Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

 

Compare the emotions portrayed in Mrs Lazarus and Answer by Carol Anne Duffy.

Have you included:

1.       Overview

Both poems interweave ideas of love and death;

Both poems are personal and from a first person point of view – although Mrs Lazarus is narrative whereas Answer is a dramatic monologue;

The love in Answer is immutable, eternal and defeats death; the love in Mrs Lazarus changes and wanes on the death of her husband.

2.       Sensuality Both women display a high degree of sensuality in their language. Duffy shows women to be sensual and sexual in their relationships with men.

Answer:

  • Within the formality and rigidity of the structure, Duffy refers to the sensual pleasures of love:
    “kiss… tongue… heart… arms… mouth…”

Mrs Lazarus

  • The dead husband is reduced throughout the poem to “the shrunk size of a snapshot”, until “His scent” vacated the home. The husband’s presence reduced to a mere sense-perception, suggesting the warmth of the love they had shared
  • The sensuality of her shock on touching “a man’s strength”

 3.       Passion Both women are passionate in their loving

Answer:

  • The imagery of fire and “hissing flame” and the “small coal glowing” suggests passion
  • The choice of verbs suggests passion: “roaring, foaming… spinning… waves torn from my breath”
  • A high calibre student may make links from here also to Anne Hathaway as another example of a powerfully passionate and sensual character, particularly in the interplay of language and sensuality.

Mrs Lazarus

  • The passion of her grief is extreme in her passionate choice of verbs: “ripped… howled, shrieked, clawed”
  • The alliteration of “Gone home. Gutted the place” echoes the description of her passionately having “retched” his name. almost onomatopoeic.
  • A high calibre student may gon on and comment on the echoes here of Havisham but a pain from which Mrs Lazarus escapes whereas Mrs Havisham does not.

4.       The Partner

Answer:

  • The image of her lover’s kiss as a “fossil” suggests that even if his love were long dead (literally or emotionally) her love for him would endure
  • The image of the partner being “sealed up” or “locked” in ice suggests a form of death or absence;
  • The image of the partner’s body as “only breeze against my dress” suggests again an absence.
  • Notice how the speaker’s love remains as emphatic as ever in the repeated “yes yes” even if unrequited

Mrs Lazarus

  • His “dwindling” from husband to
  • “snapshot”, to
  • a “name” which no longer worked as a “spell” to conjure up the image of his “face”,
  • the eventual loss of the final physical evidence of his existence as the “last hair on his head / floated out from a book” and his scent was lost,
  • to just the “zero” of the wedding ring – notice the use of the physical shape of the ring to symbolising not the eternity of love as is traditional but the death of love and its reduction to nothing,
  • to “legend, language” and eventually
  • “memory”, devoid of emotion and allowing her to move on.
  • Notice that the process is one allowing her to become “healed” not of abandoning her husband
  • Notice the “horror” she feels when she finds him resurrected: “rotting shroud, moist and dishevelled”
  • Not simply a visceral horror of the reanimated rotting corpse (more zombie than resurrection) but also the emotional horror of facing the man she has moved on from, rendering him a mere “cuckold”

 5.       Conclusion

Which version of love seems most realistic or healthy?

A love that continues despite the death or absence or withdrawal of the lover sounds romantic, but can become obsessive, self-defeating and ultimately a form of “death” itself.

A passionate love that feels desolation and grief but allows the surviving partner to heal seems much more healthy.

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”

Ferrara

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat”: such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling?
Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

A very quick and very easy – but to my mind very effective – lesson here.

Read lines 24-35 of the poem.

Explain to class that they are going to perform a mine based on those lines. In groups of two or three they are going to take the following roles:

  • the Duke;
  • the Duchess; and (if in a group of three)
  • some officious fool.
  • Some wonderful, brief and above all blessedly silent dramas ensued.

    One group had the Duke trailing behind the Duchess’ gadfly flittings from item to item; another showed the Duke handing his favour over to the Duchess with her disdaining it and him unable even to look at her; yet another showed the Duke seething and pacing silently as he paced back and forth spying on his wife.

    Every single one showed a genuine understanding of the poem; and each member of each group created the characters and relationships required.

    And this was a set 7 out of 8 with targets of D grades.