ Day to explain what you think makes a good education.
The students had just answered questions in Section A all about education from differing perspectives, from a picture of all things and text below it. If they did not know how to pull apart a picture, or a piece of art, a corner quarter at a time, then they were lost and would miss something out, like you do when you watch a TV show episode for the second time and think hang on, I missed that last time round.
The question on their lips to me, was one of how do you do something like this? So I gave them some ideas and asked them to complete it for a homework, to see if they had understood my instruction. I also said, rather densely, that I would write one also and post it here, so here it is. See how many stylistic devices I am employing here.
Education is not just about which school you go to, or what qualifications you gain; it is also about what you learn from your experiences outside of school.’ Write a speech for your school or college Leavers’ Day to explain what you think makes a good education.
Good afternoon all.
Can some of you remember that time when we were in Mr. May’s class and we reenacted the Battle of Hastings?
Can you remember the fun that we had preparing for this and learning all the facts? Can you remember how nervous you were, for all those of you who were taking part?
It was epic!
It was great and it showed me three things; that education should be fun, education should be challenging and that education should be enriching. All these things make for a good education, but what do I mean by that? What does it mean to us, who are leaving this school today?
Some of us are leaving in the hope that we might find suitable work. Some of us will get those jobs we want and never need to go on to get A Levels and Degrees. We will make our own way in life. We will make lots of money and gain lots of friends. We will hopefully become successful and have all the things that we want out of our life.
We will be a success!
But there will be some here today who are not so fortunate. There will be some for whom Universal Credit becomes a nightmare. There will be some here today, who see the future and cringe at the very thought of it. To those and to those who will go on from here, into further education, we say to our teachers, “Thank you for all you have done for us whilst we have been here.” We say thank you today because you have always tried to make our education something we can call fun. Whether it was Mr. Johnson and his crazy impersonations of students and the way they walked down the corridors, or whether it was Mr. Sanders, who brought Science to life in such ways, showing us flaming Magnesium, who always seemed to have a smile on his face when disecting rats and frogs, what has been important is their dedication to service. When I think of the day when Mr. Sanders cut open that cancerous lung, which made lots of us sick that day, I still shiver. Or even, good old Mr. Sykes, who somehow made Religious Education come alive because of his own faith, what we have seen whilst we have been here is a group of teachers who have tried to make it fun for us.
But they have also tried to make it challenging as well. I remember those times in Miss Harper’s class, thinking through those times in English, when she asked us to think from another person’s point of view. I remember how we studied To Kill A Mockingbird and how he used those words of Atticus Finch about being able to walk around in someone else’s shoes for a day to fully understand them. That challenged me to think about how I behaved around others, both male and female.
Teachers do that, you see and good teachers do that even more, because they enrich our lives beyond measure. We might have times when we have thought to ourselves why am I even bothering to turn up today? But in the end, it is the likes of Miss Harper who get us to open the pages of our books and see life from a different point of view.
And now, we are here, on our last day. We are here, looking forward to what the future will bring for us. We have learnt a lot of things inside the walls of this school, but what we will learn out there will shape us and define us forever, so whatever it is, make it good, make it smart, make it perfect. Make everything you do in your life be worthy of the education that you had in this place. Make everything that you are be a signal pointing towards the quality of the teaching that has taken place here in the last five years.
And whatever it is that you do, take the words of the best teacher in this place; Mr. May himself, as your watchword for the days, weeks, months and years ahead. Can you remember what he kept saying to us all? His motto was always typed up on a card in his room.
“You are that which amounts to the effort you put into your life. So make it all good.”
Farewell. Thank you to all who serve here and may future students be as blessed as we are.
Which Ghost Has The Most Impact on Scrooge?
TS: GCSE English Student. Y11.
A young student called Terry came to me for help one day, with his essay on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, set by his teacher, a colleague of mine, so I offered him some extra teaching, to help him understand the question. He came up with this effort in two short sessions with me. He did it at home and then showed me his efforts. He was struggling at the time, with some quite specific special needs of his own, which were impacting his studies immensely.
Each ghost in a Christmas Carol take Scrooge to a different time in his life. The ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to key points in his past, which brings mixed emotions such as pain and misery, but also happiness and excitement. The Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to different places on Christmas Day, showing the poorest people being happy on this day. The Ghost of Christmas yet to come shows Scrooge his death by use of silence and gesture which is why this ghost has the most impact on Scrooge, because he sees what will happen to him if he does not change his ways.
