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:
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)
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.
• “ 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.”
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!
“EACH TEXT WE READ PRESENTS US WITH AN OUTLOOK ON LIFE THAT MAY BE BRIGHT OR DARK OR A COMBINATION Of BRIGHTNESS AND DARKNESS”
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?