The IB Site                                                                             < Essays >


_________________________________________________________________________________________________ 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________ 

 

 <-Back

This is the Essay section. Below you can find essays relating to English and History. For the time being all essays on this site are written by yours truly. 

The essays are provided to you as help for revising or as sources of information for own essays. Remember that using other people’s work i.e. plagiarizing can result in you loosing your whole diploma.

____________________________________________________________

English:

History:

-World War One: 

- Russia: 

  • The Provisional Government 

  • Causes of Russian Rev. Feb 1917

  • Lenin vs. Trotsy

  • Was incompetent leadership was the main cause of the revolution in Russia in 1905 

<-Back

_____________________________________________

Haig, ‘The Butcher of the Somme’?

 Sir Douglas Haig is considered to be one of the most controversial figures of the British army in World War I. To some people he was an inhuman butcher who sent thousands of soldiers to a certain and unnecessary death. These people call him heartless, bungling and brainless. However to others Haig is regarded as a national hero. To them he was the man whose stern and undeviating strategy led to a swift victory on the western front.

 Was Haig a bad commander who got things wrong or was he just too ready to allow casualties? Was he out of touch with what was happening at the front line? Or maybe there were simply no alternatives to the tactics? Maybe the Battle of the Somme had to be fought to help the French? Throughout this essay we will try to evaluate whether Haig can be held responsible for the large loss of men or if he did his best possible bearing in mind of the difficult circumstances.

Towards the end 1915 the British felt that a change in the army had to be made since they were still facing stalemate and neither side were making any progress. In December Field Marshall Haig was appointed new commander of the British force. Haig was 54 years old at the time and had a long successful military career behind him. He was however not accustomed to the new age war with its new weapons as he earlier had been a cavalry commander. Haig was now confronted with a new kind of difficult task.

The Battle of the Somme in July 1916 was Haig’s first battle as commander. During the first day of the battle Haig led a ‘rush trough attack’, on the German forces, resulting in the highest number of casualties in the British army’s history: 60,000. Despite these heavy losses, Haig ordered the battle to continue. By November, heavy snow was falling and Haig ended the fighting. In total the 420,000 British soldiers had been killed or injured.

Haig has been criticized for his basic strategy and his old-fashion fighting. Haig believed that ‘success in battle depended mainly on morale and determination.’ This may have been the case in the cavalry battles but this tactic was not effective when the enemy made use of machine guns. Haig expected technology to adapt to his offensive plans, rather than structuring his plans to accommodate his weapons. Thus he persistently pursued objectives that were technically beyond the capabilities of his forces.

Haig defends his actions, in his final dispatch in 1918, by saying that the military situation compelled them and that he was aware that his methods were wasteful of men, but in the difficult circumstances they could not be avoided. He claims that the only alternative he had was to do nothing and just watch how his French allies got overwhelmed by the enemy.  

Haig’s supporters justify his actions by saying, just like Haig, that he had no other choice and that he was under extreme pressure from the French to produce a diversion in order to relieve the pressure upon them. One can question this and claim that there are always alternatives when it comes to human lives. One can also question which is best; to sacrifice many men in order to carry out the country’s objective or priorities the lives of the soldiers? If seen from a moral point of view, the lives of the soldiers would have first priority. Haig however who was chosen by his country and ordered to carry out their objectives did not have the luxury of being able to take the moral arguments in to concern. This Haig also wrote just after the war in 1918; ‘the object of all war is victory and no victory can be won without the sacrifice of men’s lives.’

Looking back it can be seen that one can not put the blame solely in the hands of Haig. Many historians have argued that a more flexible and imaginative commander could have achieve the same results with less losses. Although this might be true Haig was the one the British government had chosen for the job and he was just doing the best he could to follow his country’s orders. If anyone should be blamed it should be the government for choosing a former cavalry commander to lead this new kind of unfamiliar warfare.

To call Haig a butcher can seem rather exaggerated since he never intentionally wanted to kill his men. It was rather the lack of knowledge and experience which led to such drastic measures.

He did the best he could to serve his country and although to a very high price, Haig’s persistence did eventually produce victory on the Western front in 1918 when others were expecting the war to drag on into 1919 which may have resulted in ever more deaths.

<-Back

_____________________________________________

Commentary on Anthem for a Doomed Youth

 Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for a Doomed Youth’ is questioning the lack of burial rites for the soldiers that died on battlefields of World War I. The poem opens with the shocking image of the battlefield compared to a slaughterhouse where men die ‘as cattle’ which suggests inhumane treatment. The mention of ‘passing-bells’ may even hint at cowbells, as though these men were stumbling as innocently to their deaths just like cows. We can assume already from the opening that this will be an anti-war poem.

