I have included the CIE IGCSE ‘Notes for Teacher’ on the Songs of Ourselves selection of poems. The notes are not especially detailed but they do make a really good starting point.
In Pike Hughes offers a far from Romantic view of nature in his depiction of this primitive and malevolent fish. The poem begins with a description of a baby pike, and we are given the impression that right from the very moment of birth this creature is in possession of some pretty chilling characteristics.
Task: Re-read the poem over and over again highlighting descriptive words/phrases and imagery. Once you have compiled a list of the visual characteristics of the pike, try to draw the fish from memory by referring to the description of the poem.
Using cardboard design your pike based on the poem, and as a class we will prepare an underwater world. After we have completed our fish we can select quotations from the poem and label our pikes.
Sujata Bhatt’s poem ‘A Different History’ is an appealing poem because it _______________________________________. The poem is divided up into two sections and the tone also changes from the descriptive to some very big questions. The first part of poem reflects Bhatt’s cultural background. We know this because there are references made to _______________________ and ______________________. This is rather appealing to the reader as we _____________________________. Upon the first reading the first poem appears to be about ___________________, though later it becomes clear that the poem is about learning a new language. I can personally relate to the poem because _______________________________ . I remember finding it hard to learn another language because ____________________________.
The second part of the poem becomes more wide-ranging and far-reaching. Bhatt makes references to how a new language becomes the dominant one, the linga franca of a particular country. Clearly Bhatt is negative about being forced to adopt a new language because ____________________________________________. The poem ends on a slightly more uplifting note with the last line referring to _______________________. This suggests that ____________________________________________.
I like this poem because ____________________________. I also find it interesting because _____________________________________.
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.
Once we have analysed the poem, the task is to come up with a version of your own. Look at Hopkins poem closely and note the use of language features (alliteration, simile and assonance). When producing your own version take these into account. Hopkin’s poem deals with ‘dappled things’, yours can be on one of the folllowing:
Glory be to God for ———————– things
For ————— of ———————as a ————————–;
For ——————– all in stipple upon —————————;
————– and ______ - _______, _________ and __________ .
All things _________ , ________. ___________, __________ ;
Whatever is ____________, ____________ (who knows how?)
With ______, ___________; _______, _____; _________, _____;
He fathers-forth whose ____________ is past change: Praise Him
In the poem ‘The Snake Hunter’ Judith Wright describes the reactions of the travelers in the line ‘_________________________________________________________________’ . ‘Froze’ suggests that the both the speaker of the poem and the person/s accompanying her __________________________ because __________________________________________________________. ‘Reeling’ to describe the actions of the snake conveys the impression that ________________________________________ . In the second stanza the actions of the snake are further depicted when she writes ‘head-down’ and ‘tongue-flickering’ implying that _________________________________________________________. The third line of the second stanza ‘ the sun glazed his curves of diamond scale’ brings to mind the image of ______________________________________________ . This is followed up by the reactions of the walkers who ‘lost breath to watch him pass’, and can be initially interpreted on two levels. On one level _________________. On another level__________________________________. The tone shifts slightly in the third stanza and it becomes clear that the reason for the loss of breath expressed in the previous stanza is because ____________________ . Here Wright conveys her sense of _____________ which is evoked in the line ________________________ . In the final stanza of the poem, the moment finds a resolve when the snake ‘ ______________________’. The reactions of the travelers are express in the line ‘ ________________________________’ which suggests that _________________________. I find this poem to rather appealing because _________________________________________.
Orientation into the language features of ‘Summer Farm’
In the opening line of the poem, MacCraig provides the reader with a simile, comparing the ___________________ to _____________________________. This description is also oxymoronic as lightning is described as ‘tame’, whereas is nature lightning is often wild, explosive and threatening. By comparing ‘straws’ to ‘tame lightnings’, MacCraig gives the impression ………………………………………………… Another descriptive device is given in the run-on line in relation to the straws which ‘ hang …………………..’ which suggests that …………………………………… . In the second line of the first line a simile is used again ‘green as glass’. Here the poet is describing ……………………………………………. . In the final line of the first stanza MacCraig gives the reader another contrasting image the ‘ducks wobbling’ in ‘two straight lines’. ‘Wobbling’ denotes the way …………………………, though there is a sense of order portrayed by ……………………………………………………………
In the second stanza, movement is conveyed by the swallow. The actions of the swallow are described as ____________________________________________. ‘Dizzy blue’ is also an effective image because —————————————————– . In the third stanza, the speaker of the poem becomes more evident through the use of the —————————————– ‘I’. The use of ‘I’ reinforces ____________________________________________ . Though a subtle comparison, it is clear that the speaker of the poem has compared himself to the grasshopper. The grasshopper is similar to him because ……………………………… . The tone of the poem shifts completely to the speaker of the poem as he describes himself as ‘a pile of selves’. This suggests that ………………………………… . In the final lines of the poem the poet describes an invisible hand – a metaphysic hand –which lifts the farm ‘like a lid’ and we see eventually ‘ in the centre, me’. In this final image the writer is describing ………………………………………………………………………
Having looked at suburban life and city planning, we are going to return back to farm life. Comparisons between Norman MacCraig’s ‘Summer Farm’ and Elizabeth Brewster’s ‘Where I Come From’ can be easily made – the persona in both poems shares an affinity with the landscape/nature. To get us into the spirit of ‘Summer Farm’, I have added a clip I found on youtube, which includes most of the objects found in the poem depicting farm life.