The end of Stave 3 sets the tone for the next spirit with the introduction of “Want” and “Ignorance,” the two children hidden under the robes of the ghost of Christmas present’s gown. They are malnourished and in scraggy clothing. They are very similar in appearance to the ghost of Christmas Yet to come, with a bony scraggy look about them. Scrooge fears this spirit and everything about him. In the book Dickens does not even call this ghost a spirit at the start but a “phantom.” Phantoms have a very negative connotations with them. Dickens chose the word “phantom” to emphasize that this ghost should be feared and treated with respect, otherwise bad things will happen. Scrooge fears for his future increases as the ghost shows him his future because Scrooge pleads with the spirit to tell him if he “may change these shadows.” At this point you know Scrooge is a changed man because he has seen what has yet to come in his later life and does not want it to happen so he so he will do everything in his power to change it.
Scrooge begs and pleads with the spirit to talk and tell him that he has a chance to change his future but the spirit merely points, making Scrooge fear him even more. Scrooge asks the spirit “am I the man who lay upon the bed?” The phantom simply points at a gravestone in complete silence. Dickens uses silence to add suspense and creepiness to the spirit to make the audience as well as Scrooge, scared of it. The spirit shows scrooge a small and neglected tombstone with Scrooge’s name on it. The graveyard is described as being “choked up with too much burying “and it also says only weeds and grass grow there that has over run the place. In a sense, this is “a worthy place” for Scrooge to be buried and this is the phantom showing Scrooge just how unloved he is.
The spirit tips Scrooge over the edge by only showing him happiness from the result of his death. He starts by showing people he had done regular business with. He sees them joking about some poor man’s death saying things like they “don’t mind going if a lunch is provided.” This later turns out to be Scrooge who they were talking about, meaning that they don’t even miss making money out of Scrooge. The spirit does not speak; he just points at things, leaving Scrooge in a constant state of confusion because he does not answer any of Scrooge’s questions. This has a great impact on Scrooge, making him want to try to be happier, because he has nothing to really lose through it and can only gain.
The ghost of Christmas yet to come has the most impact on Scrooge because it makes him fear what has yet to come and makes him want to change in any way possible. This spirit also pushes him over the edge making him realise he has to change his ways to not end up like Marley; forgotten and alone in Purgatory. Therefore, Scrooge is mostly changed by the ghost of Christmas yet to come.
AQA English Literature – Power & Conflict
As you can see from this picture and the marks on it, there have been a number of poems already covered on this website, but this post aims to begin to address the rest, starting with ‘London’ by William Blake.
London – Wm. Blake
I wandered through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
A mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:
How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.
But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.
If you have ever gone somewhere and seen the people and thought to yourself, oh these poor people, this is the kind of thing that Blake is referring to in this poem, which explains his visits to London when he was alive and his reaction to it. In terms of power and conflict, the conflict is in the relationship between those that have and those who do not. The power is exerted by those of wealth and position. That is the way it has always been and unless we do something better, it is the way it will stay too. So Blake’s poem is quite a polemic one in that it is trying to teach us something about life in London at that time.
He says that when he visited, he “wandered through each chartered street,” or through all those streets where surveyors ply their trade. The reference could be a link to the idea of chartered surveyors, or even accountants, with the truth more likely being the latter due to their dealing with money. The streets are “near where the chartered Thames does flow,” which again suggests some form of office near the river. Perhaps, it could even be the offices for the people who work the shipping ports, the clerks of the time who would make sure every packet and parcel was allocated for in their paperwork. ‘Chartered,” therefore could mean a lot of things, but when you link it with the “mark in every face” that he meets, this is showing you the rough end of the capitol.
When he meets these characters, all too like a character in a Dickens novel, he sees signs of “weakness, marks of woe” and that saddens him that we still treat people like this, so harshly at times. Due to this lifestyle, where there are rich offices and poor people working, we see the dichotomy of the rich and the poor living cheek by jowl with their neighbours, at the time and in that place, a dirty and grimy capitol. In everyone he meets, he hears an “infant’s cry of fear” which is indicative of the fear that such a place brings to the senses. Wherever he turns, he cannot get away from the rank poverty, the smell, the sense of loneliness and isolation in such a huge place as this. It is a sprawling metropolis before him rank with the stench of a hardened workforce.
