Leaving Certificate English Grinds

Having been brought up speaking English, most of  our Second Level students should be well placed to successfully take the Higher Level Paper. There are a number of reasons why this does not happen as it should: 

  1.   A restricted vocabulary, due to reluctance to read during leisure times.
  2.  Under-developed skills in essay and  written composition.
  3.  Difficulties with appreciating  and analysing  poetry and drama, and difficulties  with the Comparative Text.

Our Grinds are aimed at rectifying these shortcomings  and  thereafter to practise our students in their newly developed skills.

 A common compliment to our teaching is reflected in the following:
“My grinds at Celbridge Turorials taught me the skill of composition writing  and Text appraisal”
(Fiona O C Maynooth Co. Kildare)

                 It was a time of social upheaval:  people were being driven out of their little traditional cottages and  on to the hopeless  heaths and  wilderness by the greed and enterprise of the “enclosure movement ─ aimed at the enhancement of agricultural productivity  It was a time when preachers arose among the common people to presage the wrath of God upon the English nation as it turned gradually away from the old order of the feudal system and moved towards a new selfish materialistic agenda. Much of this human misery caused by perverse greed; and many declarations on injustice are found in the drama of King Lear.
                 Good is represented by loyalty to the traditional bonds of family and state, coupled with a concern for the welfare of society.   Evil is associated with an extreme pre-occupation with  self advancement and  an outright rejection of  the bonds of kinship; coupled with a perverse  indulgence in savage casual cruelty.    Cordelia, Kent and Edgar epitomise goodness; Goneril, Regan, Cornwall, and Oswald represent the opposite; many would include Edmund ─ though I will express certain reservations about this.
                  Cornwall is by nature an evil coward.  He is only brave when he is backed up by Regan and Goneril.  In blinding Gloucester, he performs the cruellest deed in the entire affair, and he appears to enjoy cruelty; thus he is adamant that Lear should be sent out into the storm and on to the heath.
                 Yet Regan and Goneril are  even more evil still: they repudiate the natural bonds of fidelity between daughter and father and are bereft of any vestige of feminine kindness. They swear false love to their father and then evaluate this in a game of numbers ─ how many  knights he may keep in his attendance.   They operate rationality, and not by principles or passion when dealing with their kindred; yet ironically it is through passion for Edmond that they both ultimately perish.  Both display inveterate cruelty when dealing with Gloucester; yet, of this pair, Goneril is the worst woman that Shakespeare ever set on stage --  for there is no end to how far in villainy she will go to fulfil her desires.   She is also stronger in resolution and deeper in vileness  than Regan: thus she knows that blinding is a lasting torment to the victim, while hanging only hurts horribly for a short time.  She also considers a rat’s death as being a fitting farewell to her sister. Regan ─ who had earlier been  a vital partner in mischief.
                 Despite his perverse exploitation of people for self-advantage, it is simplistic to define Edmond as outright evil.  He has been banished abroad merely because he is illegitimate.   Gloucester tells Kent: “He hath been out nine years, and away he shall again.”    Later Edmond prays: “Now gods, stand up for bastards”  His problem is that  bitter life has taught him selfishness as a means of survival; his fault is that he indulges his rights  beyond what would be considered just.
                 Love itself is fundamental to goodness.   It is not merely an emotional feeling: it inspires the performance of duties of care, bondage  and obligation to kindred and state.  Thus Cordelia tells her father: “I  love your Majesty  according to my bond.”   it involves unquestioned loyalty and self-sacrifice.  Thus, when Albany enquires from Edgar as to  how he has known his father’s miseries, the latter replies:  “By nursing them, My Lord”   love is a virtue that enlightens all who possess it ─ so that it shall inspire a fond  fidelity and service to those to whom natural loyalty is due.   Thus Kent tells Lear:  “I am the very man that from your first of difference and decay has followed your sad steps”
                  The point has often been made that Cordelia is akin to the Fool, because she interchanges position with the latter on the stage; also, when she dies Lear refers to her thus: “And my poor fool is hanged!”  But this term should be interpreted as synonymous  with  “an innocent child”.    Cordelia was no fool: she alone remained true to the feudal order of society which had made her father king,  and she would not bargain on loyalty and love as if they were goods for sale at a market.  Had  Lear taken time to evaluate her principles he would not have bargained away his kingdom.  Lear’s actions may not have been evil, however, they were not good; thus, they directly led to the chaos and disasters that followed.
                 Lear is a tragic hero who has potential for greatness: however the better aspects of his being have been eclipsed by the arrogant  corruptions  of power --  so that he no longer knows the true feelings of human love. Thus he must suffer in order to purge himself of  his flaws of  selfishness, authoritarianism and unkindness.    In this way the fruitful, but fatal truth-finding journey of King Lear may represent a Christian hope that suffering  and sacrifices  can still redeem humanity from the dangers of the innate ugliness of mere survival. 
                 Nevertheless, this drama does not give us the happy ending that we desire: the cruel and unnecessary execution of the blameless Cordelia gives us a shocking and fearsome apprehension that ultimately goodness and justice may never prevail on our planet.  Indeed, there is an indication that neither the forces of the heavens nor those of nature are in harmony with any moral criteria;  rather,  there is the notion of a universal indifference to our  wellbeing:  “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport,”  proclaims Gloucester.
                  Yet, though virtue has no victory in this drama, we may learn like Lear on the heath that our actions or lack of these may be somehow to blame for the human sorrows that surround us; and thus, hopefully may we repair the damage that has been done to our society. This is likely to have been Shakespeare’s message to his own monarch ─ who stands so high on the cliff of his majestic greatness that he does not recognise humanity in the lowest down amongin society.  This itself is the  “good” that we are left to snatch from this otherwise unrequitable  tragedy.