 The poem, being a Petrarchan sonnet, contains an octave which is followed by a sestet. The octave mainly describes the sounds on the battlefield and talks about the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the battle. It expresses bitterness that these soldiers would die ‘as cattle,’ being given only an awful ironic parody of the basic rites that all human beings are entitled to. Owen also indicates that the “anger of the guns” is the only “passing bells” for the dead soldiers and the “rifles’ rapid rattle” are the only “orisons” or prayers.  

 The focus of the poem changes in the sestet from the battlefield to the home front on Britain’s “sad shires”. The sestet expresses the realization that each dead soldier was an individual man, and each would be mourned for by those who love him. The pace is now slowed down and the tone is changed from bitter passion to regretful contemplation.

The effect of the poem comes from the contrast between the actual scene on the war front described in the present tense in the first seven lines and the imagined scene on the home front described in the future tense in the last six lines. Owen uses several techniques to emphasis certain parts of his poem. One can find an example of this in the third line of the first stanza ‘Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle’ where he uses both onomatopoeia, alliteration and personification which all together creates a brilliant sound image. Another technique that Owen brings in to play is his use of complicated sound patterns which, in the octave, may represent the noise and chaos of the front. He has for example added an extra syllable, to the iambic pentameter in the lines 1 and 3 making them end haltingly and almost stumbling to an end. He also repeatedly stresses vowels which are followed by the letter n “'only,' 'monstrous,' 'anger,' 'guns'” in line two which might be mimicking the thundering of the guns.

 Owen uses a rich vocabulary to enhance the meaning of his lines and he commonly uses words with multiple meanings. One can find an example of this is in the first line he talks about "passing-bells" which can be seen as a bell that "passes by" on the way to the funeral.  On the other hand "passing" can also be referred to as "dying" or "passing away." An other example can be found in the 9th line, “What candles may be held to speed them all” where the word ‘held’ can mean both 'considered' and, literally, '"'held in hand,’

 Although being a Petrarchan sonnet Owen incorporates the strong closure of the Shakespearean form by working rhyming couplets into the sestet. The final line brings the poem to an effective end. The word ‘dusk’ hints of finality. The dusk is slow just as time passes for those who mourn. The part “drawing-down of blinds” which describes the endless pain and grief which the relatives undergo could be associated to the drawing of a sheet to cover the dead.

Unlike contemporary poets to Owen who wrote patriotic poems with aim to disguise the horrors of the trench warfare, Owen insisted on telling the truth as he saw it in order to protest against the war. Owen has with his rich vocabulary and well used literary techniques crafted a fantastic and realistic poem which makes the reader realize the truth…

<-Back

_____________________________________________

  Seamus Heaney’s Bog Poems

Heaney presents the bodies, in his bog poems, as mysterious and curious items and which each have an inquiring story behind their death. Each body has a different story to tell and is therefore told using different techniques.

 When reading the poems we can start to recognize a link between “The Tollund Man” and “Bog Queen”. This link suggests the idea of fertility. In “The Tollund Man” Heaney presents the idea of sacrifice. He indicates that the man possibly could have been killed as part of a fertility rite, when using the word “germinate” and the description “bridegroom to the goddess”. We can find the linked idea in “Bog Queen” where the woman gives the impression of being pregnant. This is suggested in the lines; “in the crock of the pelvis”, “the vital hoard reducing” and “A slimy birth-cord” which all indicates pregnancy.

We could question if she possibly died, or was killed, while being pregnant? In that case was that the cause of death? Could it perhaps have been miscarriage?

 Heaney uses a number of very striking metaphors to presents his suggestion of fertility. In “Bog Queen” he gives a description of the body’s brain as “a jar of spawn | Fermenting underground”. These metaphors are rather shocking and it leaves the reader with a feeling of unease and disgust. It somehow ‘teleports’ us right next to the body where we can smell the odor and feel the texture of the brain.

 Heaney uses the five senses rather often in his poems. In “The Grauballe Man” texture is fore grounded with images such as the man’s instep being “cold as a swan’s foot” his hair being described as “rusted”. In “Bog Queen” we find images like “Bruised berries under my nails” and “My brain darkening. This can also be linked to the metaphors and images found in “The Tollund Man” in the lines “peat-brown head” and “Caked in his stomach”. These images brings a level of foulness and filth to the poems which gives a somewhat credibility to Heaney’s story.

