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Notes Essay

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CONTENTS Introduction: How to use these Notes The poems: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Sujata Bhatt, A Different History Gerard Manley Hopkins, Pied Beauty Allen Curnow, Continuum Edwin Muir, Horses Judith Wright, Hunting Snake Ted Hughes, Pike Christina Rossetti, A Birthday Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Woodspurge Kevin Halligan, The Cockroach Margaret Atwood, The City Planners Boey Kim Cheng, The Planners Norman MacCaig, Summer Farm Elizabeth Brewster, Where I Come From 1


William Wordsworth, Sonnet: Composed Upon Westminster Bridge

INTRODUCTION: How to use these Notes There are three key principles on which the format of these support materials is based: 1. The first is the fundamental assumption that no such materials can replace the teacher. It is the teacher’s task to introduce the poem to the students and help them to form their own personal responses to what they read. Examiners can easily differentiate between students who have genuinely responded to literature for themselves and those who have merely parroted dictated or packaged notes. Teachers, establishing their dialogues in the classroom, need to encourage and trust students to arrive at their own points of view, insisting only that these shall based firmly on what is being studied. This of course immediately rules out any thought of notes of ‘prepared’ answers to be memorised. 2. The notes take for granted that each poem is unique and must be treated in a unique fashion. Examiners sometimes find that students seem to have been trained to follow strict agendas when dealing with poems, such as dealing first with imagery, then sentence structure, then prosody and so on, whatever the poem and whatever the question. Approaches such as this are almost always simplistic and superficial. By contrast, we wish to encourage students to identify what is special about a poem, what impact it makes on them, and work outwards from that perception. They shouldn’t think of ‘content’ and ‘style’ as discrete areas to be ticked off a list; but instead should be encouraged to think of them together. So in these Notes students are constantly being enjoined to look simultaneously not only at what is said, but how it is said. 3. Each poem is considered to have a universal appeal, and the Notes try only to introduce extraneous knowledge insofar as it might help students to appreciate the poem. Biographical references are mentioned but deliberately downplayed to prevent this interfering with the direct communication between the poet and the twenty-first century reader in whatever part of the world s/he happens to be. With this in mind, the notes on each poem – which are addressed to the teacher – are divided into four sections: Background aims at putting the poem briefly into some sort of context. This can be embroidered as much or as little as the teacher sees fit. It is most important, however, that it should be dealt with quite quickly. Precious time should rather be spent on the poem itself. Teachers should remember that knowledge of historical/biographical context is not a formal Assessment Objective in this syllabus; students are not expected to show knowledge of it in the exam (not least as there is always the risk of their wasting valuable time in regurgitating second-hand details – for which they will gain no credit). Teacher notes to assist a first reading aims at clarifying some areas of potential difficulty/obscurity and add to (rather than simply repeat) the glosses accompanying the poem in the anthology. Student exercises to assist a closer reading of the poem as a whole is the most important section. It gives some suggestions to teachers for ways to get students to work individually or in pairs/groups on aspects of the poem which they can then discuss together. In the spirit of the syllabus, its aim is always to encourage students to deepen their own response to what they read. So, much of this section is in the form of questions. These might be used in different ways. Teachers might allow the students to work through their own modified version of the questions as preparation for a lesson when answers can be compared and a discussion developed. Alternatively, such questions might be used as a 2

basis for group or pair work within the lesson. They could also be used as a revision exercise after the teaching had been done. They are, in short, to be used or amended at the teacher’s discretion according to the individual circumstances of the class. The final section, Thematic Links between set poems in the anthology, might be used as a route finder, to determine the order in which the poems might best be studied. This syllabus does not specifically require a comparison of poems, but sometimes exam questions might ask for treatment of two poems within one answer. Teachers might also use the thematic links guidance for encouraging such joint treatment. (University of Cambridge International Examinations is not responsible for the content of any websites referred to in this document.)