Hi all Honours English Leaving Certificate students, take the hint! No one who has not read John Keats can say that he or she knows poetry.

John Keats loved nature deeply and by this love he was inspired to works of poetic beauty that have not been surpassed. He became aware of his great potential sometime during his mid-teenage years and knew that he could envisage wonderful imagery of beauty through the gifts of a vivid imagination and a sensuous sensitivity to an ephemeral inspiration ─ the latter of which he called “the magic hand of chance” His only fear was that death would take him from this world before the fulfilment of his art. Early death was indeed a real and tangible threat, for both his mother and his younger brother had died of tuberculosis, while his father had died in a tragic accident at work. Thus he ponders upon the awful terrors of death:

“When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;”

Yet there are some great paradoxes in his writing ; one is that he sometimes appears to crave death as an ultimate escape from the cruel realities that have taunted his youth. This is not an artistic inconsistency: for poets often deal in paradox as mood changes seek expression. Thus, in Ode to a Nightingale, his desire is to escape during a moment of ecstatic bliss:

“Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy! “

Ultimately however the human wishes to survive, and so it occurs to Keats that the nightingale’s song is an anthem for life and not a requiem for the dead who cannot hear its music under the earth:

“Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod. “
So he turns his thoughts to immortality as represented by the bird’s song:
“Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown: “

This quest for immortality became fuelled by a desire to leave some great artistic legacy in his name in praise of the glories of nature and sensuous love. In the following lines he wishes for the permanence of the star; but not its eternal lonely vigil; instead he wishes for everlasting love:

“Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,”
“No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest “

Keats dreamed of an “unreflecting love: one that did not ask for anything in return other than that the object of his love would remain constant and true. Again however, the paradox arises; for love may only briefly remain noble once it has been requited: moreover, not only is human love mortal, but it is fickle by nature and thus may not even last more than a day. This is dramatically depicted n the poem La Belle Dame sans Merci. Here the lovers’ meeting is a dream, but the ending is a nightmare:

"I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her Elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Thee hath in thrall!"

Through coming to appreciate the fickleness of love and the fearsome transience of life itself John Keats come to the conclusion that only in art is there permanence. His ecstatic image of perpetual unrequited love on the never-ending prospect of fulfilment and a beauty that can never fade: is unsurpassed in romantic poetry:

"Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! "

This utopian image occurs in his Ode To a Grecian Urn, which concludes with a famous cryptic moral. The great T.S. Elliot could not comprehend the concept involved. However, we must look to what Keats himself thought: “I am certain of nothing but the heart’s affections and the truth of imagination ─ what the imagination seizes on as beauty must be truth!” So! since the heart can imagine beauty on earth, that beauty exists as much as do the truths of reality. Therefore we need to know imagined beauty to mitigate the wounds of reality ─ thus the value of art! Here is the entire stanza in which this thought occurs:

“O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

Keats is the master of metaphor and imagery! The nightingale is a “light-winged Dryad of the trees “ and a “Darkling”. The Grecian Urn is a “still unravish'd bride of quietness,” and a “foster-child of silence and slow time,” He addresses Autumn as,“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun.” And what about this sustained metaphor on the Goddess of harvest-time

“Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies,”

And the following images of the decay of beauty, assaults of ague and the ravishes of old age:

“Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.”

And this is his bleak image of loneliness and despair:

“then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.”