Let us read the poem.
SUMMER FARM –Norman MacCraig
Straws like tame lightnings lie about the grass
And hang zigzag on hedges. Green as glass
The water in the horse-trough shines.
Nine ducks go wobbling by in two straight lines.
A hen stares at nothing with one eye,
Then picks it up. Out of an empty sky
A swallow falls and, flickering through
The barn, dives up again into the dizzy blue.
I lie, not thinking, in the cool, soft grass,
Afraid of where a thought might take me –
This grasshopper with plated face
Unfolds his legs and finds himself in space.
Self under self, a pile of selves I stand
Threaded on time, and with metaphysic hand
Lift the farm like a lid and see
Farm within farm, and in the centre, me.
What objects can you find? Highlight them.
Once you have highlighted the objects, draw a picture that best represents the farm in the poem.
Label the items.
Allen Curnow – ‘Continuum’
Allen Curnow lived the whole of his long life (1911-2001) in New Zealand; initially he studied theology in order to follow his father’s calling as a priest, but he later became a journalist, work that he continued for most of his working life. He edited a famous anthology of New Zealand verse, published in 1945, which provided the first coherent collection of NZ poetry. In his introduction he identified aspects of the poems he included that he considered peculiarly representative of NZ and identified what he called a “common problem of the imagination” for NZ poets. Later of his own poetry he said “I had to get past the severities, not to say rigidities, of our New Zealand anti- myth: away from questions which present themselves as public and answerable, towards the questions which are always private and unanswerable.”
‘Continuum’ is not at first reading an easy poem to grasp, but its thoughts and feelings become more accessible and clear on re-readings. The poet is unable to sleep – a situation that we must all be familiar with – and goes out of the house into the front garden (stanza 3); he stands in the porch looking at the moon and the clouds, hardly conscious of either the time or the chill that he begins to feel (stanza 5); finally he returns to bed, perhaps having written this poem (do the first two lines of stanza 6 suggest this?).
What is fascinating about the poem is the way in which he writes about himself as another person or thing – in the first stanza he identifies himself with the moon; in the last stanza he writes as if he, the poet, is describing what he did to “the author”, so that the pair walk “stealthily in step”, as if half-afraid, and certainly unsure, of what is happening to him.
There is some brief biographical material on these websites:
Some points for classroom discussion
Is this just a poem about a sleepless night? Is it perhaps describing something of how a poem is created? In trying to answer these questions you may find that the poem gradually becomes clearer; try all the time to support your ideas and responses by referring to the actual words and phrases that Curnow uses.
Ted Hughes’ poem ‘The Thought Fox’ can be found on http://www.poemhunter.com Here, the poet also writes about writing a poem; there are some interesting parallels to explore here.
Judith Wright – ‘Hunting Snake’
Judith Wright was born in Australia in 1915, and lived in that country until her death in 2000; she was intensely fond of the countryside and all that it meant to those who lived there, especially the Aboriginal people, and much of her writing also celebrates natural creatures. She once said of her own life and poetry that “the two threads of my life, the love of the land itself and the deep unease over the fate of its original people, were beginning to twine together, and the rest of my life would be influenced by that connection” (http://oldpoetry.com/authors/Judith%20Wright).
Although ‘Hunting Snake’ is clearly about a snake that the poem’s speaker once saw, and about the fear and awe that it created in her, it may also perhaps be read as hinting at other aspects of ancient Australian life. The last two lines of the poem may perhaps be suggesting something of the contrast between an ancient way of life, the new ways that the poet feels and lives in, and the fact that while the two may sometimes meet they cannot co-exist in reality.
Some points for classroom discussion:
The poem is a very tightly controlled one, with traditional four-line stanzas, a simple rhythm and rhyme pattern; how, then, does Wright create her sense of shock, fear, admiration (look at lines 3, 8, 9-10 and 13, for example) and finally her relief when the snake passes by and the danger is over? Which words and which images are the most striking? Why do they have this effect?
In ‘Pike’ Ted Hughes writes of the mixture of awe and sheer fear that he had as a child when thinking about these fishes.
Some useful biographical material can be found on these websites: