28 Oct 2017

Storm on the Island Heaney: Context, Interpretation and Annotation Analysis

What is the poem about?
This is a simple, literal poem on the whole, describing a desolate, stormy island where people live defended against nature.

Context
Heaney grew up in a farming community in Northern Ireland and wrote about its farms and cities beset with civil strife, its natural culture and language overrun by English rule. As a Catholic (more common in the Republic of Ireland), his identity was in conflict with the Protestant British hegemony.
Like Wordsworth, Heaney’s poetry captures the detail of nature, and rural life with precision - showing man in nature. He frequently evokes the pre-modern worlds of older poets like William Wordsworth and this poem links well to ‘The Prelude’. It can also be linked well to the first half of ‘Exposure’ or to ‘Bayonet Charge’.

Types of Conflict
  • Civilization (man) vs nature
  • Northern Ireland in conflict

An alternative interpretation is that it is Northern Ireland suffering from the Troubles - terrorism, and other violence connected to British rule. This is suggested by the war imagery:
  • ‘strafe’to attack repeatedly with bombs or machine-gun fire from low-flying aircraft
  • ‘Blast’
  • ‘Pummels’
  • ‘Exploding’
  • ‘Bombarded’ - hit by a series of bombs
  • ‘Salvo’ a simultaneous discharge of artillery or other guns in a battle.
TASK Find these words and underline them. They are from the SEMANTIC FIELD of war.

Largely monosyllabic, the poem has a tight, abrupt feel - quite matter of fact. It is largely in iambic pentameter, but includes some trochees, and spondees. It is not rhymed.

Poetic Metre
Iamb (unstressed/stressed _ | ) - rising rhythm, suggest hope, pace
  • This wizened earth has never troubled us
  • Can raise a tragic chorus in a gale
  • Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees
Trochee (stressed/unstressed | _ )- falling rhythm, adds emphasis to the stressed syllable (word / connotations) as this stands out distinctly from the flow of the iambs
  • Blast: you
  • Strange, it
TASK Find, underline and label these. They are interesting because they stand out from the normal rhythm.
Spondee (both syllables stressed | |) , like two quick punches
  • Sink wallsgood slate
  • But no
  • Turned savage

TASK Find, underline and label these. They are interesting because they stand out from the normal rhythm.
Sounds
The MONOSYLLABLES stand out - harsh, short and tight: squat, sink, slate, stacks, stooks, flung spray hits, spits. Later, these open up into longer, more open sounds: wind, dives, strafes, air, strange, huge, fear - as if the storm is growing in scale OR a sense of freedom/space.
There is also a good deal of ASSONANCE - verbal echoes, seen in the HALF RHYME of ‘stacks/stooks’, then of the tight, high sounds in ‘hits’, ‘spits’, ‘sit’, ‘wind’ then ‘tight’ and ‘dives’. The first are lower /i/ while the second are higher /ie/ sounds that create tightness as if trapped OR matter of fact.

TASK find and label the HALF RHYME.

Likely Exam Questions
How is conflict presented? (man/nature, civilisation, war)
How is power presented? (man, nature)

We=inclusive, community

Sink= sense of being buried, hiding
wizened=ancient, dried up

stooks= Colloquial, farming jargon, connection to the land



Tragic chorus = METAPHOR set of voices in classical tragedy (pitiful suffering on a grand scale)





Exploding comfortably OXYMORON = live happily in conflict/danger

Sinister, hissing sibilants (s)
Sit tight=colloquial, comfortable, everyday
Wind strafes = METAPHOR of wind as bombers (planes)
LINK to bombarded
We are prepared: we build our houses squat,
Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate.
This wizened earth has never troubled us
With hay, so, as you see, there are no stacks
Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees
Which might prove company when it blows full
Blast: you know what I mean – leaves and branches
Can raise a tragic chorus in a gale
So that you listen to the thing you fear
Forgetting that it pummels your house too.
But there are no trees, no natural shelter.
You might think that the sea is company,
Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs
But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits
The very windows, spits like a tame cat
Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives
And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo,
We are bombarded with the empty air.
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.




troubled=ironic (hay is a gift, but he finds the positive side of the lack - they have nothing to lose)
nor/never=negatives, emphasises the sense of having nothing
prove company= colloq. suggests friends, so is ironic (can’t do damage by falling on them - see the REPETITION below)

too=community (affects all of them)
No natural shelter=Nature won’t protect them






tame/savage ANTITHESIS nature dramatically reverses (savage=against civilization)

invisibly/empty=nothingness, unreal danger


Huge nothing = seems a PARADOX - evokes we have nothing to fear but fear itself

26 Oct 2017

The Prelude, Wordsworth: Context, Analysis, Annotation and Likely Exam Questions

What is the Prelude (Extract) About?
Literally: as a child, the poet steals a boat and rows across the lake. At first, he feels alive in his own power. He wonders at the beauty of nature, then feels a kind of awe, or terror, as if the great hills are alive. The mixed emotions of this ‘spectacle’ haunt his memory, shown as it ‘troubled my dreams’. He does not try to explain what it means within this extract; it is pure emotion.

Context of the Poem
This is an extract from a much longer lyric poem where Wordsworth explored ‘the growth of my own mind’ as a poet. This extract is from the first part, titled: ‘Childhood’ and is a flashback to a time he stole a boat at home in the Lake District. The journey symbolises his emotional journey as a poet, which started with a mystic, and emotional connection with the power of nature. It also symbolises a journey within memory, looking for meaning. Wordsworth was a great Romantic poet - a movement interested in emotion, nature and a mystical connection with a higher power. The full poem was considered by Wordsworth as his masterpiece.

The point of view is of the poet remembering, so it includes the theme of memory as well as identity: 'to arrive where we started / And know that place for the first time' (T.S. Eliot). As an adult, Wordsworth understands the significance of the feeling he had: of a communion with a higher power. When he writes ‘(led by her)’, he is referring to Nature personified.

The section just before this extract refers to ‘the means which Nature’ used to open him up as a poet: ‘fearless visitings, or those/ That came with soft alarm, like hurtless light /Opening the peaceful clouds; or she would use / Severer’ methods more vivid, ‘as best might suit her aim.’

He talks of his purpose here too, which makes the meaning of the story about the boat clearer:


Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows

Like harmony in music; there is a dark

Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles

Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society.
In other words: the poet's immortal spirit grows like music, shaped by barely understood forces, into a perfect harmony. The ‘spectacle’ he felt on his boat journey - and the ‘dark inscrutable workmanship’ of nature shaped him as a poet.

Likely Exam Questions:
How is power presented? (of the boy, poet, nature)
How is conflict presented? (poet’s mind, with nature)

Compare it with ‘Exposure’, focusing on the presentation of nature.


=hope, promise
Symbolises journey/the poet as a vessel on a journey





Troubled pleasure > oxymoron=conflicted emotions



=moon is mystic, symbolises change
=one track - as if it is showing him the way, things are coming together
proud=boy’s power, sure of direction (unswerving line) also symbolises poet’s journey

Horizon =symbolises ultimate destination as a poet





Swan = vessel transformed by the boy’s power (swan=symbol of beauty and grace in classical literature)

voluntary=living, thinking
instinct=emotional reaction


Towered up = Mystical transformation - a linking or blocking him to/from the divine (stars)

trembling=fear




bark= the boat, but seems more fragile now, changed



spectacle=mystical but he cannot interpret it yet (dim)

unknown=mystical, new ways of being, dimly understood (as a child)
No familiar=old simple view of nature is destroyed


mighty=a sense of a greater power (nature/mystic)


One summer evening (led by her) I found
A little boat tied to a willow tree
Within a rocky cove, its usual home.
Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in
Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;
Leaving behind her still, on either side,
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
Until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light. But now, like one who rows,
Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point
With an unswerving line, I fixed my view
Upon the summit of a craggy ridge,
The horizon’s utmost boundary; far above
Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
She was an elfin pinnace [peak]; lustily
I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat
Went heaving through the water like a swan;
When, from behind that craggy steep till then
The horizon’s bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,
And growing still in stature the grim shape
Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
For so it seemed, with purpose of its own
And measured motion like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the covert of the willow tree;
There in her mooring-place I left my bark, –
And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
And serious mood; but after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams..
her=Nature (see notes above)



Unloosed =symbolises boy’s power, setting imagination free


Voice =power of nature personified - as if nature is calling to him

=pure beauty, wonder: liquid sounds (l) create a fluid effect, while the sibilance (s) creates softness.
Light symbolises revelation, hope


fixed=his original fixed purpose, which will later be changed by his experience

Stars = celestial beauty

elfin=mystical

=pure beauty (liquid sounds)






Sinister plosives (p, b), threatening power, repetition

Struck (repetition) = Boy’s power or panic




purpose=personification of nature as a force, bringing a message - or intention towards him

silent/willow=repeats, a circular journey, but the poet is changed (seeing the same thing, but not with the same eyes)








darkness=contrasts with the earlier images of light (peaceful and simple), but ironically, this darkness represents growth - sensing a larger power behind the simple beauty of nature, though he cannot understand it yet

Do not live like=i.e. immortal

dreams=imagination, emotion and to his future as a poet