Thursday, June 06, 2013

Leaving Certificate English 2013, Paper 2

Candidates have been walking out smiling into the warm June sunshine this afternoon after their Higher level literature paper, despite the topics: disturbing imagery in Macbeth, Doris Lessing's 'disturbing vision', the unattractive world of Gatsby, Sylvia Plath's provocative imagery and the intense religious struggle of Gerald Manley Hopkins. The smiles might have been of relief after the annual marathon, or simply because this paper on the surface was pretty straightforward.

The Macbeth questions will have been welcomed: one on Macbeth's complex character as revealed by 'the variety of significant insights' into his mind (vague enough to trap weaker candidates into rambling and unfocussed responses), the other on Shakespeare's 'effective use of disturbing imagery' (a topic our candidates practised in a test two weeks ago). As elsewhere in the paper, higher order candidates will have properly pursued those significant modifiers ('significant', 'effective', 'disturbing') and thus achieved high marks under Purpose. [Our candidates didn't do Gatsby as a single text, but the two questions on it were extremely bland].

The comparative section offered Cultural Context and Theme this year; the former looked at how difficult it can be to change 'deeply embedded values' (which requires some clear thinking), and the importance of social class (here's hoping that candidates did indeed focus on social class rather than other cultural divisions). The second theme alternative was a little challenging, asking candidates to examine how themes/issues might not be satisfactorily resolved (do they have to be in any text?).

All four favourites here came up in the poetry section: Elizabeth Bishop (also on the Ordinary level paper with an extract from 'The Fish'), Hopkins, Plath and Derek Mahon, with the two latter featuring questions on imagery.

This year's unseen poem was Derek Walcott's 'The Fist', the appropriate tightness of which might have given too little for some candidates to hang on to (enough of those metaphors now). Walcott is often on the rota of prescribed poets. This might have been a tricky technical challenge for some, but again imagery was the key thing to tackle.

The Ordinary Level paper, which a few of our pupils tackled, looked primarily at Lady Macbeth in the single text questions, provided straightforward questions in the comparative section, and as the unseen poem Bill Holm's 'Earbud'. It ended with one of literature's great love poems, Shakespeare's sonnet 60. For those who sat these English exams, the minutes have finally hastened to the end:-

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

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