Texture could be linked to the lines “Those dark juices working | Him to a saint’s kept body” in the “Tollund Man”. Heaney here shows us how the body has transformed during the years but yet it is preserved by the “dark juices” or acids which can be found within the peat. In “Bog Queen” this is described in the lines “My sash was a black glacier | Wrinkling, dyed weaves” We can visualize the man’s dark and tanned leathery skin, and the woman’s wrinkling ‘scarf’, that has slowly changed and transformed by time.

We can also question ourselves whether the ‘Tollund Man’ himself in fact has become a saint and gained religious importance. Again, we are left wondering about these bodies.

 All three poems almost entirely lack rhyme. This could perhaps be because Heaney doesn’t find that he wants to ‘cheer up’ the atmosphere, as you do when adding rhyme. This is a sad and almost miserable topic and Heaney wants to maintain the poem in that mood.

 Each of the poems are, as said earlier, presented in different ways in order to tell their own story. In “The Tollund Man” it seems as if it is the poet that is speaking to the reader. We find lines such as “Some day I will go to Aarhus” and “I will feel lost”.

            “The Grauballe Man” however is written in a more direct method and is more straight-forward. This we can see is the lines; he lies | on a pillow of turf” and “his rusted hair”. The poet simply describes and informs us was he has witnessed.

This is very different to “Bog Queen” where the one telling the story in is fact the body itself. This can be seen, for example, in the lines “I lay waiting” and “My body was Braille”. It can be assumed that Heaney chooses to tell the story and describe the situation from the woman’s perspective to craft a more intense and live feeling to poem.

Throughout all three of the poems we can clearly see a sincere feeling of fear. In “The Tollund Man” Heaney illustrates this with strong and fearsome words such as; “Nose”, “Stocking corpses” and “Tumbril”. In “The Grauballe Man”; “Atrocity”, “Slashed” and “Dumped” and in “Bog Queen”; “Fermenting”, “Hacked bone”, “Barbered”, “Stripped”.

All these sinister and scary words provide the poems with a distasteful feeling. At the same time the words contribute to make the poems effective. Heaney uses these strong and frightening words in order to describe the bodies which most likely are frightening and somewhat disgusting. We might find the words a bit grotesque and that is probably what Heaney wants to achieve.

 In his three Bog poems Heaney does not reveal how these deaths have occurred. He only leaves us with slight hints. I believe the uncertainty is one of the reasons that make these poems so interesting and mysterious. After reading them we are left with questions such as;

 -Was the death of “The Tollund Man” a part of a ritual sacrifice?

 -Was “The Grauballe Man” in fact murdered, and had somebody slashed his throat?

 -Had the “Bog Queen” been killed while being pregnant or had she died from miscarriage?

 These are all questions that neither Heaney nor we can answer. This is something we can only speculate about.

 <-Back

_____________________________________________

 Commentary on “Le loupgarou” by Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott’s poem talks about a man called Le Brun who has, due to greed, changed and become a dreadful and an ostracized person. One could interpret the poem as describing a drug dealer, perhaps located in the Caribbean, who has greedily dealt with some evil men and become ‘bankrupt’. This is expressed in the 8th line “Ruined by fiends with whom he’d made a bargain” and in the 3rd line “his greed has brought old Le Brun down”. There are several other descriptions which support the idea of ‘Le Brun’ being a drug dealer. One of them is his way of clothing which is expressed in the line “When he approached them in white linen suit | Pink glasses, cork hat, and tap-tapping cane” which leaves the reader with an image of ‘Le Brun’ as a big feared drug dealer dressed in a fancy suit and exclusive apparel. Also the line “A dying man licensed to sell sick fruit” may hint at drug dealing as if he was ruined and was selfishly selling drugs that he knew were bad. 

Walcott’s poem opens with the line “A curious tale” suggesting that we, already from the beginning, should be questioning the verity of the story since tale usually is associated with fiction. The title of the poem “Le loupgarou” literally means werewolf and comes from the Latin word ‘lupus’ meaning wolf and the Germanic word ‘garoul’ meaning man. In the line “A slavering lycanthrope” Walcott has chosen the word lycanthrope which is a synonym to werewolf and loupgarou. 

“Le loupgarou” is written in a Shakespearian sonnet form with three quatrains and with an ending couplet. It stands out a bit to the original form since the perfect rhyme occasionally is broken and the final couplet does not present perfect rhyme. Perhaps Walcott wants his poem to stand out from the usual, original Shakespearian form, in order to show that this is not one of the typical and customary sonnets. Also the iambic pentameter is broken in several lines, for example in line; 8 and 11 which both have an additional syllable. This could be used by Walcott to make these lines stick out and hint that something different is about to happen, that a change is on its way. A change or transformation does indeed happen, literally, in the 10th line where Le Brun is described to have “changed himself into an Alsatian hound” and after line 11 the focus of narration is changed when Le Brun no longer is referred to as a human but as “the thing” and “it”. This depersonalization describes how Le Brun has lost his dignity, respect and how the people now look upon him as some sick animal (represented by the werewolf).

The first and second quatrain are linked together by enjambment (“slowly shutting jalousies | When he approached”) while the third quatrain stands alone and is isolated from the second quatrain by the punctuation. This separation somewhat enhances the change which Le Brun undergoes and also the change in time which happens in the third quatrain. The change in time is expressed in the line “It seems one night..” where the narration changes from describing Le Brun to what has happened to him.

The tone of the poem is harsh, dramatic and dark. The harshness comes from the repetition of T’s in the beginning and the long, steady flowing sentences. Also the diction of the poem gives it a slightly harsh and dark tone with words such as; “greying”, “greed”, “Ruined”, “slavering” and “howled”. The purpose of the harsh and dramatic tone is to create a suitable atmosphere for the ‘curious tale’ that is told which undeniably is harsh and unkind. 

The expression “greying woman” suggests ambiguity as the color gray” commonly is spelt with an ‘a’. Even though the color can be spelt; “grey”, one can not deny its associated to hounds e.g. ‘greyhounds’ and the famous werewolf ‘greyback’. Walcott has definitely chosen this way of spelling grey for a purpose. If read carefully it somehow foreshadows the upcoming actions in the text (the transformation to a werewolf).

Walcott used several techniques to emphasize certain parts of his poem. One can find an example of this already in the first line “A curious tale that threaded through the town | Through…” where he used both alliteration and personification to create a brilliant sound image. The repetition of T’s in this line accentuates the effect of how the tale was “chattered” trough the town, told from person to person (t,t,t,t,t).  Another example containing alliteration and personification can be found in the 4th line; “slowly shutting jalousies” where the repetition of the “sh” sound accentuates the hushing sound which occurs when people stop talking about him as he “approached them”.

The mixture of Walcott’s diction, alliteration, foreshadowing and personification all working together creates sinister and harsh atmosphere over the whole poem. The atmosphere is something Walcott wanted give his poem in order to deliver his ethical message. As one of the seven deadly sins state you shall not be greedy…

<-Back

_____________________________________________

Commentary on “The Wasps’ Nest” by James L Rosenberg

James L Rosenberg’s poem talks about wasps that have invaded the persona’s mailbox and within it started to build an ‘insubstantial’ nest of ‘mud and paper’. Neither the persona’s ‘threats and warnings’ nor the ‘U.S. Mail’ that lands on them each day, will help make them go away. The wasps are described to be too concentrated on their work and obligations which make them blind to the dangers of the outside world. 

Lurking beneath this simple story of invading wasps, one can find an underlying description of Rosenberg’s view on humanity. In the line “…I think I know | What it is like to live | In an alien and gigantic universe, a stranger…” Rosenberg might be referring his own life to that of the wasps. Perhaps it is so that Rosenberg, like the wasps, has moved to a new unfamiliar place or that he just feels like a stranger on our vast planet. Also the expressions that nothing will make the wasps “To turn them from their hummed devotions” and “they seem | Too deeply are too fiercely occupied | To bother to attend” are perhaps referring to, and mocking us humans. Rosenberg may be suggesting that we humans are so self-centered and captivated by our own world that we, as well as the wasps, cannot see the dangers of outside our door. 

Already the second word of the poem; ‘aerial’ suggests and foreshadows that some kind of war is going to take place. In war related conditions one usually speaks about the term ‘aerial bombardment’, which basically is what the wasps are doing. The war diction is backed up further by other war-linked words such as; ‘savagely’, ‘threats and warnings’ and ‘blow’. This harsh diction ads tension and hostility to the atmosphere of the poem and leaves the reader with a sense of resentment and aggression.

 Although the tone of the poem is rather solemn and melancholy, it never becomes quite as angry and heated as one would expect. This retaining of the persona’s feelings may be due to the fact that the persona empathizes with the wasps and that he understands the ‘difficult situation’ that they are in, which links back to the line “I know | What it is like to live..”. The rhyme scheme which, to some extent, resembles that of nursery rhymes, especially in the beginning of the poem where perfect rhyme such as ‘gold - hold’, ‘a-hum – come’ cheers up the mood slightly but is then evened out by the lack of rhyme that follows. This ‘pause’ in the rhyme scheme represents his loathe of their nest-building while the presence of the perfect rhyme, which is picked up again in end of the poem, represents his empathy and understanding towards the wasps. 

The image “Two aerial tigers” portrays the wasps as flying troops (expressed through; aerial) who are brave, fierce and forceful which expressed through the use of the word ‘tiger’. The word tiger also refers to the colors of the wasps, which alike the tiger’s is “ebony and gold”. This metaphor is rather interesting because already at this stage we can suspect that the persona in fact treasures and respect the wasps, given that both ebony and gold are very precious and valuable materials. Perhaps the persona feels this respect and empathy towards to wasps due to his feeling of similarity and connection.

Throughout his poem, Rosenberg brings up the sound of the wasps at various points. Onomatopoeic words such ‘a-hum’ and ‘humming’ and the term ‘resonantly’ all describe how wasps sound like when “Invading”. The sounds add sincerity to the poem as one can almost hear the wasps’ buzzing. Rosenberg has chosen to describe the humming that is done in a savagely way, which suggest that the persona finds the sound and the wasps vicious and brutal. 

The expression “fragile citadels” is an oxymoron since the two words have opposite meanings. Citadels, generally known as fortresses, are not commonly seen as fragile but rather the opposite; sturdy and stable. This contradicting image tells the reader that although, on the outside, something might look robust and confident, it might internally be delicate and weak. This ambiguous image is used to express both the wasps’ nest and also humans.

To conclude, we can see how James L. Rosenberg has with his various techniques created a poem that questions humanity in a most profound way. The solemn and intricate mood achieved by his war diction in co-operation with his contradictory images and use of various literary techniques all contribute to an atmosphere of insecurity. Rosenberg has manages craft a poem that makes the reader raise several philosophical questions, such as; 

  • Are we humans just like the wasps; too occupied with our own things that we blind ourselves to the world outside? 

  • Are we humans just like the wasp’s nests; fragile citadels, sturdy on the outside but weak on the inside?

These are all questions which neither Rosenberg nor we can answer. Throughout his crafted piece of work Rosenberg opens our minds to these matters and forces us to ponder.

<-Back

_____________________________________________

 Commentary on Wheels within Wheels by Seamus Heaney

In his poem Heaney presents various memories from the persona’s (which most certainly is Heaney) childhood. We are, right from the beginning lead into various situations where the persona, as a child, is playing and experimenting with different things, like children do, in order to develop and learn. He does things such as pedaling his with his hands and chucking objects into the spinning wheels resulting in it spraying in his face.

The whole poem is filled with other examples of ‘childish’ things which the young boy performs with curiosity and enthusiasm. We have the events “If you touched it with a straw, the straw frittered” and “To the water’s surface, then turned the pedals” which both show how the boy tries new things to find out what will happen. He presses the straw into the wheel and he goes down to the muddy well with his bike, although his mother probably told him not to, because he is curious and inquisitive. He just has to find out what will happen in the different occasions. These events make the poem interesting and might even trigger the reader to think back to their own childhood and their own memories. These are actions that we probably recognize from our own childhood. We might not be able to identify with these exact proceedings, with the dirt and mud, but other things that we did which fascinated us, maybe just because they where off limit and taboo. 

It can be argued that the boy is courageous in some extraordinary way. One might look up to him and envy his indifference to consequences. He doesn’t care if the mud and dirt sprays over him nor does he care if he is covered in ‘potato juice’. He is not even put of by the smell of dung. The other way around, the boy actually seems to like it. These examples are expressed in the lines “Spun mush and drizzle back into your face” and “I loved the turbid smell”. The boy is wonderfully unaware of all consequences and just keeps on finding the answers to his questions. He brings his bike into the well not caring about what will happen to it but is instead just concentrated on what is important for him. 

Perhaps many teenagers and adults wish that they could go back to not having the burden of caring about things. Would it not be wonderful to be able to do what ever you want with out always having to think of the consequences? 

We all have to grow up some time and having to think about consequences, before doing things, comes with the age. Not even Heaney’s persona can escape from growing up. After weeks of joy with the bicycle in the well, the bike finally breaks which is presented in the line “the hub jammed, rims rusted, the chain snapped”. It can be argued whether this is a point where the persona makes his transition from child to teenager. He suddenly realizes the consequences of his ‘childish actions’ and stop with them altogether. This is backed up in the line “Nothing rose to the occasion after that ­­”. It is depressing in a way, to think of the boy that stops doing the things he love because of his obligation to follow the human development into maturity.

The poems’ name, ‘Wheels within Wheels’ itself hints us what information the poem carries. May it be so that Heaney is referring to the wheel as the circle of life which the persona is going through?

 In the third verse the period of time is changed and the persona seems to have grown up and is now an adult. He tells us that he did not witness such ‘spinning of wheels’ until he in a circus got reunited with his childhood passion. 

It can be suggested that the poem has a deeper meaning and is trying to tell us something about the wonderful days of our childhood. It advises us to hang on to those precious moments and live out our life when we can act without obligations or having to think of consequences…

  <-Back

_____________________________________________

Commentary on Bad Blood by Lorna Sage

This passage by Lorna Sage starts with an effective opening, as the first sentence ’So the playground was hell grabs the reader’s attention instantly and leads one directly into the tone and mood that the passage carries. The immediate and drastic image of the playground being referred to as hell is rather ironic and contradictory since a playground commonly is seen as something innocent and playful.  We can therefore already from the beginning suspect a fairly gloomy and miserable text. This feeling is ensured even more by the diction that follows; “Chinese burns, pinches, slaps and kicks” and “face-pulling, hair-pulling, pinching, scratching” which accordingly are not pleasant thus backing up the miserable feeling.

The passage tells us about an anxious little girl who goes to school for the first time. This experience of childhood and initiation in school life is described as something horrible and negative; “The playground was hell”, “Small people’s purgatory” and “the sheer ineptitude”. The diction with words such as purgatory (a place for suffering) and ineptitude (uselessness/to not fit in) enhances this negative mood. Sage speaks a lot about not fitting in and she describes the children’s playing as “fierce contests…duels almost” which clashes with our general view of children being so innocent when they play.

Sage’s style of narration is fairly colloquial, almost chatty, which can be seen for example the line “Was she already going to dancing lessons? I don’t remember” where we can see the persona discussing with herself. This style of narration gives the passage an informal but also agitated mood which goes well the content; a playground described as hell.

The relationship between the narrator and Gail is developed throughout the passage in an interesting way. The narrator starts out by describing Gail as superior; “she was so physically confident in charge of her body” and “she made me feel like an unstrung puppet” where the word ‘unstrung’ hints at ambiguity since it both can mean lacking strings (referring to her posture) and to be upset or nervous (referring to her personality).

In the line “I was convinced at the start thatshe was simply better at inhabiting her body than I was… ” the words “at the start” foreshadow and warn us that Gail’s current superior position is going to change. This is also exactly what happens where from line 23 and on, Gail no longer is described in superior way but rather in pitiful manner, examples of this can be found in the lines; “…but she was not allowed out to play…and everybody knew that she had to sit for hours every night while her grandmother twisted her hair in rags.” and “What really set her apart…was the fact that her mother was divorced.” These lines express sympathy and they are told in a caring and understanding way.

In the line “It’s said (truly) that most women forget the pain of childbirth” the word in parenthesis – ‘truly’ - suggests that the persona herself has given birth and now is a mother. Could this whole passage perhaps all be reminiscence which comes to the narrator when she drops off her child for her first day of school? This could furthermore be backed up by the first line “So the playground was hell” where the word ‘so’ is meant to refer back to the past.

To sum up, Lorna Sage main concern here is to capture and convey the feeling of anxiety and ineptitude that comes with the school life. Through her use of “painful” diction and the frequent use contradictory images help Sage creates a suitable miserable atmosphere. Also her colloquial style of narration contributes to this mood and all these techniques together craft a cunning passage.

  <-Back

_____________________________________________

Commentary on “Hard Rock Returns to Prison

from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane” by Etheridge Knight

 
Etheridge Knight’s poem talks about a man called “Hard Rock” who has undergone a lobotomy and become “tame” instead of the “mean nigger” as it is referred to that he was previously. The poem opens with a concise introduction, boldly describing Hard Rock as a dangerous hoodlum who was “known not to take no shit ­| From nobody” and having “scars to prove it”. This startling image portrayed by Knight leaves the reader intimidated and frightened. Knight’s unique style of writing is very straight forward and his remarkable vocabulary engages the reader right from the beginning. One could almost take his work for a piece of prose, as its structure is the only thing giving it away as poem.  Knight uses powerful words such as; “shit” and “nigger”, slang words such as; “screws” (prison guards) and “the hole” (isolation cell) and striking expressions such as “Black son of a bitch”. This type of language and these expressions are not commonly found in poetry thus making this poem remarkable and exceptional.

The title of the poem somewhat sets the scene by explaining that the following happens after Hard Rock comes back from his operation at the Hospital for the Criminal Insane. Hard Rock’s name also tells us something about the character, as it metaphorically suggests that he his tough and unbreakable.

Throughout the poem Knight mentions the “WORD”, with capital letters, which one could draw reference to the Bible where the “WORD” is what is correct according to authority (God). In the line “To see if the WORD was true” Knight may be suggesting that they should see if it was true according to authority.

The poem opens with the two first lines rhyming with “shit” and “it” (AA) where after it skips until “bit” and “spit” (AA) in the third stanza. This very peculiar almost free versed rhyme reminds us that this is not the traditional and predictable poem which we are accustomed to. It also makes the lines stand out and it is clear that Knight wants to lay emphasis on these four words.

Knight uses several other techniques to emphasize certain parts of his poem. One can find an example of this in third line of the first stanza; “Split purple lips,” where he brings assonance into play. By laying stress on the “P’s” he accentuates the effect of intimidation and generates an almost sinister atmosphere. Another technique which Knight calls upon is alliteration. An example of this can be found in the line; “Canopy of kinky hair” where the repeated “Khe” sound enriches the menacing and creepy mood. Kinky in case is referring to Hard Rock’s hair being coiled.

 Knight makes use of some interesting similes such as “like a freshly gelded stallion” which represents Hard Rock whose brain has been, so to say, ‘castrated’ in an animalistic way. Another example of this is found in the line “His eyes empty like knot holes in a fence.” where he draws reference to the prison fences they live within.

 Knight presents Hard Rock in an animalistic manner when for example the guards tests “to see if Hard Rock was really tame” and when he “once bit | A screw on the thumb and poisoned him with syphilitic spit.” The latter line, containing a horrific imagery, leaves the reader with an unpleasant feeling of disgust.

 Throughout the poem “Hard Rock” is built up as something horrific and dangerous when being described to be a “crazy nigger” with “split purple lips” and “one long scar that cut | Across his temple”. These descriptions do indeed give an impression of a rather dangerous and unpleasant man. However, admiration from the other prisoners is hinted in the line; “And then the jewel of a myth that Hard Rock had once bit | A screw on the thumb”. It here seems as though the other prisoners treasure this myth, seeing that a jewel commonly is looked upon as something valuable. In the final stanza the other prisoners realize and confess their respect and admiration for him. This is expressed in the line “like a biting whip, | He had cut grooves too deeply across our backs” where the choice of the word “whip” also hints at animal behavior. They honor and idealize him by saying “the doer of things | We dreamed of doing but could not bring ourselves to do”.

 Hard Rock had become an idol for the other prisoners. A man to look up to. A man who stood up to authority and fought on behalf of his fellow inmates. A man making their, otherwise horrible, time in prison bearable and now without this man they will be lost. 

<-Back

_____________________________________________

The Barn by Heaney

 The Barn is about a young boy who has an awful fright of his family’s barn. He is afraid of the darkness, the tools and animals within the barn. Heaney uses imperfect rhyme throughout the poem to craft the same unpleasant and anxious feelings that the boy is experiencing

By saying that the corn is lying like grit of ivory Heaney wants to emphasize how valuable the crop is for the boy’s family. For them the crop means money and money means life. He also describes that the musty, or moldy, dark is hiding an armoury of tools. His choice of the word armoury makes it clear that the little boy sees the tools as weapons and that he is not too keen on them.  

In the second stanza Heaney gives a negative description of and how the boy dislikes the darkness that comes as a consequence of having no windows. He also describes the golden particles of dust and that the one door does not let in enough air. Heaney is giving the barn an almost prison atmosphere.        

In the third verse Heaney writes; “All summer when the zinc burned like an oven”. This is a simile which Heaney is using to exaggerate heat in the barn and the smell that the tools, which were made out of zinc, triggered.

“Slowly bright objects formed when you went in” Here Heaney is referring to the darkness of the barn and the eyes adjusting to it. This Heaney has managed to describe very well. I can really recognize the feeling of walking from the sunlight into a dark room. At first you can’t see any thing. After a few second however things start to pop up before you.

The line “The cobwebs clogging up you lungs” describes how dirty, abandoned and horrible he finds the barn. The thought of cobwebs clogging up your lungs is very unpleasant and it leaves the reader with a rather repulsive picture in mind.

In the line “And scuttled fast into the sunlit yard“ you can really empathize with boy when he abruptly runs out from the dreadful and murky barn.

Heaney suddenly changes the period of time through the line “And into nights”. The boy has probably gone into the barn during nighttime and to his horror seen these hostile bats look at him with fierce unblinking eyes. Heaney has clarified, in other poems, his strong loathe of rats. Bats being similar to rats, but with the additional wings, is probably not something that he fancies being close to.

When Heaney uses the expression “chaff” I believe that he is trying express that the boy is so terrified that his face had gone white, just as it would if he had covered his face with chaff. Heaney uses the noun chaff and changes it into adjective. This is something Heaney does fairly often in his poems and it has become a part of his stile.

 Heaney tells us how the boy starts to imagine things in the line “The two-lugged sacks moved in like great blind rats” I believe that this part of the poem represents children’s relationship to darkness. We can all remember how we used to, when we were small, imagine that things were lurking in the dark.

The poem has an underlying negative tone and in the way that it is written it creates a threatening atmosphere. This is not a pleasant poem that is read to achieve happiness but instead one that makes us remember how it was to be small, scared and insecure.

<-Back

_____________________________________________

 Commentary on Two Hands by Jon Stallworthy

Stallworthy’s poem is comparing the hands of the persona and his father. The son is the voice of the poem and he describes the difference between his father’s and his hand. Although these hands are physically similar, expressed in the line “hands so alike – spade palms…” the personalities, of the hand’s owner of the hands, are very different. The son describes his father as an important and skillful surgeon who has “thirteen times…led a scalpel an intricate dance”. The title itself, the ‘Two Hands’, represents the two different personalities of the father and the son. The idea of the father being a surgeon is backed up further by the medical diction; ‘scalpel’, ‘stitch’ and ‘Lancet’. The son on the other hand, appears to be a poet. This is supported in the line; “dance with this pencil” where the son’s hand, similarly to his father’s, dances. The difference between the hands however is that the father’s is described to dance when performing operations and the son’s when writing poems. We can already here assume that the persona is the poet himself, mainly because of the clear indications e.g. ‘my father’ but also since Stallworthy obviously too is a poet.

Lurking beneath the simple comparing of hands one can find an underlying description of the relationship between the father and the son and their feelings towards each other. The lines “fingers with some style | on paper, elsewhere none” and “I have watched | the other save no one, serve no one, dance with this pencil” hints at resentment as if the son feels inferior to his ‘life saving’ father since he ‘only’ is a poet. He says that he is only good for writing, not for saving lives or helping people. Also the way the father is described by the son (“thirteen times led a scalpel and intricate dance”) suggests that the son admires and looks up to his father and that he feels that he, himself, is not good enough. Furthermore the line lines “Who would have though | hands so alike…would have no more in common” and “I curse | tonight, at the other end of the house” suggest a separation between the father and the son. Stallworthy has deliberately written this “other end of the house” as a metaphor to show the distance between them, not only physically but also in their behavior.

Stallworthy makes use of several different literary techniques in order to emphasize certain parts of his poem. An example of this can be found in the line “that thirteen times” where the alliteration of the t’s accentuates these words and gives the line a somewhat ‘chatty’ feeling which contributes to the colloquial manner in which this story is told. The same technique is used in the 1st and 2nd line to draw together the words “study, sits and stiffly” and in order to, perhaps use the word ‘stiffly’ in an ambiguous way, to describe both his way of sitting as well as the way ‘the pen nods’.

In his poem, Stallworthy frequently uses enjambment which then is followed by a caesura. An example of this can be found in the lines 9 and 15 where his use of the caesura allows the line’s sense to be clear and it also influences the rhythm as to give it a feeling of natural speech. The punctuation, which comes after, then creates a some what informal and casual tone.

Metaphors are commonly used throughout Stallworthy’s poem in order to create an intricate mood. In the line “The phone has sobbed itself to sleep” we can find personification (of the phone), assonance (of the o’s) and onomatopoeia (sobbed) which all together leaves the reader with a both magnificent visual and aural image.  Another example of this can be found in the line “A spasm shakes the phone at this elbow” where the phone again is personified, this time embodied with a spasm. Once more the use of onomatopoeia (spasm) and assonance of the o’s creates a majestic picture. The use of the same techniques, in these two examples, draws the lines together and some what unifies them as if the phone at first has gone to sleep to then wake up with spasm.

The poet’s rhyme scheme is a different one and contains both regular and irregular rhyme.  The rhyme is regular (A,B,B,A - C,D,D,C..) except in line 9,12 and 17 were the rhyme is broken which lays special emphasis on these words. Stallworthy has used this rhyme scheme in order to represent and enhance the suppressed and shattered feeling the boy has as a cause to his inferiority complex to his father. Towards the end, in the lines 17-20, we can find so called eye rhyme (margin - again). The poet has here intentionally chosen to weaken the force of the rhyme in order to stress the words and to draw them together.

To sum up, we can see how the Stallworthy has captured the mood of an inadequate son, suppressed by his father’s ‘superiority’ by using several techniques. The regular rhyme which occasionally is shattered in co-operation with the diction and the various literary techniques contributes to this atmosphere of insecurity. Stallworthy manages to create something we all can recognize; the feeling of being insufficient, not good enough, and not able to reach the expectations of our authority figures...

<-Back

_____________________________________________