Posts Tagged ‘Carol Ann Duffy’

A more challenging comparison this time, perhaps? Mrs Lazarus and Answer.

Mrs Lazarus

I had grieved. I had wept for a night and a day
over my loss, ripped the cloth I was married in
from my breasts, howled, shrieked, clawed
at the burial stones until my hands bled, retched
his name over and over again, dead, dead.

Gone home. Gutted the place. Slept in a single cot,
widow, one empty glove, white femur
in the dust, half. Stuffed dark suits
into black bags, shuffled in a dead man’s shoes,
noosed the double knot of a tie around my bare neck,

gaunt nun in the mirror, touching herself. I learnt
the Stations of Bereavement, the icon of my face
in each bleak frame; but all those months
he was going away from me, dwindling
to the shrunk size of a snapshot, going,

going. Till his name was no longer a certain spell
for his face. The last hair on his head
floated out from a book. His scent went from the house.
The will was read. See, he was vanishing
to the small zero held by the gold of my ring.

Then he was gone. Then he was legend, language;
my arm on the arm of the schoolteacher-the shock
of a man’s strength under the sleeve of his coat-
along the hedgerows. But I was faithful
for as long as it took. Until he was memory.

So I could stand that evening in the field
in a shawl of fine air, healed, able
to watch the edge of the moon occur to the sky
and a hare thump from a hedge; then notice
the village men running towards me, shouting,

behind them the women and children, barking dogs,
and I knew. I knew by the sly light
on the blacksmith’s face, the shrill eyes
of the barmaid, the sudden hands bearing me
into the hot tang of the crowd parting before me.

He lived. I saw the horror on his face.
I heard his mother’s crazy song. I breathed
his stench; my bridegroom in his rotting shroud,
moist and dishevelled from the grave’s slack chew,
croaking his cuckold name, disinherited, out of his time.

Answer

If you were made of stone,
your kiss a fossil sealed up in your lips,
your eyes a sightless marble to my touch,
your grey hands pooling raindrops for the birds,
your long legs cold as rivers locked in ice,
if you were stone, if you were made of stone, yes, yes.

If you were made of fire,
your head a wild Medusa hissing flame,
your tongue a red-hot poker in your throat,
your heart a small coal glowing in your chest,
your fingers burning pungent brands on flesh,
if you were fire, if you were made of fire, yes, yes.

If you were made of water,
your voice a roaring, foaming waterfall,
your arms a whirlpool spinning me around,
your breast a deep, dark lake nursing the drowned,
your mouth an ocean, waves torn from your breath,
if you were water, if you were made of water, yes, yes.

If you were made of air,
your face empty and infinite as sky,
your words a wind with litter for its nouns,
your movements sudden gusts among the clouds,
your body only breeze against my dress,
if you were air, if you were made of air, yes, yes.

If you were made of air, if you were air,
if you were made of water, if you were water,
if you were made of fire, if you were fire,
if you were made of stone, if you were stone,
or if you were none of these, but really death,
the answer is yes, yes.

Okay, I have asked my Year 11s to write an essay in exam conditions on these poems and this title.

It is so close to the exam, I clearly need to give them feedback but no longer wish to take in their books, depriving them of the opportunity to revise. Therefore, I have started giving them a “Have You Included” sheet.

It is basically an essay plan – what would I have put into the essay had I been asked to do so. But it allows students to self assess, referring to what they wrote, my Have You Included sheet and the marking criteria.

Compare the experiences of education portrayed in In Mrs Tilscher’s Class and Head of English by Carol Anne Duffy.

Have you included:

1. Overview

The experiences are very different:

i.      Mrs Tilscher is affectionate and warm;

ii.      Head of English is mocking and satirical.

The titles of the poems – the difference between naming the teacher and identifying her only by title – are hugely symbolic       

2. Relationship with the teacher

Mrs Tilscher

i.      Opportunities given “you could” do and go anywhere

ii.      Respect shown to the pupil: “Mrs Tilscher loved you” and sometimes “left a gold star”. Is maternal an appropriate word for Mrs Tilscher?

Head of English

i.      Gives instructions – imperative sentences – “Notice…” “Sit up straight”

ii.      Curbs and restricts, limits student responses “show your appreciation / by clapping. Not too loud”

iii.      Prefers the formulaic and traditional poets: “Season of mists” from Keats’ To Autumn is presumably her preferred form of poetry; Kipling likewise traditional – and also colonial, perhaps an offensive figure to those who have English as a “Second Language”

iv.      Short snipped fragments of sentences – gives impression of snappy, rude teacher barking commands

3. Environment

Mrs Tilscher is a sensual poem, students engaged through the senses:

i.      “tracing the route”

ii.      “coloured shapes”

iii.      “scent of a pencil”

iv.      Exciting: even books were “enthralling” and the class “glowed like a sweetshop”

v.      At points, synaesthetic:  “the air tasted of electricity”, “chanted the scenery” almost mystical or magical

Head of English is dramatic monologue, less description

i.      Silence is enforced “Whispering’s, as always, out of bounds”

ii.      Environment is controlled “Open a window”

4. Education beyond the curriculum

Mrs Tilscher shows a development and growing up process, perhaps rite of passage

i.      The tadpoles “changed” which parallels the students’ own maturity

ii.      Questions over “how you were born” and students “impatient to be grown”

Is this paralleled in the shortening of the stanza lengths?

iii.      Final humid image of the sky “split open into a thunderstorm” heavy with suggestion of the turmoil and potential of adolescence.

Head of English

i.      Extremely limited view of poetry and of education

ii.      Dismissive: “not all poems, / sadly, rhyme these days” – undermined by Duffy’s own use of rhyme within the poem itself?

iii.      Final line deeply offensive, challenge to the poet to “Convince us that there’s something we don’t know”

iv.      Reference to education of technique out of context – “Remember / the lesson on assonance” – no opportunity for students to play with or experience language, only derive a lesson

v.      “Take notes but don’t write reams. Just an essay / on the poet’s themes”