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:
A restricted vocabulary, due to reluctance to read during leisure times.
Under-developed skills in essay and written composition.
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)
What is revealed in the poetry of Sylvia Plath is the vivid portrait of a tormented and anguished person (Mick Beirne)
Sylvia Plath suffers for her sanity like other sensitive artists who feared that they would in time be betrayed by what they loved. John Keats feared that he would die “before his pen had gleaned his teaming brain”; Sylvia Plath feared that her muse would fail her while she lived. Thus she refers to “total neutrality”, and this means an absence of inspiration to write. This produces a terrible anxiety as she awaits the next “miracle” and seeks “back talk from the sky”. Yet, as long as a black rook can inspire her on a rainy day, because of how the light is playing spasmodic tricks of radiance upon its feathers, the miracle is always about; though she may not have grasped this assurance. Her season of fatigue and her long wait are part of her own innate fear of ultimate failure: ironically, this might well have produced an earlier fatal sequel ─ were it not for the help of her fickle muse.
Within the “Bee Box” there is something suppressed; an awareness caused to become angry; something scary that nevertheless draws her towards it incessantly like a great magnet; some dark power that may be released with potential dreadful consequences. The subject matter is perhaps metaphorical: the torrent is within the confines of her own head as much as it is within the bee cage; the great magnet is her Muse and the darkness is what she has camouflaged until now ─ for the gentle hearted might not like it. So she can nurture these things for future release or let them decay. If she releases the power of her caged awareness it may cause unforeseen hurt. “I am no source of honey”, she says: so neither bees nor people may expect too much flower-like sweetness from her; thus neither can feel cheated by a new revelation. So then, she has power: the power to grant freedom to both the bees and to her own art-crazed thoughts ─ thus she is like God, where being sweet equals delivering some fulfilment. Tomorrow, she promises, she will deliver!
Perhaps Plath should be best seen as having been married to her muse to whom she bears a family of poems ─ which alone fulfil her intuition. In morning Song we see her innate fear of and alienation to human motherhood: her baby is “a fat golden watch”, and later its mouth is like that of a cat. Then, at best, it is the sound of the sea in its breathing: but the sea has as much potential to be dangerous as beautiful ─ for it may drown those that engage with it! She herself is a milch cow and the light of day swallows the dull stars. She and her baby will become as alien to one another as the passing cloud that condenses a pool of water and then loses its former shape. As a mother, Plath is full of insecurity so that her baby’s nakedness only bares her own inefficiencies for her new role.
The terrible truth within the theme of the poem “Child” is that, whereas the innocence and imagination of the child should be a source of emotional inspiration to the mother, it only reflects all the more on her emptiness and inability to relate to joy. Thus the little child ponders on the beauty of “The zoo of the new” Even words as well as shapes and colours bear it magic. In contrast its mother sees only “this dark Ceiling without a star”
The poem “Poppies” presents even a more gruesome affair; for the poet can not experience any emotion at all ─ not even pain. This presents a fearsome prospect that she would gladly suffer physical trauma rather than live within her current state of inertia: “If my mouth could marry a hurt like that!” The flickering of the poppies in the breeze only serves to exhaust her; but she is somewhat excited by the imagery of violence which she beholds in their colour:
“A mouth just blooded.
Little bloody skirts!”
She is close to breakdown now and simply wants to get out, she thinks: “If I could bleed or sleep”
The “Mirror” is no sweet god: but the woman who visits it daily wants it to produce miracles. However, it unapologetically tells the truth and does not requite her supplications when she comes to it for comfort: thus it is insensitive and mean, but faithful to fact. And that fact is that the lady grows steadily older and is not a “Snow white”. Then the mirror undergoes a terrible metamorphoses becoming a lake into which the woman has gone as a young girl, only to emerge as a self-scaring and terrible fish. Thus Plath illustrates the importunate nature of her gender: needing and not getting reassurance, losing beauty with inevitable age and ultimately frightened by a future of helpless decline. Such is also of course common to the male of our species: but Plath writes here only for her own.
Plath is an endearing poet, full of the wonder of nature’s mysteries, full of human fears of failure and decline, but lulling us with poetic beauty to enjoy her sorrow. She is the rare sensitive pheasant on the elm hill trailing its tail in the winter snow; she is the mad bee box full of energetic trouble; she is the black rook in rainy weather waiting for the random descent of light upon its dullness that will radiate its hidden beauty; she is the paradoxical morning song for her baby that is so much a mourning song for freedom; she is the “zoo of the new” in which her child can meditate wonder and so become wise ─ but she does not know it; she is the lady at the mirror of art drowning in her own dreams and discovering a nightmare; and she is unfortunately ann ultimately the bloody poppy that will produce its own dulling opiates to forever still her fear and pain and her irreplaceable poetry.