The reference to the noise is an interesting one, for me, because it counterpoints the noise of the voice with the noise of the forges in the factories or even, the offices. But he hears “mind-forged manacles” that bind a man in service to his job each time he turns up for work. “Mind-forged” is very interesting indeed because of the juxtaposition of the two words together. A forge made in the mind is one possible meaning. But there might be others too and when he then hears “how the chimney-sweeper’s cry” can be heard atop the houses of London in some all too rather sad rendition of the Julie Andres classic film, Mary Poppins, we see the sadness that pervades and the conflict that such a poor life brings. But this is the serious end of the spectrum, not the humorous. Being a sweep is not a glamorous profession. Being a sweep in those days is something that does not lead to wealth and prosperity.
Everywhere he goes, he sees things that diminish the joy of life in him, sights like a “blackening church” which appalls him to the core. I too loathe such things even now because it makes them not look cared for. But in Blake’s day, the sensation would be that there can be nothing worse than living in this place and seeing these sights and knowing that there is possibly not a lot you can do about it to rectify the situation. He hears a “hapless soldier’s sigh” in the distance as he sees and feels the sense of desperation and helplessness overwhelm him to the point where all he can see is what “runs in blood down palace walls.” It is, for him becoming a place he would sooner not be because there is no praise in this poem, yet.
As he travels through the streets of London, he is able to observe many different things, most notably that the lady of the street, or prostitute, shouts out her calls to lure men into bed with her. The “youthful harlots curse” that is mentioned is mentioned in the solace of the “midnight street” where she is able to also find out exactly what happens to that curse, as it is spread out over the confines of the street and anyone who walks into it is caught in its sway. It might be a harlot’s curse that is being thrown here, but is it, or could it be, that this metaphorical or even euphemistically held position in life allows him to see the harlot, hear her curse of someone who is not paying for her wares as well as making too much noise in the street.
The writer can hear the sound of a new born infant, but can also choose to ignore it and when you don’t, then you have to have a relationship with them in a positive and loving manner. The poem suggests that this does not happen in Pakistan or India where the world in blighted by lack of crops and the likes. Modernity, if you like, is the modern plague and causes pestilence wherever it exists and Blake is making reference to this in his poem. There is so much hate and greed in this world of ours and we need someone to sort this mess out. Anything that suffers with “blights” and has trouble with “plagues [of the] the marriage-hearse” is a troubled place indeed.
This is a poet who may like coming to London, but when he gets there, he sees other things that make him lose interest and turn off his affections for his capital city. London should be a blessing in disguise for him but it isn’t because he does not share such as this in his poems. What is evident is a cynicism and criticism of the place for being so dank and dirty. That is where the conflict appears in this poem, when and where it does so, but also, where the power is exerted over one person or another in life, where the poem shares the dichotomy between the two polar opposites in the life of the Londoner.
I was asked recently to assist someone who was studying this play. One of the first things I did with this student was to centre on the key factors, so I am sharing the file here.
Date: Approx. 1598 and performed as a ‘mature’ comedy rather than a farce. Usually, a writer creates something because someone or something has inspired them. Much Ado About Nothing follows an Italianate style of stories of lovers being deceived into believing each other are false, which were very common in northern Italy in the sixteenth century. Shakespeare’s immediate source could have been one of these stories. One version of the Claudio/Hero plot is told by Edmund Spenser in The Fairie Queen, a English epic poem written in 1590.
Setting: Messina, Italy.
Benedick – honourable and witty, self aware and cynical
Beatrice – dependent and witty, articulate and stubborn
Don Pedro – powerful and patriarchal
Don John – an honest villain, a social pariah
Claudio – romantic hero, honourable gentleman
Hero – romantic and dutiful, submissive and innocent
Dogberry – ignorant and self important
Margaret – bawdy, humorous, witty
Leonato – benign ruler who is warm and respectful; proud
Plot: Soldiers from the war return home. Benedick and Beatrice are matched because of a trick played on them by their friends and through a convoluted plot, they come to realise that the one they think they hate is actually the one they love. The comedy is in the way that trick is played out successfully by their match making friends and how an unrequited love turns into a requited relationship based and bound in love. They marry at the end and there is a celebration.
Summary: A 5 act play in the usual Shakespearean fashion. Classified as a comedy but there are elements of tragedy and tragic irony in there as well.
In a wasted time, it’s only when I sleep
that all my senses come awake. In the wake
of you, let day not break. Let me keep
the scent, the weight, the bright of you, take
the countless hours and count them all night through
till that time comes when you come to the door
of dreams, carrying oranges that cast a glow
up into your face. Greedy for more
than the gift of seeing you, I lean in to taste
the colour, kiss it off your offered mouth.
For this, for this, I fall asleep in haste,
willing to fall for the trick that tells the truth
that even your shade makes darkest absence bright,
that shadows live wherever there is light.
I love a good sonnet. 14 lines of poetry packaged all into one little format, with so many stylistic devices being used by the poet. It is a microcosm of magnificence in all literature, whether in the Shakespearean, Petrarchan, or any other form.
This one is no different from the rest in that it is a poem that classifies love as something that is so beautiful to share and to have in your life, whilst at the same time, being the source of so much conflict. If you have ever really loved someone, you will know what it is like to be parted from them and this, in a way, is what the poet is sharing here, a sense of wanting to feel, to touch, to taste, to smell her lover near her all the days of her life. It is, in essence, a poem that shows the epitome or eros love, or real love, as some would think it, the kind of love where you are pained when you are separate from each other for more than a short time.
Dharker begins with the idea of “a wasted time,” but this is not the kind where we waste time by daydreaming or dawdling all day. This “wasted time” is the time when you are asleep and you cannot normally and physically experience your lover and his love in real, tangible terms. “In a wasted time,” she says, “it’s only when I sleep that all my senses come awake.” When we are awake, we can be guarded, careful, cautious and thoughtful about anyone and anything. We can love but hold back that love, adding conflict into a relationship. We can give that love away and we can get to the point where our affections for someone else can wain and vanish. But, she is saying, in the dream state, when our body is relaxed, that is when the truest nature of our affections and emotions can show themselves, in the dreams we have of another.
Is waking life a waste of time? Is that what she is suggesting? For it is only when she sleeps that her senses “come awake?” It sounds like she is saying that this is the only place she feels really free to express her emotions. It is only “in the wake of you,” or in the waking sense of her lover, that she wishes day would not break, so that she could continue where the sense of love resides for her in its truest form; in her heart and mind. Then come the requests, from either God, or time or fate, or whatever you feel runs this universe of ours, to let her “keep the scent, the weight, the bright” of her lover near her. Have you ever missed someone so much that you can smell them nearby, or in the air, in their clothing, or by just opening a door and smelling their perfume or aftershave? It is that kind of sense she is wishing to hold onto, as if she has maybe lost someone close to her, or is separated by the miles of life that separate us from our loved ones.
She wishes to “take the countless hours and count them all night through,” thinking about her lover “till that time comes when you come to the door of dreams,” so she can see her [or him] again in the newness of the dawn’s light and radiance. In that way, she will see her lover anew each day, but only in her dreams can she remember and see her lover in the perfect way. I can remember when my father passed. At times, we did not get on, but I loved the old codger and when he died in 1999, I was plagued by dreams for months about him. They were the fun times we had running through my mind when my mind had lost its ability to block such things. Those dreams hurt me at the time and it took me some time to realise that he had actually gone from this world, even though I had been there at his funeral. So it is possible to see this poem in this way as well, for it resonates with me as a grieving son as well as someone who loves his wife dearly and could not be without her. If you are thinking of a poem to compare this one with, then you could look at Remember, by Christina Rossetti, where she says for her lover to remember her when she has gone.
She asks for her senses to see her lover come to her “ carrying oranges that cast a glow” into that person’s face. This is an interesting image, for it could be argued that this means that rather like a buttercup, a bunch of something readily available in the country where this is set, like ours or even somewhere else, makes it so that there seems to be a ruddy glow on the face of a person carrying oranges to bring to the home because of a reflection. This is a woman who is “greedy for more than the gift of seeing” her lover. Seeing is one thing, but there are so many other senses with which you would observe and take in the love of your life. She says that in her dreams, she leans in “to taste the colour, kiss it off [that] offered mouth,” as if a kiss has been offered by her lover. It is one of those moments, as a lover, where you find it irresistible to ignore. When your love asks for a kiss, you sidle in and make it a good one, because if you don’t then that can mean all manner of things, can’t it?
