Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

The relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude

Hey guys! Sorry for the lack of recent posts! I’ve been super busy with course work, but I’ve found a spare 10 minutes to FINALLY write up some points on HAMLET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH GERTRUDE. This is a question that so many of you have asked me to do, but I haven’t got around to it until now. I’ve laid out some key points for you to discuss in your essay and hopefully, they should be the semblance of an essay!

  • At the core of the play is the relationship between Hamlet his mother Gertrude.
  • Gertrude’s “o’er hasty marriage” to Claudius forms the source of Hamlet’s distress.
  • This acts as a catalyst to Hamlet’s behaviour.
  • However, Gertrude is NOT a dominant figure in the play and seems easily manipulated by the male characters of the play.
  • She is never far from Hamlet’s thoughts and quite worryingly, he seems inordinately preoccupied with her. The famous psycho-analyst Sigmund Freud suggested that a reason for Hamlet’s procrastination resides in Oedipal Complex. That is to say, Claudius has acted out Hamlet’s subconscious desire to kill his father and marry his mother. This is an extremely worrying aspect to the Danish prince’s character and it is very important to his relationship with his mother.
  • Gertrude is characterised as flippant and careless – “seeming virtuous queen”. Hamlet reveals his disgust towards her marriage to his uncle, describing it as morally offensive, “incestuous” and he admonishes his mother’s weaknesses, saying “frailty thy name is woman”.
  • It is strongly suggested that Gertrude is an adulteress, weak and easily persuaded by physical love and Hamlet feels disappointment, anger and betrayal towards her. In turn, she seems to regret her actions at pivotal points in the play. She realises that it is HER behaviour that has altered her son’s perception of the world and she expresses this aloud to Claudius. She realises this, especially in the  “Closet scene”, when Hamlet “speaks daggers” to her regarding her relationship with Claudius. He also holds a mirror to her (“hold a mirror up to nature”) to “show virtue her own feature”. 
  • It’s interesting to note that Gertrude doesn’t actually see the Ghost when he appears in the same scene – it is only Hamlet who can see him. Perhaps this might suggest that Gertrude is, in some way, morally blind. She cannot see how she has sinned – it is only her son Hamlet who notices it.
  • For someone as sensitive and as philosophical as Hamlet, it seems a cruel fate that he would have someone as flippant and nonchalant as Gertrude for a mother.
  • At the beginning of the play, she seems oblivious to all of the corruption around her and it is her flippancy that ignites a rage in Hamlet – “thou knows’t tis common….” 
  • In a sense, Gertrude fails miserably at motherhood because she fails to see the true extent (or even empathise with) of her son’s grief.
  • Shakespeare uses Gertrude to portray the role of women within the play – one of passivity and fierce obedience. The relationship between Hamlet and his mother is pivotal to communicating the theme.
  • Throughout the play, we are unaware as to who Hamlet hates more – Claudius for killing his father or his mother Gertrude for betraying someone as noble as Old Hamlet.
  • However, one could also argue that HAMLET DOES NOT AVENGE HIS FATHER’S DEATH. Think about it – Hamlet REACTS when Gertrude is drinks the poison. It is after the death of his mother that Hamlet spurns to action and finally kills the villainous Claudius.
  • The relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude is probably THE most important relationship in the play.

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There you are everyone! Hope it helps…coming up next will be some points on COMEDY in Hamlet and some notes on images of disease in the play. These are two questions that students usually find very tricky as they’re so specific, but hopefully you guys will be able to tackle them with the guidance of some notes!!

Later,

Jamie.

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Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Poetry

The Shadow Doll by Eavan Boland – a close study

What the poem is about? In as few words as possible:

“The Shadow Doll” by Eavan Boland is a poem that highlights the oppression felt by a woman as she is about to get married.