Thus, Keats whose  main concern is with writing memorable romantic verse becomes an accomplished and skilled tradesman in the techniques of poetry.   Here below  he  gives us poetic gems of assonance and alliteration:

“O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim: “

And here is his famous sample of onamataipé:  “The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves".

The idealistic quest for unselfish human love despite its obvious fickleness, the desire to create beautiful art before the dreaded doom and the innate desire to avoid the wounds of reality had all caused him to be restless in mind and paradoxical in writing throughout his earlier works ─ though these were nevertheless both brilliant and beautiful. However, in his ode, “To Autumn” he has at last achieved a peaceful reconciliation with the cycle of life. Here there are flowers and bees; there is fruit and honey and wine; there is the Goddess of the harvest; there are stubble fields and the swallows preparing to depart; there is the gentle dirge of the robin for the passing year; and there is a choir of gnats singing their own requiem as they are borne by the rising currents of autumnal air towards the heavens:

“Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.”

This is an anthem of fulfillment: not just on behalf of nature, but also on behalf of the poet himself ─ for he is now aware that he has beaten the fatal bell, that he has gleaned his teaming brain and has gifted to others the full ripened grain. No one can say that he or she knows poetry if that person has not read John Keats.




Frost speaks easily to our imagination, tells us stories that we can relate to --  and appears simple on first reading.  However his poetry is profound: often possessing undertones of ambiguity and irony to produce a provocative commentary on parochialism, self-interest, indifference and  paranoia:  In the following excerpts, the country people appear preoccupied with self-interested objectives  and are relatively  indifferent to other’s misfortunes:

•        “ And from there those that lifted  eyes could count
           Five mountain ranges one behind the other’ [Out, Out]

•        “Little — less — nothing! — and that ended it.
          No more to build on there. And they, since theY
           Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs” [Out, Out]
•        “We keep the wall between us as we go’ [Mending Wall]

Despite his joyful portrayal of nature’s glory  there is often a acceptance of a darker side; for  nature is not always benevolent.    Thus his stories oftentimes use analogies from nature to establish some moral point of view on the affairs of humanity – here he deals with the bullying of the weak:

•          “The trees…let them think twice before they use their powers
            To blot out and drink up and sweep away
             These flowery waters and these watery flowers.”
              (Spring Pools)

He highlights the universal existence of some  unfathomable mystery governing our own intuitive actions – for we  can not always explain or even know why we have done something that has proven fundamental to our future; perhaps such things may be pre-ordained and connected with our individual fate.

•             “I shall be telling this with a sigh
               Somewhere ages and ages hence:
               Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
                I took the one less traveled by,
                And that has made all the difference.”
                (The Road Not Taken)

He ponders on the human need for companionship; how this ironically may be  best realised when one feels alone in the workplace with others. Indeed, there is often no worse place to feel solitude than among a crowd to whom you can not relate: ultimately, of course  we are all alone in the end.

•        “And I must be, as he had been— alone,
          As all must be, I said within my heart,
          Whether they work together or apart”.' [The Tuft of Flowers]

Moreover, there is nothing more lonesome than hearing your own footsteps in the dark of the night where no one  needs you nor calls your name:

•       “I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
         When far away an interrupted cry
         Came over houses from another street,

         But not to call me back or say good-bye.”  [Acquainted with the night)                                        
He even deals with what the student of economics calls “the opportunity foregone” – for the cost of choice is the loss of the alternative possibility:

                                      "And both that morning equall lay
                                        In leaves no step had trodden black.
                                       Oh, I kept the firsf  for another day;
                                       Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
                                        I doubted if I should ever come back.”
                                        (The Road Not Taken”

Many teachers of Frost’s poetry at Leaving Certificate level appear not to realise that it is not the way that he went that provides the great theme of mystery in this poem ─ but instead, the alternative journey that he has foregone.

The transience of life and its concomitant fading of youthful beauty and appeal Is dealt with in apt sad imagery:
•             “The witch that came (the withered hag)
                To wash the steps with pail and rag
                Was once the beauty Abishag’ [Provide Provide]

  The unfulfilling profits of tedious labour and superfluous knowledge are dealt with in an imagery reminiscent of the biblical story of Eden lost:

•       “For I have had too much
         Of apple-picking: I am overtired”
         Of the great harvest I myself desired’ [Apple Picking]

He even pokes a humorous and mocking finger at the concept of Divine creation: for the Devil seems to have an equal role in the balaance of nature ─ as seen in the role of the flower in seducing the moth to its doom.  this he intends also to reflect on the existence of good and evil in mankind:  for we like the flower and spider are a capricious lot, and are in integral part of nature’s contradictions:

•        “What had that flower to do with being white,
           The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
          What brought the kindred spider to that height,
           Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
          What but design of darkness to appall?--
          If design govern in a thing so small.”(Design)

Only the privileged student of language  loves poetry; many teachers  who must deal with the subject  identify its structure --  like an amateur mechanic looking into an engine, yet never apprehending its essence or its achievement;!  Great poets are inspired: they see things that are and ask why; they see things that never were and ask why not!  There are then the academic “poets” who are very well learned in literature and who wish to invite the muse to their tables: but they often confuse the guest with much cryptic imagery and obscure laborious  language. For many of these, being understood would mean being found out!
Frost  works among orchards, forests and hay-fields; he story-talks poetry of farmers, woodcutters and ; yet  he thinks like a philosopher and is wise enough to know that there are  no ultimate truths!

MONTAGUE: Themes of separation and loss

It would appear that the issues of separation and loss were major influences on the poetry of Montague. Not only do they supply many of the themes for his poetry, but also when they are not so prominent, they remain in the background of poems where other themes appear prominent.
It is clear from the poem “the Lockett” that Montague’s separation, both emotionally and in geographic distance, from his mother caused him a great sorrow. “Then you gave me away” emotionally he was separated from her by nothing short of rejection:
“Naturally she longed for a girl.
All my infant curls of brown couldn’t excuse my double blunder
Coming out the wrong sex and the wrong way around.”
Indeed so great was his regret for an absent maternal relationship that he even blamed himself for his mothers disowning of him:
“The worst birth in the annals of Brooklyn
That was my cue to come on”
When she came to live within reaching distance of him in Northern Ireland, Montague wished to re-establish a contact that she had once willingly severed by her sending him back to Ireland and away from their NY home. However she repelled his advances without apparent feelings of sorrow or guilt:
“Don’t come again you say roughly
I start to get fond of you john
And then you are up and gone”
His father also returned to Ulster from New York. The family now appears to have been totally separated by the parents divorce. However his father does come to see him and this occasion is recalled in his poem “the cage”:
“But we did not smile in the shared complicity of a dream
For when weary Odysseus returns Telemachus should leave.”
What is not as clear however is that the loss of his family life appears to have left him a great fear, or even paranoia; so that he was always anticipating hurt or violence. Not only does he feel the violence inflicted on the dumb animal in the poem killing the pig, but it is suggested that he also feels the betrayal of an innocent victim who had begun to believe that he was among friends
“Don’t say they are not intelligent,
They know the hour has come
And they want none of it.”
When it is all completed and the erst-while pet has been slain, the children that he had come to know as friends kick his bladder around the farm yard. Surely his feeling of having been betrayed as a young child by his nearest companion must have influenced this poem: consciously or subconsciously.
This foreboding feeling of incipient cruelty even plays itself out in his own natural childhood such as fishing, in the poem “the trout” he himself becomes the shadow of death over a sleeping fish on a summer’s day.
“Then (entering my own enlarged shape
Which I rode on the water I gripped
To this day I can taste his terror in my hand”
So great was his sensitivity to hurt and horror that memory of fishing (a pleasant one to most people) has become an occasion of regret for the poet, whose memory appears to have become an echo land of foreboding.
Montague is a wounded soldier: wounded by desertion of friends close to his heart, whose company would have been invaluable in the common battle of life; a soldier, because he endures , ove




The general vision and viewpoint of a text expresses the author’s or director’s optimistic or pessimistic outlook on life. It also enables us to establish a greater understanding of the characters and allows us to empathise with them. The outlook can be either bright or dark, or indeed a combination of brightness and darkness and as we become more aware of this outlook as the plot develops, we can more effectively understand the situation of the protagonist within the narrative.
You’re not being asked to talk about how the culture can effect a character of the play, what you’re being asked to do is talk about how the author, playwright or director portrays the different elements of society.
  USE THE LANGUAGE OF COMPARISON:  “similarly”, “likewise”, “in contrast”, “unlike””as opposed to …..”  etc.
• Does the main protagonist achieve success in that he/she achieves fulfilment.
• That person will inevitably meet challenging situations along the way of life: the question of character is determined by how he/she is prepared to deal with these problems.
• He/she may attempt to use  a situation for immoral selfish reasons – thus defining this character as being essentially corrupt.
• Those who face their problems and do not allow others to determine their lives are said to give us a bright outlook on life; those who succumb totally to fate give us therefore the opposite  -- a dark outlook on life.
• Money, greed and selfish ambition are often cited as factors which corrupt the human vision and lead to a negative attitude to human principles and priorities.
• Has he/she learnt anything from life?


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