“For this, for this, I fall asleep in haste,” she says to the reader, offering and sharing her desires with us all as we wade into her emotions and see the extent of her love. This is a woman of passion, a woman who loves and a woman who adores the person she is thinking of, which leads us to the “trick” of light that happens and makes her think her lover is with her when s/he is not. She is all too “willing to fall for the trick” a shadow plays when she thinks her lover is there, when s/he is not. If you have ever woken up from a dream and wondered that there is someone close to you, then it is this trick of the senses that the poem is talking about and for someone who is parted from their love, by circumstance or death, then this would happen. Such a trick “tells the truth” about something and makes a person’s shade turn the most “darkest absence bright,” because of hope in seeing that person again; seeing them, feeling their presence, sensing their smell and light that they have or had. For this woman, the “shadows live wherever there is light,” which does suggest that in some way, this sense of separation is causing her joy but also pain. This is where her sense of conflict comes in this poem, because she cannot have that physical experience of her lover at the time but only when in dreamland, can she really feel as if she is in the arms of the one she loves.
Love and conflict. They go hand in hand with most love stories or love poems. In life, you see, when we love, we sometimes fight. Just think of a love story made into a film and you can bet that there is some form of conflict in that storyline. That, right there, is conflict within a loving relationship. No one likes to have their feelings hurt, or their wishes ignored. No one likes it when someone they love does something wrong and causes conflict and whichever way we read this poem [and there will be many because no answer is a wrong answer; we all approach poetry from our differing experiences of life] we will always see that there is conflict at the heart of this poem as well as a deep and abiding love. This is why this is such a good poem to write about.
Now, you have a go at writing your own thoughts about this poem. Then do it for each of the ones you have read and studied. It will be good practice for the examinations. And then, write about two of them, comparing and contrasting them, saying how they are similar and how they are different.
Prayer – Carol Ann Duffy
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.
Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.
Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer –
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.
A woman’s role in society and in any relationship has always been seen in certain ways. Those ways have been determined by the nature of the society she has lived in at the time. Thus, a male dominated, patriarchal society of the Victorian era had women subjugated and submissive. Idioms like ‘know you place’ were paramount.
Then came the twentieth century and the rise in modernity and the movement we have known as the Feminist movement. Carol Ann Duffy belongs firmly in that camp of thought about life, about love, about relationships and about expectations.
In this poem, this view is shared in the language that she uses. The collective “we” in line 1 refers to womanhood, all of woman kind, who have been dominated by male authority their whole lives. “Some days,” she says, there are times when life for a woman can still be a problem to live, even though we are supposed to live in a politically correct world where gender stereotypes fail to exist and where women must work harder to get on in life. “Some days,” she says, there is no time even for prayer because the expectations on them are too great. Duffy has always been the one poet I can think of who has subverted the male/female stereotypes and written with style and verve.
“Although we cannot pray,” she claims, “a prayer utters itself” and as this happens, “a woman will lift her head from the sieve of her hands,” staring out into nothingness, at the trees and wondering just when this lifestyle will cease. The metaphor there is a fantastic one; “the sieve of her hands,” comparing how the shape of her hands represents the shape of a sieve, or colander used for cooking purposes and draining vegetables. The image is one of face in hands, or what the modern world calls a “face palm,” that moment when you look down and wonder what is happening around you.
Duffy states that the woman stares out “at the minims sung by a tree,” again a pictorial image being painted in the mind by the writer, of how the leaves, dancing in the breeze, make movement and sound as they go about their normal lifestyle. But is not the woman and the leaves on the tree being compared here? Is the work that a woman does in the home being categorized as pointless and unrewarding? Or is the writer saying the entire opposite? Either way, she sees a moment like this as a “gift” presumably from whatever we define as our “God,” because she has mentioned prayer already, but this is a “sudden gift,” a sudden thing from the Divine that lights up any drab day. Is this then, a love sonnet to God in the same guise as Donne’s “Batter My Heart” poem? Both seem to emphasise the provision from either God or whatever may be in control of this life of ours.
Up until now, this has been looking at daytime thoughts, but now Duffy turns to the night time. In the day time, we can miss what is happening to us and miss the “sudden gift” proffered on us, but in the night time, “although we are faithless,” we can see the truth of life in all its abundance. Just what is Duffy saying here? At these times, perhaps when we are not expecting it, “the truth enters our hearts,” making us see through the error of our choices, our convictions, our very decision making. Suddenly, with truth revealed, we can see more clearly and make the right choices in life and in faith. From someone who has professed no real faith in God, this is an illuminating poem indeed.
She is saying that when we feel that small, “familiar pain,” we too can move on, knowing that we are alive to all things around us, that we are able to see what the truth is about love, about faith, about life. This is a pragmatic love, or pragma love, symbolised by rational thinking and reasoning. This is the moment when we as men or women can “stand stock-still,” thinking things through, working out our problems pragmatically and where a man, in her poem, is seen “hearing his youth in the distant Latin chanting of a train.” The obvious link to the Latin Mass in the Catholic Church is there for all to see but I still see the image of the train and hear the sound that it makes.
What a beautiful image that really is.
The sound of the train in motion is used to portray life from a young man’s perspective; the to and fro of life as we travel on our journeys. And as we do so, the poet urges us on to prayer, saying, “pray for us now.” There is an urgency in this request, a sense that perhaps, time is running out, that as much as “grade 1 piano scales console the lodger” as he looks out into where he lives, the “dusk” is calling us onwards as “someone calls a child’s name as though they named their loss.”
It is interesting, to me, how she uses night and day as well as a sense of what we have and what we lose in life. This now, is night time, which could reflect the later years of a person’s life and how darkness outside can be a sense of personification meant to represent that darkness in the life of us all as we pray in our given situations. “Darkness outside” followed by the word, “inside” is an obvious oxymoron, but so is life itself. Life, with all its twists and turns, takes us to places where we would maybe not wish to go. Life takes us on a journey of discovery, to a place where we can see the light and the dark at the same time and as the darkness and light merge in their glorious oxymoronic splendour, we sense that there is something else coming from this poet at the end.
The final two lines of the sonnet follow the usual style of a sonnet in terms of structure, but the mention of the “radio’s prayer” is lost on the younger reader or maybe even, the international student, unless they know that the words, “Rockall. Malin. Dogger” and “Finisterre” are fishing weather forecast areas in the oceans around the UK and Duffy is using them to represent something or even someone else.
What I would now urge you to do is look at the rhyme scheme and write it out. Then check where the stresses are and how many in each line. Check how the iambic pentameter of this sonnet, in the Shakespearean sense of the word, works. Look at prayer, stare and Finisterre and see how they rhyme, how the style and structure is quite rigid and how the man, or woman, or indeed anyone in the poem, is able to see dark and light in the life they lead.
For another take on this, please refer to:
In the 2017 examination [2nd Paper] there was a section B task asking the student to write an article writing for or against the idea that parents are too over protective. What follows is a single student’s effort at this task, which took less than 40 minutes to complete this evening. The task is to provide the words that can be added to a page in a newspaper, or an article for a website, where differing formats exist.
Paranoid Parenting: Why It Is Wrong
Do you believe that parents are over-protective? Do you think that children are not being able to be adventurous? Is it fair on children that they are not able to be who they want to be?
If you are a parent that likes to protect your child and do everything for them, then maybe you should rethink your ways of doing things! Maybe you should think about letting your child be more adventurous when they are playing in the garden, because it is important that they learn from any mistakes they make.
When I was younger, I was allowed to play in the mud, get dirt under my nails and have an amazing time playing without my mum worrying. I would be covered in mud and dirt by the time I had to come back inside and mum would exclaim in shock at how dirty I was. She would never shout at me; she would just give me a bath, get me sparkly clean and then put me in my pyjamas, ready for bed. I know that parents just want to protect their children, but children will be children; they won’t always be clean and they will be muddy at times.
All you have to do is brush it off and laugh about it!
When your child was young, did you baby them? Did you do everything for them? Parents do this because they don’t want their children to get hurt. But surely this isn’t good for your child? They need to grow as their own individual and learn things themselves and sure enough, if they hurt themselves, they will soon learn not to do it again. Parents will always tell their children that they won’t do it again, but this is not always the case. But they need to learn from these times of mishap.
Are you a parent that wants to keep your child a baby forever? Are you someone who doesn’t want them to grow up into mature individuals? If so, is this fair on your child that they can’t be who they want to be? Or is it simply a case that what they are allowed to do depends on whether mummy and daddy say yes?
It is understandable that parents worry about germs and that their child might get ill, but children’s immune systems get stronger when they get a new illness or germ as their bodies fight away the illness and remember it.
So, remember these simple tips for the paranoid parent.