The basics you will need to know: (what you should be considering when you’re writing)

  • In.Victorian times, a shadow doll was used as a mini-model to measure the bride to be’s dress. It would usually have been sent to the her by a dressmaker with a mini replica of her wedding dress and it was usually encased in a glass dome.
  • 3 line stanzas.
  • Use of imagery and symbols.
  • The importance of the title.
  • Tone – helpless, hopeless…

Questions you should be considering when writing about your response to this poem:

  • How does Boland’s poetic style help to emphasize the plight of the bride to be?
  • How well does Boland describe the differences between the past and the present?
  • What image of marriage is Boland projecting?
Here are some mini responses I have written to the poem which answer some of these questions and give my personal reaction to this poem – hope it helps! Remember that all the poetry questions are personal responses, you’re not writing an academic essay, so it’s crucial to give your opinion! Don’t be afraid of the first person pronoun.
A VERY general personal response (to give you an idea of the main points of the poem and this kind of thing is what you might think after your FIRST reading of the poem)
“The Shadow Doll” by Eavan Boland is a poem that portrays the oppression felt by a woman as she is about to enter into to the life-constraining vow of marriage. This poem evoked both sympathy and empathy in me for the fragile and trapped bride-to-be. Boland’s ability to create a simplicity of image makes this poem accessible to all. In the opening lines of the poem she says “they stitched blooms from the ivory tulle to hem the oyster gleam of the veil”. Immediately, I get the impression that the dress is of a fine and delicate quality. This is an extremely effective metaphor, as it elucidates the woman’s purity and virtue. From the poem’s opening, Boland presents the woman as an innocent being.
Boland describes the doll as “porcelain” and upon reading this, I feel an enormous sense of sympathy for the bride. The fact that Boland uses this word highlights the woman’s vulnerability and fragility – showcasing her to be a person who could potentially be easily damaged. The powerless of this bride-to-be is evident when Boland says “under glass, under wraps”. The imminent life long vow of marriage fills her head with dread, but she must remain “discreet” and dutiful – suffering and oppressed through the trials and tribulations of marriage. It’s hard to ignore the heartbreaking sadness within these lines, as the suffocation and helplessness is perceptible.
In my opinion, the most effective lines come in the last stanza, when she says “pressing down, then pressing down again. And then, locks.”  This is a powerful image as not only can we see the pressure that is being forced upon the woman, but the short and abrupt final line exemplifies the finality and seemingly treacherous vow of marriage. It’s worth observing Boland’s clever use of punctuation in these lines as well. She employs the comma in a very clever way – not only does it make us slow down as we read these lines, but I feel that it also shows how this pressure is being dragged out, slowly and painfully. The comma makes us stop and think about the woman’s plight.
I think that “The Shadow Doll” by Eavan Boland is a moving poem because by using the clever metaphor of a porcelain doll, encased in an “airless glamour”, she paints a picture of an innocent and obedient woman, summoned to a life of entrapment and suppression which is encapsulated through the vow of marriage. This poem evokes sympathy and empathy within me, both of which are juxtaposed with melancholy and despondency, as Boland’s view of marriage is a bleak and harsh one, but at times, a chillingly accurate one.
How well do you think Boland evokes the differences between the past and the present in this poem? (This is a good thing to think about in relation to relevance)
In “The Shadow Doll”, Eavan Boland displays a mastery of language, which in turn creates evocative and powerful imagery. Through this effective imagery, she highlights the differences between the past and the present. The bride-to-be’s view of marriage, is in many ways the antithesis to a twenty first century bride’s outlook on her big way. “The Shadow Doll” is a highly emblematic poem, in which the “porcelain” figure is used as a metonym to showcase something much bigger – the entrapment of a woman about to enter into marriage. The  fragility of the bride-to-be is evident when Boland says “the shadow doll survives its occasion”. Immediately, we are made aware that the woman is vulnerable and something like surviving a marriage is seen to be an achievement. The idea that she is “under glass, under wraps” further speaks to the imprisonment of this woman. This negative and bleak view of marriage which pervades and dominates the poem is something of an alien concept to most modern day brides. The difference between ‘now and then’ is perfectly captured through Boland’s sombre tone and use of imagery.
In Victorian times, the shadow doll was used as a mini model on which the bride’s dress could be tested on and sent to her as a sample and any alterations would have been done on the doll. Despite her comparison being years old, Boland uses the doll as an emblem of oppression, as the doll which is an inanimate object is representative of the woman’s lack of voice and freedom. The woman, like the doll appears throughout the poem as a passive figure – nowhere in the poem does she appear active or willing. Boland says that she is trapped in an “airless glamour” and after reading these lines, the suffocation felt by the woman is blindingly apparent. The bride-to-be is a human, which distinguishes her from the figure, however, her powerlessness and helplessness equate her to “The Shadow Doll”. Like Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy, the theme of this poem is something that can be applied to anyone who has felt or still feels a similar plight- despite a very specific subject matter. Boland’s image of a young person who is suppressed by a more powerful force than herself, transcends generations and is unquestionable relevant to a modern day audience.
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Hope that helped folks! If you have any other poems you would like to do a close reading of, or any Hamlet soliloquies you would like explained in specific detail, then drop me a comment or tweet me (@JamieTuohy). I’ll try and get them done as soon as I have a chance and a break from the endless college work!!
Happy writing,
Jamie.
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Comparative Study, Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012