Sujata Bhatt


Background This poem explores the relationship between cultural identity and language. Bhatt was born in India in 1956, studied in the United Kingdom and United States, and lives now in Germany. The poem asks pointedly: ‘Which language / has not been the oppressor’s tongue?’ Teacher notes to assist a first reading There is a recording of Bhatt reading A Different History on the website. In the introduction to her reading, she explains that Sarasvati, the Hindu Goddess of Knowledge, presides over the arts and is frequently worshipped in libraries. Comparison is made between Greek and Indian gods: ‘[Pan] simply emigrated / to India’, and ‘Here [in India], the gods roam freely’. Next the poem focuses on the reverential attitude towards books in a country where ‘every tree is sacred’. A clear shift in mood comes at the start of the second section with the first rhetorical question which takes us to the heart of what the poem is about: ‘Which language / has not been the oppressor’s tongue?’ Student exercises to assist a closer reading of the poem as a whole Get students to read a copy of the poem carefully and to underline any words they find difficult or unfamiliar: perhaps students might need to consult a dictionary for the meanings of ‘emigrated’, ‘oppressor’ and ‘scythe’. If students accept this responsibility for themselves, they will see how their own active learning can lead to an increased understanding of the poems they read. At this early stage it would be helpful to use the internet to research the figures of Pan and Sarasvati mentioned in the poem. The goddess plays a particularly significant role in the first stanza. With the research stage over, now would be a good moment to play the recording of Bhatt reading the poem. Does the reading by the poet herself provide any fresh insights for the students? Do they feel that a particular point has been clarified by the tone of voice in which Bhatt reads the poem? The lineation of the poem makes the two sections of the poem stand out visually. Ask the students in general terms what differences they see between the two sections. They should look both at the content and the language Bhatt uses. Next get students to look more closely at the language of the first section (up until ‘from whose wood the paper was made’). How does Bhatt use words and phrases to convey how sacred trees and books are? They might consider the force of the verbs ‘shove’, ‘slam’, and ‘toss’, together with the subsequent phrases. In pairs, ask students to read the poem again as they consider the effects of the repetition of ‘a sin’ and ‘without’ in the first section, and of the rhetorical flourish ‘Which language…’ in the second section. Next get them to consider more closely the different mood of the second section, exploring the precise effects of particular words they find striking. How do they think these lines should be read? Is the tone bitter or sad? Does the tone of voice change at any stage – and, if it does, why? 4

Get them to consider the following metaphors: ‘tongue’ for language, and the soul ‘cropped / with a long scythe swooping out / of the conqueror’s face’. They should probe closely the meanings and effects of the underlined words. How effective do they find the final two lines of the poem? Do they find anything amusing in the poem? After their close investigation of the poem, they should have the opportunity to read the poem aloud, taking care to vary the tone as appropriate. For homework and future revision, students might be encouraged to access the website to listen to other poems by Bhatt or indeed poems by other writers.

Thematic links with set poems Identity and language: Time: Religion: Continuum, The Cockroach Horses, The City Planners, The Planners, Summer Farm Pied Beauty, Horses, A Birthday, Composed Upon Westminster Bridge



Gerard Manley Hopkins


Background Hopkins was born in England in 1844 and died in 1889. This poem was published in 1918, some forty-one years after Hopkins wrote it in 1877, the year he became a Jesuit priest. His distinctive and innovative poetry found fame after his death rather than during the English Victorian age in which he lived, when more traditional verse was popular and perhaps more acceptable to the Victorian palate. Teacher notes to assist a first reading This is a short but densely packed poem, and it may be that less confident students seek refuge in literary terminology: the poem is a curtal (or curtailed sonnet). Instead of an octave, there are two tercets. Instead of a sestet there are four lines and a final line comprising two words. At IGCSE level, students are note expected to know such terms. And writing that ‘the rhyme scheme is ABCABC’ (in the first six lines) adds little to an appreciation of poetry – unless its relationship with the content is explored. The important thing is for students to respond to what they find striking or original or beautiful in a poem which celebrates the breath-taking variety of nature in its many forms. Students will need both to visualise Hopkins’ descriptions and to listen to his words. But before they will be able to do this, they need to overcome the barrier of some of the language used. Some words such as ‘adazzle’ are archaic and others such as ‘fathersforth’ have been coined by the poet. The Songs of Ourselves Anthology glosses a number of phrases, but students may need to look up other words. The internet might be as useful here as the dictionary: for example, what do brinded cows and rose-moles on trout actually look like? Because of the relative complexity of the poem, students are likely to benefit from a highly structured approach to the study of this poem. The poem can be broken down into these manageable units: Line 1 gives thanks to God for creating ‘dappled things’. Lines 2 – 5 provides a list of specific things which are ‘dappled’ and which cumulatively express delight at such variety in the natural world. In order, they are: skies presumably of blue sky and white cloud a ‘brinded’ cow – i.e. a cow streaked with different colours the trout with its specks of different colour (‘stipple’ is a speck) chestnuts glowing like coal – an image approaching the surreal, the black of the coal and the glow of the flame finches’ wings landscape of fields ‘plotted and pieced’ like a patchwork, some planted, some fallow and some recently ploughed (‘fold, fallow and plough’). Line 6 shifts attention from natural phenomena to the jobs that men (!) have and the different types of equipment they have. ‘Gear’ and ‘tackle’ are more recognisably comprehensible to the twenty-first century reader than the word ‘trim’ as used here. Line 7 marks a turning-point. The language becomes more abstract in character, after the concrete detail of the previous lines. It might be helpful to look at the final two lines of the poem first: God is the creator of all things mentioned in the poem, and should be praised. Then go back to the adjectives in line 7: God is creator of ‘all thin...

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