Tag Archives: Poetry

John Keats HL 2009

Here’s a look at how to handle a Keats poetry exam question. You can see a model introduction and then some broad tips on how to plan the essay. A plan is just the bones – some flesh will be added in the next day or two.

LC HL 2009

Keats presents abstract ideas in a style that is clear and direct. Do you agree….

From my study of the poetry of John Keats, I am not surprised that many call him the finest English poet of the Romantic period. In many ways, his work is typical of his era. His themes reflect his deepest beliefs about what was important to him in life. Imagination, nature, strong emotions, love, death, transience, immortality are among the many abstract ideas with which his poetry is concerned. The manner in which Keats writes is often clear and direct as he creates verbal music in his sound effects, sensuous imagery that is tactile and aural. However, there are often times when his style can be challenging such as his use of paradoxes and antithesis to explore his themes. Therefore, I agree with this view of Keats’ work to a large but not full extent.

Now, you can approach this essay in one of two ways:

  1. Poem by poem:

Go through 4/5 of the six studied poems – one par or two paragraphs for each poem. As you discuss each poem – refer to one or two of the different abstract ideas mentioned in the intro and show how the style is clear / direct or not. If you are discussing one poem in each paragraph, make sure you link to another poem (perhaps the 6th poem, not being assigned its own paragraph) by way of a quote that shows a similar or different view/use of the theme/style being discussed. As always use words that show your personal response eg I was impressed with, I was challenged by, I enjoyed, I have often/never felt the same way about… I was pushed out of my comfort zone when studying… Keats’ use of x is striking… and so on.

  1. Theme by theme (or aspect of style by aspect of style):

Choose a different abstract idea according to the ones listed in the intro for each different paragraph. As you discuss each theme, refer to two or more poems that deal with it. Also show how Keats explores the idea – his style and comment on its clarity and directness (as the question requires). Again, include a personal element. As always keep the focus on the exact terms (or synonyms) of the question.

What is ultimately expected is that you show you know and understand Keats’ poetry thoroughly; and that you have thought about it and formed an opinion that you can justify and defend. Furthermore, you are being tested on how well you can interpret a question and apply your knowledge and understanding and opinion to what the question asks of you. (RTFQ and ATFQ J)

Now for two outlines – one following each approach:

  1. Poem by poem outline:

As always have a think about putting your paragraphs in a logical order that will create a flow to your thinking – and try to create smooth transitions between paragraphs.

Intro: (similar to above)

MB 1: Ode to a Nightingale

(Ask yourself: What abstract themes does this poem deal with and are those themes expressed in a clear and direct style?)

Abstract ideas – the imagination, transience, poetry, nature, mortality, death

Style – synaesthesia, sensuous imagery esp smell, allusion, contrast, changing tone

(Now ask yourself: How will I shape these points to suit my paragraph? OR: Which of these points will I use for my paragraph? OR: What will my paragraph topic be in relation to the question asked?)

MB 2: Ode to a Nightingale

Continue with points not used in MB 1.

Contrast this poem’s treatment of nature with its treatment in ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’

MB 3: To Autumn

Abstract ideas – beauty of nature v the harsh reality of death (transience, mortality)

Style – rich imagery – tactile, visual, aural; personification of Autumn, contrast, onomatopoeia + alliteration

MB 4: Ode on a Grecian Urn

Abstract ideas – immortality through art, permanence, transience, imagination, love (brief ref to LBDSM’s contrasting treatment of love)

Style – paradoxes + antithesis + ambiguities, contrast, assonance + sibilance

MB 5: To one who has been long in city pent

Abstract ideas – beauty of nature + its restorative powers, appreciation of literature (brief ref to ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer), transience

Style: Changing tone, personification, allusion, alliteration + onomatopoeia

Conc – a crucial paragraph – shorter than main bodies – sum up – recap the main thrust of your essay and if possible leave the reader with a final thought-provoking comment on Keats and your opinion of his work in relation to this question.

  1. Theme by theme outline:

WARNING: Be careful not to repeat aspects of (or the same quotes from) the same poem in different paragraphs.

As always have a think about putting your paragraphs in a logical order that will create a flow to your thinking – and try to create smooth transitions between paragraphs.

Intro: (similar to above)

MB 1: Imagination; style – clear and direct or not

Think about which poems will help you with this – you can use one poem in this par and one poem in the next paragraph but comment on whether they have a similar or different approach.

Ode to a Nightingale

MB 2: Imagination; style – clear and direct or not

A second poem on this theme – Ode on a Grecian Urn

MB 3: Nature; style – clear and direct or not

To Autumn + To one who has been long in city pent + brief link to LBDSM as poem which treats nature differently

MB 4: Immortality / Death + Transience; style – clear and direct or not

Ode to a Nightingale + Ode on a Grecian Urn and To Autumn

MB 5: Love; style – clear and direct or not

LBDSM + Ode on a Grecian Urn

Conc – a crucial paragraph – shorter than main bodies – sum up – recap the main thrust of your essay and if possible leave the reader with a final thought-provoking comment on Keats and your opinion of his work in relation to this question.