“EACH TEXT WE READ PRESENTS US WITH AN OUTLOOK ON LIFE THAT MAY BE BRIGHT OR DARK OR A COMBINATION OF BRIGHTNESS AND DARKNESS”

 

  • This is a question on GENERAL VISION AND VIEWPOINT.
  • The texts I am going to discuss are HOW MANY MILES TO BABYLON, DANCING AT LUGHNASA and “IL POSTINO”.
  • It doesn’t matter whether or not you are doing these texts, because this is just a sample essay I’ve written to show you how to tackle the question and the topic of “GENERAL VISION AND VIEWPOINT”.
  • Before you start this question, it’s important to know what the examiner is looking for.
  • Firstly, we have to ask ourselves: what is general vision and viewpoint.
  • Very simply, THE GENERAL VISION ANDVIEWPOINT IS THE AUTHORIAL OR DIRECTORIAL OUTLOOK ON LIFE.
  • It about how the author or director represents the culture of the text and this is often an area where students can confuse this with “cultural context”.
  • You’re not being asked to talk about how the culture can effect a character of the play, what you’re being asked to do is talk about how the author, playwright or director portrays the different elements of society.
  • The comparative is probably the part of the exam where you can afford to be unoriginal (to a certain extent). With texts like Hamlet, you’re never going to be talking about the same thing. In the comparative, you’re nearly always going to be talking about the same thing! (This sounds very simplistic) BUT CAVEAT EMPTOR!
  • In recent years, the Department of Education has made the questions more specific so this type of rote learning and regurgitation is avoided.
  • I’m ABSOLUTELY NOT ENCOURAGING ANYONE to learn their essay off by heart, but you should know what you’re going to talk about in each paragraph beforehand and then manipulate your essay to suit the question.
  • However, last year’s CULTURAL CONTEXT question was very much like a GENERAL VISION ANDVIEWPOINT question so it required students to attend very specifically to the question and there was no chance that you could just write down an essay you’d learned off!
  • So what I’m saying is this: DO AS MANY COMPARATIVE QUESTIONS AS YOU CAN! Of course, the more practice you get in, the better! This applies especially to comparative! This is the one area that you can gain A PILE OF MARKS, simple from doing the questions over and over again and becoming familiar with them! YOU’LL FIND THAT THEY AREALWAYS THE SAME – JUSTWORDED DIFFERENTLY!
  • This is a comparative – USE THE LANGUAGE OF COMPARISON! Words like “similarly”, “likewise”, “in contrast”, “unlike” can make a huge impact on your final mark, and if you’re chasing that A1, they’re imperative!
  • Hopefully my essay will make things clearer for you:

I agree that each text we read presents us with an outlook on life that is either bright or dark or a combination thereof. The texts I have studied are How Many Miles to Babylon, a novel by Jennifer Johnston, “Dancing at Lughnasa”, a play by Brian Friel and “Il Postino”, a film directed by Michael Radford. The general vision and viewpoint of a text is the authorial or directorial outlook on life. The respective author, playwright and director of these three texts communicate their perspectives through the opening, development and conclusion of the plot. The central characters and key relationships within a text also present us with an outlook on life that can be either positive or negative.

The opening of all three texts be it bright or dark, has a direct effect on the way in which we perceive the world of the text to be. In How Many Miles to Babylon,Johnston immediately creates a negative and unpromising outlook on life through the central character Alec Moore. The acrimony of his incarceration is evident, as he rejects the solace of religion when the padre comes to visit him, saying “faith is for the living”. He is isolate and imprisoned and it is very clear from the novel’s opening that his future is bleak.

In contrast, “Dancing at Lughnasa” opens with a nostalgic monologue from the narrator Michael. However, the outlook is quite ambiguous. There is a mixture of light and shade as Michael speaks about the happiness and elation of his aunts dancing, but also combines this joy with the disappointment of what his uncle Jack turns out to be. Immediately, his feelings are ambivalent, as the opening of the play expresses positivity and negativity.

Michael Radford’s “Il Postino” is a beautiful movie which emanates a bright and uplifting outlook on life from the beginning – despite the socio-economic background of the movie’s central character. Mario is looking at a postcard he has received fromAmericaand the images of prosperity create a sense of hope. From the beginning of the movie, Radford communicates his unequivocally bright perspective through the affable Mario.

Negativity pervades How Many Miles to Babylon.  As the novel develops, Alec’s entrapment and imprisonment is perceptible, as he struggles to escape the hostile environment of his home. When he finally does escape, his own personal problems are simply exemplified onto a global scale. Alec and Jerry are fighting a war together but they are separated by class and it’s evident thatJohnston wants to communicate the futility and dehumanisation associated with war. Through Alec’s oppression, she creates a dark and gloomy outlook on life, as he is constantly thwarted in his efforts to grow and mature.

Unlike, How Many Miles to Babylon, which is predominantly pessimistic in it’s representation of life, there are certain moments of light and shade in “Dancing at Lughnasa”. Within the context of the Mundy household, there are several moments of uplifting positivity. When the Marconi (the radio) plays music, all the sisters join each other and dance. Kate is the last to join in and dance – as the eldest sister she is quite reserved, but the power of the music is too great and she finally joins her other sisters. However, Friel counteracts these moments; to portray a society that is narrow-minded and suppressive. When Jack returns fromUganda, he is ostracised by the Catholic Church and Kate loses her job as a school teacher, because of Jack’s apparent senility. As the play develops, Friels presents us with a dark outlook on life.

In contrast, “Il Postino” is resoundingly positive throughout. Radford uses Mario as an example of hope and inspiration. Mario longs to be with Beatrice, but is too shy to approach her or speak to her. Under the nurturing of Pablo Neruda, he gains the courage to ask her out and subsequently marries her. The love between Mario and Beatrice transcends the poverty in which they live. Mario learns to appreciate the beauty in the mundane and cherish the simple things in life. The general vision and viewpoint of “Il Postino” is very rich and bright as the film develops.

The same cannot be said for How Many Miles to Babylon, which ends in a pessimistic and gloomy scene. Alec Moore is awaiting execution, as the novel comes full circle. He is given “a pen and paper” because he is an “officer and a gentleman”. He has nothing to do but wait. Alec refused to kill Jerry by firing squad, so in a sense, he asserted his own humanity in the face of war. However, this noble act is detrimental, as this act of compassion tragically costs him his life.Johnston’s outlook is in keeping with the sombre vision of the whole novel – dark, pessimistic and undeniably tragic.

Likewise, in “Dancing at Lughnasa”, each character’s action has a negative knock on effect for the other characters in the play. When Kate loses her job as a school teacher because of supposed “falling numbers”, Agnes and Rose abscond toEngland– partly because Kate’s income is nullified and partly because they want a life outside of Ballybeg and Chrissie gets a job working in a local factory. Their unhappiness is portrayed through the narrator Michael, who says that his mother “hated every minute” of working in the factory and Agnes and Rose ended up “dying” in the streets ofLondon. Jack died within a few months of them leaving and Maggie struggled to keep the house together. Kate, the matriarch throughout the play, was simply, “inconsolable”. The play ends in an extremely tragic note, as the family is completely broken down. Friel’s vision of a society that is oppressive, discriminatory, elitist stifling, communicated through the Mundy family is not only dark and gloomy, but it is also explicitly poignant and heartbreaking.

“Il Postino” is the antithesis to How Many Miles to Babylon and “Dancing at Lughnasa”. Even though Mario dies, the film ends with a bright and beautiful message. Mario lives his life to the full – he marries Beatrice and becomes a respected poet and his legacy lives on through their son, Pablito. Radford’s outlook on life is unambiguous, as Mario’s ambition and determination to succeed in life is positively inspiring!

As well as the opening, development and conclusion of the texts, Johnston, Friel and Radford use their central characters to highlight their authorial or directorial vision. The central characters and key relationships within a text are extremely important to our understanding of the general vision and viewpoint. They allow us to see how the actions of another person can have a positive or negative impact on the life of the protagonist. The relationship between Alec and his mother Alicia in How Many Miles to Babylon is characterised by a lack of communication and affection. Alicia uses Alec as an extension of her own ego. He is not appreciated as an individual with individual needs and desires. She only cares that he conforms to her expectations. There is no real warmth to their relationship – which is cold and stifling. As well as restricting Alec’s relationship with Jerry Crowe, Alicia overpowers his relationship with Frederick. Alec cannot do anything without the consideration of his mother. Their relationship is presented in a negative light and Johnston, in a sense, caricatures Alicia to reflect the dark and negative aspects of the upper class. Alicia has a desire to be regarded as a woman of culture and intelligence, which is evident through her piano playing and refined eating rituals, but her actions are a departure from normal maternal practices. Alec feels unloved and unappreciated. The mother-son relationship is so important in How Many Miles to Babylon because not only does it portray a dark outlook on life, but is also a catalyst for the main plot.

Michael’s relationship with his father Gerry Evans in “Dancing at Lughnasa” isn’t presented as negatively as Alec’s relationship with his mother is, but it is similarly characterised by a lack of communication and distance. Gerry is an absent father and Michael has no stable male influence in his life because of this. He is surrounded by his five aunts and he even says the he essentially has “five mothers”, but Gerry is key to exposing Friel’s negative outlook on the role of men and women – it is acceptable for Gerry to be absent while Chrissie looks after the child. Gerry can come and go as he pleases and this has a negative relationship with his son.

Unlike the other two, the general vision and viewpoint of “Il Postino” speaks to the power of human relationships. Mario and Pablo Neruda come from two totally different backgrounds but their friendship transcends class and culture. Pablo teaches Mario how to speak to women and how to flatter them with metaphors. He teaches him about the true beauty of the world and it is clear that Neruda is a father figure to Mario. When we see Mario and Beatrice’s wedding photo, it is Neruda who is standing next to them. Their relationship is nourishing and loving – the direct antitheses to the one Alec has with his mother in How Many Miles to Babylon and it is the embodiment of constancy which is absent from Michael’s and Gerry’s in “Dancing at Lughnasa”. Radford uses Mario’s and Pablo’s close bond to elucidate his bright perspective on life.

The general vision and viewpoint of a text expresses the author’s or director’s optimistic or pessimistic outlook on life. It also enables us to establish a greater understanding of the characters and allows us to empathise with them. The outlook can be either bright or dark, or indeed a combination of brightness and darkness and as we become more aware of this outlook as the plot develops, we can more effectively understand the situation of the protagonist within the narrative.

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  • This is quite a lengthy essay and I’m aware that it might not be possible to discuss all of these things within the 70 minute time frame.
  • This is simply an essay which illustrates the kind of things you should be talking about in a GENERAL VISION AND VIEWPOINT question.
  • Of course, you might not want to write about any of the things I’ve discussed, but if you do and you’re worried that you’ll run out of time, then just discuss: OPENING, ENDING AND CHARACTERS AND KEYRELATIONSHIPS (leaving out plot development).
  • It’s really important to give the examiner what he/she wants: the question gives you a very broad scope for discussion, but it’s not broad enough to go off on lofty (LEARNT OFF) tangents. ANSWER THE QUESTION: are the texts bright or dark i.e. positive or negative.
  • Once you know that you’re talking about THE AUTHOR’S, DIRECTOR’S OR PLAYWRIGHT’S VISION, and you have the information, questions like this become repetitive and dare I say it, boringly easy!

Good Luck,

Jamie.

Comparative Study: General Vision and Viewpoint – Essay by Jamie Tuohy

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Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Poetry

Robert Frost: A poet of sadness? Essay by Jamie Tuohy

The following essay is an essay I’ve written on the  poetry of Robert Frost. The question asks if he is ‘a poet of sadness’ and of course you can agree or disagree. Naturally, I think EVERYONE WILL AGREE, but if you strongly (and rather strangely) feel that he is a happy-go-lucky sort of guy, then you have to be absolutely certain that you have information to back it up. This goes for all questions; you can put forth any argument you want (within reason) and as long as you have the references/quotes to back it up, you will do fine! REMEMBER: P.Q.E!!

  • The question asks us to write an introduction and tells us to address themes and their impact.
  • This is essentially a personal response, but it is important to ADHERE TO THE QUESTION THROUGHOUT.
  • State the theme and GIVE YOUR PERSONAL RESPONSE TO IT, with references and quotes.
  • This is a very good question, because it’s quite broad, but nevertheless, it’s imperative to answer the question exactly as the examiner wants us to.
  • All you have to do is answer the question! You know everything – now you have the chance to show it all off! GO FOR IT AND GOOD LUCK!
  • I’ll re-stress the futility of learning this essay off by heart or simply plagiarizing it – it will do you no favours! The more you learn off, the more you feel obliged to use it. That’s all well and good, until you realise it’s irrelevant to the question. ATTEND TO THE QUESTION THROUGHOUT, AS I KEEP ON SAYING!
  • Look at it’s structure, make bullet points and of course; add to it and make it better – ensuring you leave that examiner in awe!
  • The Leaving Cert is a game – you’re competing for points. Play the game. Impress the examiner and make their job easier for them. The have the 60 marks for you, just write a nice essay and you’ll get them. Here’s how to:

“ROBERT FROST – A POET OF SADNESS?”

Jamie Tuohy

Write an introduction to the poetry of Robert Frost using the above title.

Your answer should address themes and the impact of his poetry on you as a reader. Support your points with reference to the poems you have studied.

“I have looked down the saddest city lane”

The poetry of Robert Frost is often tinged with sadness; a poet with a deep appreciation for the natural scene, yet duly aware of the harsh realties of life. This line from “Acquainted with the Night” highlights Frost’s isolation and his sense of alienation – sentiments which are expressed throughout his poetry. His poetry arises from an exploration of ordinary events and places, but is steeped in meaning and pathos. While on the surface, poems like “The Tuft and Flowers” and “Mending Wall” can be read on a literal level, upon closer examination, we realise that the poetry of Robert Frost is highly metaphorical, aswell as thought provoking and philosophical. His poetry has such an effect on me he has an amazing ability to elicit a wide variety of emotions within me, ranging from shock to sadness. His use of accessible language, or “the sound of sense” as he referred to it himself, combined with his masterful use of tone allows the reader to engage with each poem and establish a connection with it. Robert Frost is indeed a poet of sadness – one who expresses the horror of a young child’s death; “Out, Out” and comments on the transience of life in “After Apple Picking”, but also one who offers us insights into the meaning of life which captivate and intrigue us.

The harsh and dark realities of life are expressed in Frost’s poem “Out, Out”. This is a deeply shocking and sad poem which was inspired by the tragic death of a young boy. Admittedly, I found this poem unsettling, as Frost’s description of the farm accident is explicit and brutal. Frost says “the buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard”. Immediately, Frost conveys the dangerous, unforgiving nature of the saw through his use of onomatopoeia. Throughout the poem, there is sense of tension and drama, which culminates in a horrifying image of the boy trying to protect himself from the saw’s wrath. He says “holding up the hand, half in appeal, but as if to keep the life from spilling out”. In my opinion, this line highlights the tragedy of the accident, which is further exemplified by the fact that he was “a boy doing a man’s work”. I feel that Frost is warning us of the perils of growing up too quickly, as it is perceptible that this child has lost their innocence too early. It’s a heartbreaking and poignant poem and the idea that even though we share this earth, we are essentially alone here, is also communicated in the closing lines. The reaction of the neighbours is somewhat disturbing, as they simply “turn to their affairs” after this awful tragedy. This poem evokes immense sadness and sympathy in me, as Frost captures the rhythm of life and work but also the fragility and brevity which underline it.

This sense of isolation and loneliness is also evident in “Acquainted with the Night”. This Shakespearean sonnet displays Frost’s disconnection with the city and furthermore showcases his disillusionment and bewilderment towards it. Frost is a poet of sadness, and in this poem, he is exploring his own psyche. Immediately, Frost paints the city as a rather austere and bleak place, saying “I have walked out in rain – and back in the rain”. The constant rain, in my opinion is representative of how Frost views the city – as a grim and depressing place, void of any optimism or life. The monotonous and depressing tone elucidates the loneliness felt by the poet. Frost describes how “an interrupted cry came over houses from another street”. However, there is no connection between Frost and the unknown speaker – there is “no goodbye” or any form of contact. Undoubtedly this is a moving and sad poem but personally, I feel that there is also an important message to it and that is that when we are feeling isolated or alone, it’s important to turn to someone. When we are walking in darkness par se, we shouldn’t be “unwilling to explain”, or ignore an “interrupted cry” – we should reach out. Once again, Frost presents us with a poem which leaves us feeling despondent and dejected; however, he also provokes out thought and sets us thinking about life.

Notwithstanding the fact that the majority of Robert Frost’s poetry on our course explores themes of isolation and sadness, there are poems in which he expresses his complete union with and love for nature. “The Tuft of Flowers” is a beautiful poem which examines the fellowship of man. It reads like a narrative and contains a plethora of memorable line and arresting images. The poem opens with Frost saying “I went to turn the grass after one who had mowed it in the dew before sun”. Immediately, Frost creates that familiar sense of detachment and loneliness which pervades his poetry. His use of the pronoun “I” suggests a personal connotation and it is evident that Frost, himself, feels abandoned and bewildered. However, Frost suddenly feels different, upon the arrival of a butterfly and he creates a beautiful image when he says “but he turned first and led my eye to look at a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook”. Frost wonderfully describes how the arrival of a butterfly set him thinking about “questions that have no answer”, and I feel that this image embodies the sentiment of this poem. Nature has the ability to connect us to each other –through a fellowship. My favourite line from this poem is “men work together, whether they work together or apart”. It doesn’t matter that the poet and the mower never met, because they are connected through nature. “The Tuft of Flowers” is a fantastic poem that awakens a sense of wonder and awe in me towards the outstanding abilities of the natural scene.

What makes the poetry of Robert Frost so appealing is the way in which he raises questions that still hold a relevance to a modern day reader. “Mending Wall” offers us valuable insights into the human experience and describes how two farmers meet to repair a wall that was damaged by hunters. He says “we kept the wall between us as we go, to each thee boulders that have fallen to each”. I think that this is an extremely effective line as it portrays how the two men are bound by tradition and convention. Each farmer only looks after what is on his side of the wall and the old neighbour tells the poet that “good fences make good neighbours”. I enjoy this poem, because it displays Frost’s capacity for independent thought. He challenges his neighbour, saying “why do they make good neighbours?”. Personally, I feel that Frost is saying boundaries are superfluous and have no solid basis – with merely a cliché as their justification. It is notable that the poem is written in blank verse. I think that the unstructured nature of this poem is a reflection on its sentiment. Frost believes that barriers and boundaries confine and so the free verse style of this poem, is an expression of independent thought. The sadness exposed within this poem is a different one to the sadness of “Out, Out” or “Acquainted with the Night”. In this poem, it is sad that the farmer cannot think for himself, but instead clings to what his father taught him. I think that he is to be pitied, and this is reflected through Frost’s somewhat mischievous tone, as he refers to the farmer as “an old stone savage”.

This necessity for independent thought and moreover self sufficiency is also explored in “Provide, Provide”. This poem also expresses the ficklety of time is tinged with sadness, however I enjoy it for its tongue and cheek sardonic tone. In the opening stanza, Frost says “the witch that came was once the beauty Abishag”. This is a striking line because the beauty Abishag is juxtaposed with the ageing woman. Likewise, the “picture pride ofHollywood” is used to convey superficiality and shallowness. These two images remind me that everything fades and certain truths are timeless and immutable. There is something quite sad and concrete about this – the transient nature of youth and beauty is unavoidable. However, Frost’s use of tone is an appealing aspect of this poem. He says “die early and avoid the fate” and if you are to lead a long life then “make the whole stock exchange your own”. It’s perceptible that Frost is speaking sarcastically and there is a pervading tone of cynicism throughout. However, like all of his poems, this poem can be read on a metaphorical level and beneath the cynicism lays truth and reason. By telling us “what worked for them might work for you”, I feel that he is ironically warning us of the perils of over dependence and imitation and urging us to be self reliant and original.

Robert Frost often writes about nature and in “Design”, he communicates the destructiveness of nature. It is a Petrarchan sonnet which presents us with the dark face of the natural world. The octave is dominated by the image of the spider engulfing a moth. Frost says “I found a dimple spider, fat and white on a white heal-all”. This is a paradoxical image as we usually associate white with innocence and purity, however in this instance, it’s representative of death and deception. In my eyes, Frost portrays the unforgiving qualities of nature and the harshness associated with it. However, in the sestet there is a change in mood. Frost questions how such a thing could happen. He says “what brought the kindred spider to that height then steered the white moth thither to the night”. In my opinion, this line showcases how this was meant to happen. It’s almost like the flower and the spider have conspired to trap the moth, underlining how everything that happened was by ‘design’. There is an underlying pessimism and scepticism to this poem as Frosts questions whether or not life is predestined and led by design, saying, “what but design of darkness to appal? If design govern in a thing so small.” “Design” is a poem that evokes sadness and shock in me, but also opens my eyes to the harsh realities of the world and offers us insights into the human experience.

This relation between nature and the human experience is most evident in “After Apple Picking” While this poem expresses how man’s connection with nature can be inspiring and fulfilling, it’s underpinned by a pervading sadness as the poet is nearing death. Frost says “but I am done with apple picking now, essence of winter sleep is on the night: I am drowsing off”. Frost uses apple picking as a metaphor for life’s experiences and the archetypal imagery of winter connotes death. It appears to me that Frost is now lethargic and it’s obvious he’s had “too much apple picking now”. I do, however, get the impression that Frost is inspired by nature as “the magnified apples that appear and disappear” suggest is imagination and creativity are in some way; ‘harvested’ by nature. The day’s work from morning to night is symbolic of the journey through life to death. This is a highly sensual and emotionally evocative poem as I feel sympathy and sadness for Frost as a “long sleep” is “coming on”.

The poetry of Robert Frost is so memorable because he uses accessible language and explores relevant themes which still hold significance for a modern day reader. He cannot be described simply as just a poet of sadness. While his poetry is undoubtedly poignant and at times heartbreaking in its depiction of tragedy, the poetry of Robert Frost offers us so much more. It is thought provoking, evocative and highly appealing. He writes about nature, not merely for itself, but moreover for the insights it can give us into the human experience. Through his poetry, Robert Frost does indeed show an awareness of the darker side of life and we often see his mental nadir come to the fore in poems like “Acquainted with the Night”, but it can also be a celebration of life and nature and the unity therein. Robert Frost sets me thinking about “questions that have no answer” and his belief that “poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom” is directly applicable to his work. Robert Frost is a poet of sadness, a poet of nature, a poet who equally shocks and inspires but essentially, Robert Frost is a poet to remember!

 

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