Characters of Shakespear's Plays (1817)
MACBETH and Lear, Othello and Hamlet, are usually reckoned Shakespear's four principal tragedies. Lear stands first for the profound intensity of the passion; Macbeth for the wildness of the imagination and the rapidity of the action; Othello for the progressive interest and powerful alternations of feeling; Hamlet for the refined developement of thought and sentiment. If the force of genius shewn in each of these works is astonishing, their variety is not less so. They are like different creations of the same mind, not one of which has the slightest reference to the rest. This distinctness and originality is indeed the necessary consequence of truth and nature. Shakespear's genius alone appeared to possess the resources of nature. He is "your only tragedy maker." His plays have the force of things upon the mind. What he represents is brought home to the bosom as a part of our experience, implanted in the memory as if we had known the places, persons, and things of which he treats. MACBETH is like a record of a preternatural and tragical event. It has the rugged severity of an old chronicle with all that the imagination of the poet can engraft upon traditional belief. The castle of Macbeth, round which "the air smells wooingly," and where "the temple-haunting martlet builds," has a real subsistence in the mind; the Weïrd Sisters meet us in person on "the blasted heath;" the "air-drawn dagger" moves slowly before our eyes; the "gracious Duncan," the "blood-boultered Banquo" stand before us; all that passed through the mind of Macbeth passes, without the loss of a little, through our's. All that could actually take place, and all that is only possible to be conceived, what was said and what was done, the workings of passion, the spells of magic, are brought before us with the same absolute truth and vividness.--Shakespear excelled in the openings of his plays: that of Macbeth is the most striking of any. The wildness of the scenery, the sudden shifting of the situations and characters, the bustle, the expectations excited, are equally extraordinary. From the first entrance of the Witches and the description of them when they meet Macbeth,
3 ----"What are these
So wither'd and so wild in their attire,
That look not like the inhabitants of th' earth
And yet are on't?"
4 the mind is prepared for all that follows.
5 This tragedy is alike distinguished for the lofty imagination it displays, and for the tumultuous vehemence of the action; and the one is made the moving principle of the other. The overwhelming pressure of preternatural agency urges on the tide of human passion with redoubled force. Macbeth himself appears driven along by the violence of his fate like a vessel drifting before a storm; he reels to and fro like a drunken man; he staggers under the weight of his own purposes and the suggestions of others; he stands at bay with his situation; and from the superstitious awe and breathless suspense into which the communications of the Weïrd Sisters throw him, is hurried on with daring impatience to verify their predictions, and with impious and bloody hand to tear aside the veil which hides the uncertainty of the future. He is not equal to the struggle with fate and conscience. He now "bends up each corporal instrument to the terrible feat;" at other times his heart misgives him, and he is cowed and abashed by his success. "The deed, no less than the attempt, confounds him." His mind is assailed by the stings of remorse, and full of "preternatural solicitings." His speeches and soliloquies are dark riddles on human life, baffling solution, and entangling him in their labyrinths. In thought he is absent and perplexed, sudden and desperate in act, from a distrust of his own resolution. His energy springs from the anxiety and agitation of his mind. His blindly rushing forward on the objects of his ambition and revenge, or his recoiling from them, equally betrays the harassed state of his feelings.--This part of his character is admirably set off by being brought in connection with that of Lady Macbeth, whose obdurate strength of will and masculine firmness give her the ascendancy over her husband's faultering virtue. She at once seizes on the opportunity that offers for the accomplishment of all their wished-for greatness, and never flinches from her object till all is over. The magnitude of her resolution almost covers the magnitude of her guilt. She is a great bad woman, whom we hate, but whom we fear more than we hate. She does not excite our loathing and abhorrence like Regan and Gonerill. She is only wicked to gain a great end; and is perhaps more distinguished by her commending presence of mind and inexorable self-will, which do not suffer her to be diverted from a bad purpose, when once formed, by week and womanly regrets, than by the hardness of her heart or want of natural affections. The impression which her lofty determination of character makes on the mind of Macbeth is well described where he exclaims,
6 ----"Bring forth men children only;
For thy undaunted mettle should compose
Nothing but males!"
7 Nor do the pains she is at to "screw his courage to the sticking-place", the reproach to him, not to be "lost so poorly in himself," the assurance that "a little water clears them of this deed," shew any thing but her greater consistency in depravity. Her strong-nerved ambition furnishes ribs of steel to "the sides of his intent;" and she is herself wound up to the execution of her baneful project with the same unshrinking fortitude in crime, that in other circumstances she would probably have shewn patience in suffering. The deliberate sacrifice of all other considerations to the gaining "for their future days and nights sole sovereign sway and masterdom," by the murder of Duncan, is gorgeously expressed in her invocation on hearing of "his fatal entrance under her battlements:"--
8 ----"Come all you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here:
And fill me, from the crown to th' toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood,
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it. Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murthering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature's mischief. Come, thick night!
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heav'n peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry, hold, hold!"--
9 When she first hears that "Duncan comes there to sleep" she is so overcome by the news, which is beyond her utmost expectations, that she answers the messenger, "Thou'rt mad to say it:" and on receiving her husband's account of the predictions of the Witches, conscious of his instability of purpose, and that her presence is necessary to goad him on to the consummation of his promised greatness, she exclaims--
10 ----"Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear,
And chastise with the velour of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crowned withal."
11 This swelling exultation and keen spirit of triumph, this uncontroulable eagerness of anticipation, which seems to dilate her form and take possession of all her faculties, this solid, substantial flesh and blood display of passion, exhibit a striking contrast to the cold, abstracted, gratuitous, servile malignity of the witches, who are equally instrumental in urging Macbeth to his fate for the mere love of mischief, and from a disinterested delight in deformity and cruelty. They are hags of mischief, obscene panders to iniquity, malicious from their impotence of enjoyment, enamoured of destruction, because they are themselves unreal, abortive, half-existences, who become sublime from their exemption from all human sympathies and contempt for all human affairs, as Lady Macbeth does by the force of passion! Her fault seems to have been an excess of that strong principle of self-interest and family aggrandizement, not amenable to the common feelings of compassion and justice, which is so marked a feature in barbarous nations and times. A passing reflection of this kind, on the resemblance of the sleeping king to her father, alone prevents her from slaying Duncan with her own hand.
12 In speaking of the character of Lady Macbeth, we ought not to pass over Mrs. Siddons's manner of acting that part. We can conceive of nothing grander. It was something above nature. It seemed almost as if a being of a superior order had dropped from a higher sphere to awe the world with the majesty of her appearance. Power was seated on her brow, passion emanated from her breast as from a shrine; she was tragedy personified. In coming on in the sleeping scene, her eyes were open, but their sense was shut. She was like a person bewildered and unconscious of what she did. Her lips moved involuntarily--all her gestures were involuntary and mechanical. She glided on and off the stage like an apparition. To have seen her in that character was an event in every one's life, not to be forgotten.
13 The dramatic beauty of the character of Duncan, which excites the respect and pity even of his murderers, has been often pointed out. It forms a picture of itself. An instance of the author's power of giving a striking effect to a common reflection, by the manner of introducing it, occurs in a speech of Duncan, complaining of his having been deceived in his opinion of the Thane of Cawdor, at the very moment that he is expressing the most unbounded confidence in the loyalty and services of Macbeth.
14 "There is no art
To find the mind's construction in the face:
He was a gentleman, on whom I built
An absolute trust.
O worthiest cousin, (addressing himself to Macbeth)
The sin of my ingratitude e'en now
Was great upon me," &c.
15 Another passage to shew that Shakespear lost sight of nothing that could in any way give relief or heightening to his subject, is the conversation which takes place between Banquo and Fleance immediately before the murder-scene of Duncan.
16 "Banquo. How goes the night, boy?
Fleance. The moon is down: I have not heard the clock.
Banquo. And she goes down at twelve.
Fleance. I take't, 'tis later, Sir.
Banquo. Hold, take my sword. There's husbandry in heav'n,
Their candles are all out.--
A heavy summons lies like lead upon me,
And yet I would not sleep: Merciful Powers,
Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature
Gives way to in repose."
17 In like manner, a fine idea is given of the gloomy coming on of evening, just as Banquo is going to be assassinated,
18 "Light thickens and the crow
Makes wing to the rooky wood,"
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Now spurs the lated traveller apace
To gain the timely inn."
19 MACBETH (generally speaking) is done upon a stronger and more systematic principle of contrast than any other of Shakespear's plays. It moves upon the verge of an abyss, and is a constant struggle between life and death. The action is desperate and the reaction is dreadful. It is a huddling together of fierce extremes, a war of opposite natures which of them shall destroy the other. There is nothing but what has a violent end or violent beginnings! The lights and shades are laid on with a determined hand; the transitions from triumph to despair, from the height of terror to the repose of death, are sudden and startling; every passion brings in its fellow - contrary, and the thoughts pitch and jostle against each other as in the dark. The whole play is an unruly chaos of strange and forbidden things, where the ground rocks under our feet, Shakespear's genius here took its full swing, and trod upon the farthest bounds of nature and passion. This circumstance will account for the abruptness and violent antitheses of the style, the throes and labour which run through the expression, and from defects will turn them into beauties. "So fair and foul a day I have not seen," &c. "Such welcome and unwelcome news together." "Men's lives are like the flowers in their caps, dying or ere they sicken." "Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it." The scene before the castle gate follows the appearance of the Witches on the heath, and is followed by a midnight murder. Duncan is cut off betimes by treason leagued with witchcraft, and Macduff is ripped untimely from his mother's womb to avenge his death. Macbeth, after the death of Banquo, wishes for his presence in extravagant terms, "To him and all we thirst," and when his ghost appears, cries out, "Avaunt and quit my sight," and being gone, he is "himself again." Macbeth resolves to get rid of Macduff, that "he may sleep in spite of thunder;" and cheers his wife on the doubtful intelligence of Banquo's taking-off with the encouragement--"Then be thou jocund: ere the bat has flown his cloistered flight; ere to black Hecate's summons the shard-born beetle has rung night's yawning peal, there shall be done--a deed of dreadful note." In Lady Macbeth's speech "Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done 't," there is murder and filial piety together, and in urging him to fulfil his vengeance against the defenseless king, her thoughts spare the blood neither of infants nor old age. The description of the Witches is full of the same contradictory principle; they "rejoice when good kings bleed," they ate neither of the earth nor the air, but both; "they should be women, but their beards forbid it;" they take all the pains possible to lead Macbeth on to the height of his ambition, only to betray him in deeper consequence, and after strewing him all the pomp of their art, discover their malignant delight in his disappointed hopes, by that bitter taunt, "Why stands Macbeth thus amazedly?" We might multiply such instances every where.
20 The leading features in the character of Macbeth are striking enough, and they form what may be thought at first only a bold, rude, Gothic outline. By comparing it with other characters of the same author we shall perceive the absolute truth and identity which is observed in the midst of the giddy whirl and rapid career of events. Macbeth in Shakespear no more loses his identity of character in the fluctuations of fortune or the storm of passion, than Macbeth in himself would have lost the identity of his person. Thus he is as distinct a being from Richard III as it is possible to imagine, though these two characters in common hands, and indeed in the hands of any other poet, would have been a repetition of the same general idea, more or less exaggerated. For both are tyrants, usurpers, murderers, both aspiring and ambitious, both courageous, cruel, treacherous. But Richard is cruel from nature and constitution. Macbeth becomes so from accidental circumstances. Richard is from his birth deformed in body and mind, and naturally incapable of good. Macbeth is full of "the milk of human kindness," is frank, sociable, generous. He is tempted to the commission of guilt by golden opportunities, by the instigations of his wife, and by prophetic warnings. Fate and metaphysical aid conspire against his virtue and his loyalty. Richard on the contrary needs no prompter, but wades through a series of crimes to the height of his ambition from the ungovernable violence of his temper and a reckless love of mischief. He is never gay but in the prospect or in the success of his villainies: Macbeth is full of horror at the thoughts of the murder of Duncan, which he is with difficulty prevailed on to commit, and of remorse after its perpetration. Richard has no mixture of common humanity in his composition, no regard to kindred or posterity, he owns no fellowship with others, he is "himself alone." Macbeth is not destitute of feelings of sympathy, is accessible to pity, is even made in some measure the dupe of his uxoriousness, ranks the loss of friends, of the cordial love of his followers, and of his good name, among the causes which have made him weary of life, and regrets that he has ever seized the crown by unjust means, since he cannot transmit it to his posterity--
21 "For Banquo's issue have I 'fil'd my mind--
For them the gracious Duncan have I murther'd,
To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings."
22 In the agitation of his thoughts, he envies those whom he has sent to peace. "Duncan is in his grave; after life's fitful fever he sleeps well."--It is true, he becomes more callous as he plunges deeper in guilt, "direness is thus rendered familiar to his slaughterous thoughts," and he in the end anticipates his wife in the boldness and bloodiness of his enterprises, while she for want of the same stimulus of action, is "troubled with thick-coming fancies that rob her of her rest," goes mad and dies. Macbeth endeavours to escape from reflection on his crimes by repelling their consequences, and banishes remorse for the past by the meditation of future mischief. This is not the principle of Richard's cruelty, which resembles the wanton malice of a fiend as much as the frailty of human passion. Macbeth is goaded on to acts of violence and retaliation by necessity; to Richard, blood is a pastime.--There are other decisive differences inherent in the two characters. Richard may be regarded as a man of the world, a plotting, hardened knave, wholly regardless of every thing but his own ends, and the means to secure them--Not so Macbeth. The superstitions of the age, the rude state of society, the local scenery and customs, all give a wildness and imaginary grandeur to his character. From the strangeness of the events that surround him, he is full of amazement and fear; and stands in doubt between the world of reality and the world of fancy. He sees sights not strewn to mortal eye, and hears unearthly music. All is tumult and disorder within and without his mind; his purposes recoil upon himself, are broken and disjointed; he is the double thrall of his passions and his evil destiny. Richard is not a character either of imagination or pathos, but of pure self-will. There is no conflict of opposite feelings in his breast. The apparitions which he sees only haunt him in his sleep; nor does he live like Macbeth in a waking dream. Macbeth has considerable energy and manliness of character; but then he is "subject to all the skyey influences." He is sure of nothing but the present moment. Richard in the busy turbulence of his projects never loses his self-possession, and makes use of every circumstance that happens as an instrument of his long-reaching designs. In his last extremity we can only regard him as a wild beast taken in the toils: we never entirely lose our concern for Macbeth; and he calls back all our sympathy by that fine close of thoughtful melancholy--
23 "My way of life is fallen into the sear,
The yellow leaf; and that which should accompany old age,
As honour, troops of friends, I must not look to have;
But in their stead, curses not loud but deep,
Mouth-honour, breath, which the poor heart
Would fain deny and dare not."
24 We can conceive a common actor to play Richard tolerably well; we can conceive no one to play Macbeth properly, or to look like a man that had encountered the Weïrd Sisters. All the actors that we have ever seen, appear as if they had encountered them on the boards of Covent-garden or Drury-lane, but not on the heath at Fores, and as if they did not believe what they had seen. The Witches of MACBETH indeed are ridiculous on the modern stage, and we doubt if the furies of Aeschylus would be more respected. The progress of manners and knowledge has an influence on the stage, and will in time perhaps destroy both tragedy and comedy. Filch's picking pockets, in the Beggars' Opera, is not so good a jest as it used to be: by the force of the police and of philosophy, Lillo's murders and the ghosts in Shakespear will become obsolete. At last there will be nothing left, good nor bad, to be desired or dreaded, on the theatre or in real life. A question has been started with respect to the originality of Shakespear's Witches, which has been well answered by Mr. Lamb in his notes to the "Specimens of Early Dramatic Poetry."--
25 "Though some resemblance may be traced between the charms in MACBETH, and the incantations in this play, (the Witch of Middleton) which is supposed to have preceded it, this coincidence will not detract much from the originality of Shakespear. His Witches are distinguished from the Witches of Middleton by essential differences. These are creatures to whom man or woman plotting some dire mischief might resort for occasional consultation. Those originate deeds of blood, and begin bad impulses to men. From the moment that their eyes first meet with Macbeth's, he is spellbound. That meeting sways his destiny. He can never break the fascination. These Witches can hurt the body; those have power over the soul.--Hecate in Middleton has a son, a low buffoon: the hags of Shakespear have neither child of their own, nor seem to be descended from any parent. They are foul anomalies, of whom we know not whence they are sprung, nor whether they have beginning or ending. As they are without human passions, so they seem to be without human relations. They come with thunder and lightning, and vanish to airy music. This is all we know of them.--Except Hecate, they have no names, which heightens their mysteriousness. The names, and some of the properties which Middleton has given to his hags, excite smiles. The Weïrd Sisters are serious things. Their presence cannot co-exist with mirth. But, in a lesser degree, the Witches of Middleton are fine creations. Their power too is, in some measure, over the mind. They raise jars, jealousies, strifes, like a thick scurf o'er life."
FROST'S POETRY APPEARS SIMPLE -- YET THIS IS NOT SO!
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.”
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 COMPARATVE TEXT
VISION AND VIEWPOINT
“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?