More flesh will be added to these over the next day or two – but these pointers should be a good guideline in how to start looking at a Keats question. Happy studying!

Bob Dylan – Nobel Laureate

American singer-songwriter has today been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature ‘for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition’. He is the first singer-songwriter to win the award and the first American to win since Toni Morrison in 1993.

He was born on 24th May 1941 in Minnesota and began writing and performing in his teenager years and has not stopped since.

Permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sarah Danius, said later: ‘We we’re really giving it to Bob Dylan as a great poet – that’s the reason we awarded him the prize. He’s a great poet in the English tradition, stretching from Milton and Blake onwards. And he’s a very interesting traditionalist, in a highly original way. Not just the written tradition, but also the oral one; not just high literature, but also low literature.’

Author Salman Rushdie stated that he was delighted with Dylan’s win and said that his lyrics ‘had been an inspiration to me all my life since I first heard a Dylan album at school.’

Prof Seamus Perry, chair of the English faculty at Oxford University, compared Dylan’s talent to that of the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, calling the songwriter ‘representative and yet wholly individual, humane, angry, funny and tender by turn; really, wholly himself, one of the greats’.

Author Joyce Carol Oates said there should be no question about Dylan’s work being considered literature, praising the academy’s ‘inspired and original choice’.

Not everyone was overjoyed by the announcement, however. Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting, said that although he was a Dylan fan ‘this is an ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies’.

Here is one of my favourites:

Poetry Aloud 2014

Students from Franciscan College Gormanston at the National Library of Ireland for Poetry Aloud
Students from Franciscan College Gormanston at the National Library of Ireland for Poetry Aloud

Students from Franciscan College, Gormanston attended the National Library of Ireland today for the regional heats of the Poetry Aloud competition. The students had to recite two poems each for a panel of judges – one prescribed for them and the other was of their own choosing.

Students in the Junior Category had to recite the poem ‘Heirloom’ by Gerard Smyth. In this category we had Sarah Browne and Evan Logue from 1st year and Maya Keeley, Raven Opashi and Todd Lynch from 2nd year. Students in the Intermediate Category had to recite ‘An Irish Airman Foresees his Death’ by W.B. Yeats. We were represented in this category by Alex Konchar, Kyle Keeley, Chris Leech and Adam Lally. Students in the Senior Category had to recite ‘St. Kevin and the Blackbird’ by Seamus Heaney. In this category we were represented by Veronica Filani, Miriam Mputu-Ntela and Nadia West.

Congratulations to all who took part. You did yourselves and your college proud!

Poetry Aloud 2014

It’s time to start memorising and practising the effective recital of poetry. Here are the details of what’s required if you wish to enter this worthy and rewarding competition:

Two poems to be spoken by each student – one chosen by student from the prescribed anthologies and one poem prescribed for their category.


The Rattle Bag edited by Seamus Heaney & Ted Hughes (Faber & Faber, 1982)

Lifelines: Letters from Famous People About Their Favourite Poem edited by Niall McGonagle (any edition)

Something Beginning with P edited by Seamus Cashman (O’Brien Press) 


Junior: 1st and 2nd Years

Your chosen poem – not less than 14 lines (not more than 35-40)

Prescribed poem – TBC

Intermediate: 3rd and 4th Years

Your chosen poem – not less than 18 lines (not more than 35-40)

Prescribed poem – TBC

Senior: 5th and 6th Years

Your chosen poem – not less than 23 lines (not more than 35-40)

Prescribed poem – TBC


Regional Heats: End Oct (Venue to be confirmed – probably NLI)

Semi Finals: End November in NLI

Final: Early December in NLI


Winner from each category receives €300 and books for school library

Overall Winner receives a further €200 and the Seamus Heaney Perpetual Trophy

Runner up in each category will receive a book token


For more information and the latest 2014 competition details keep an eye on nli.ie

Or see your English teacher 🙂

Poetry Aloud ’13

12 students from Gormanston College took part in the Poetry Aloud Competition in the National Library in Dublin today. Each student had to recite two poems – one prescribed and one of their own choosing. The prescribed poem for the Junior Category was ‘Lion King’ by Joe Woods, for the Intermediate Category was ‘Poisoned’ by John Ennis and for the Senior Category was ‘In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz’ by WB Yeats.

Each of our students did us proud. They recited their poetry with confidence and conducted themselves with dignity. The day was thoroughly enjoyable for all involved.

And to crown a wonderful experience, Duncan from 6th year succeeded in progressing to the semi-finals! Well done to Duncan. This is a great reward for the hard work he put into learning his poems and delivering them with panache.

Well done to all who took part.

Duncan, Chris and Hunain
Jack, Sami, Oran, Conor and Conor
Pauric, Chris, Kyle and Adam

The Inquiry into the Sinking of the Titanic

During the last couple of weeks TY students have been studying a broad range of poetry including works from greats such as Seamus Heaney and TS Eliot. Last week, “After the Titanic” by Derek Mahon was the focus of attention. The poem looks at the tragedy of the Titanic from the point of view of a survivor – Bruce Ismay. He was the managing director of White Star Line the company that owned the Titanic. Mahon’s interpretation vividly captures the haunting memories of the broken up ship and describes Ismay’s feelings when the investigation into the sinking took place.

After reflecting on the poem, a challenge was put to the TY’s. In 20 mins, and in groups of 8 or 9, they had to prepare a rehearsed improvisation of the  inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic centering on Bruce Ismay. In group one, Jack Conway led the courtroom process with great authority while Drew Keeley defended himself in the role of Ismay. Witnesses were called and barristers examined. This improvisation was very convincing indeed.

Witness for the Prosecution
Witness for the Prosecution

Another group was led strongly by the prosecuting barrister, Ciaran Mulroy. Gabriel Mayrhofer, as Bruce Ismay did not stand a chance under the tough line of questioning. Despite many objections by counsel for the defence, Sean Landers, Ismay was found guilty of negligent manslaughter.

The Questioning of Ismay
The Questioning of Ismay

Both groups got very much into the spirit of the hearing and everyone fulfilled their roles and improvised greatly without any written script. This experiment  with rehearsed improvisation is one that will be repeated during the course of the year.

Poetry reading with Mary Swander

5th year students had a real treat today, in the form of a poetry reading and talk with Mary Swander. Mary is the Poet Laureate for the State of Iowa and is a Professor of English and Distinguished Professor of the Liberal Arts at Iowa State University. Mary read two of her poems for us and described how they came into being. She spoke about her life – she lives in an old Amish schoolhouse – and about her Irish roots.

Mary’s most recent publication is a book of poetry, The Girls on the Roof. This is a Mississippi flood narrative. She is also currently touring her play Farmscape. This is a docudrama capturing the changing rural environment.

Cathal asked Mary about how she came to be a poet and in response she described her early writing in Georgetown University in Washington DC.

Duncan asked her who her own favourite poets were and Mary spoke about her love of the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath, but her absolute favourite was Elizabeth Bishop.

Matthew asked her about her role as Poet Laureate and Mary spoke further about the work that she does today.

Overall, it was wonderful to hear her entertaining anecdotes and early life stories.

If you would like to find out more information about Mary Swander then you should visit her website. Here you will find out details about her publications and areas of interest. You will also find details of her Twitter account and Facebook page. The website is www.maryswander.com

Mary Swander with some of our 5th years

‘On The Battlefield’ by Sean Ward

2nd year students have recently been studying a module on war poetry. At the end of that module they were encouraged to write their own war poems. Some students have produced excellent pieces of work. A range of them will be published here over the next few weeks. Here is Sean Ward’s poem:

On The Battlefield

I’m alone
On the battlefield behind a destroyed vehicle,
Sandbags surround me,
Saving soldiers from ugly deaths.
The sand – it reminds me of the beach.
The beach is the worst place to be:
You can’t run, you can’t hide.
Soldiers start to realise the searing pain
That is death. The soldiers,
They’re covered in dirt doing things
No one should do. They shout and
Shoot at people just as confused as they are.
Then there is me.
I continue the countdown to my death.
Me, just me on the battlefield. Surrounded
By carnage. Five, four, three, two,
This is the last thing I do,

By Sean Ward

Poem of interest during Friendship Week

Tomorrow sees the start of our first ever ‘Friendship Week’ in Franciscan College Gormanston. Here is a poem that is relevant this week, as well as every other week of the year.

‘Bruises Heal’
by Andrew Fusek Peters and Polly Peters

Names, cold shoulders,
Silence in the canteen;
Her words are scapels.
Cutting self-esteem.

‘Stuck up little cow!
Thinks she’s really it!’
Laughter slices, she prescribes
A sharp, unfunny wit.

Ridiculed for standing out,
My marks are much too high
And so she drip-feeds saline hate,
Injecting with a lie.

She’s bright, she’ll find
The weakest spot to pierce and prod and poke
She uses stealth, and poisoned words
And wears them like a cloak.

It seems I am her favourite game
And I’m the one who loses,
If she’d done this with her fists,
At least there would be bruises.


Follow this link to hear Polly Peters reading this poem: