Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Poetry

What worked for me in Leaving Cert poetry – Jamie Tuohy


Ah, Leaving Cert poetry – the bane of most Irish students’ Leaving Cert experience. The idea of having to know thirty plus poems for a 50 mark question in an exam can be enough to induce terror into the mind of even the coolest and collected class genius. Many students are tempted to cut corners, but trust me – cutting corners will undoubtedly lead to bumping into obstacles!

  • As attractive as it may seem to rely on apparently sound and reliable predictions, a prediction, by its very nature would find it near impossible to be either ‘sound’ or ‘reliable’ – just asked the class of 2001, when nearly the very same poets came up two years in a row.
  • When discussing the work of a poet, try not to focus on the biography. You are being asked to write about the poem – not the life of the poet. Students lose marks because they keep talking about Sylvia Plath’s mental problems, or endlessly recall the hardships of Robert Frost’s life, rather than focusing on the poem.
  • It’s great to know about the poet’s life and you can certainly refer to certain aspects of his or her life, but the examiner wants to read about your engagement and reaction to the poetry of Seamus Heaney and not a factual article about his life, whereby you use the poems as evidence to support your facts.
  • Remember that all the questions are essentially a personal response, even though few questions will explicitly state so. It is really important to give your opinion throughout the answer. Teachers will have advised you to have a positive reaction to the poetry, which might seem like it’s defeating the purpose of an ‘opinion’, but if you’re going to criticise a poem, you will need extremely sound references and points, which are often hard to find.
  • P.Q.E: Point, Quote, Explain. This is the basic formula that every student should be adhering to when answering a question. Make your point, find your evidence in the poem and then explain what you have written, stating your own opinion as well. It’s no good saying “this poem is a poem of sadness, written in a trochaic tetrameter” and leaving it at that. By doing this, you’re only stating a fact – follow it up with evidence and analysis or description.
  • Don’t go into the exam without knowing at least five poets. This point is self-explanatory, but it’s essential to reinforce it.
A Personal Response to the Poetry of Patrick Kavanagh:

If Patrick Kavanagh isn’t one of the poets you’ve been focusing on, then this is a good chance to brush up on him. Nobody knows who is going to come up, so if you’ve Plath and Heaney well prepared, Kavanagh is a great one to have in your back pocket in the exam.


  1. 1.      “Inniskeen Road: July Evening” – Imagery
  • Kavanagh manages to capture the atmosphere of that ‘July Evening’ by combining effective imagery with his own emotional feelings towards the night.
  • “The bicycles go by in twos and threes” – this gives us a sense that Inniskeen is a close knit community, as everyone is travelling to the dance together.
  • However, this camaraderie among the locals does not extend to Kavanagh, who is “king of banks and stones and every blooming thing”.
  • Is he isolated by virtue of being a poet? Does Kavanagh create an image for himself that sets him apart from society? Do you sympathise with the poet’s condition?
  1. “Canal Bank Walk” – Language Techniques
  • Kavanagh opens the poem with a neologism combined with alliteration, saying “leafy with love”.
  • Through poetry, Kavanagh is free to express himself and despite writing in the form of Shakespearean sonnet, his poetic licence gives him the liberty to remain unique.
  • His clever use of language techniques allow us to become enthralled by the words before us and the repetition of the letter ‘l’ creates an image in my mind where things are in full bloom and it is sensually evocative.

“Lines Written on a Seat in the Grand Canal” – Language Techniques

  • Where by a lock Niagarously roars” – neologism.
  • By using this neologism, I feel that Kavanagh’s reverence, joy and love for the Grand Canal are all juxtaposed in this line. He is comparing the canal – a man-made river, to the breath-taking natural beauty of Niagara Falls.
  1. “Epic” – Title and Form
  • The title is paradoxical, as one expects a lengthy poem, recanting the exploits of an ancient hero, but instead Kavanagh’s poem is somewhat of a ‘mock epic’.
  • However, the seemingly trivial dispute between these two families is elevated to the status of the Trojan War, rather than reduced to an insignificant parochial squabble.
  • In choosing the sonnet form, Kavanagh reminds himself that art and literature do not need grandiose inspiration to be successful. Indeed, the best poetry is created from the parochial, as he believed it was universal because it dealt with the fundamental aspects of society.
  1. 4.      “The Great Hunger” – Theme and Content
  • This poem communicates themes of isolation, despair, missed opportunity and filial duty.
  • Patrick Maguire is defined only by the love he holds for his land – “clay is the word and clay is the flesh”.
  • He suffers the flaw of passive acceptance and his life has been reduced to a dull pattern of farm chores and familial obligations by a series of submissions to his mother, to the land and to the Church.
  • The poem becomes a polemic in which Kavanagh criticises these aspects of rural life in Ireland in the early to mid-twentieth century.
  • The themes of the poem create an atmosphere of gloom and in the final lines; Kavanagh personifies “Imagination” because it’s the very thing that Kavanagh lived without.
  • “He lives that his little fields may stay fertile when his own body is spread in the bottom of a ditch under two coulters crossed in Christ’s Name”. It seems rather fitting, yet poignant that Maguire would be buried in the very land that held him in impoverished servitude, but tragic that his resting place is marked by the symbol of the religion that so impeded his sexual and emotional fulfillment.

What Worked For Me:

  • As I’ve already mentioned, it’s great to open essays with a quote and this is particularly effective when it comes to poetry. Try to find a quote that in some way embodies the essence of the poet’s work and still adheres to the question. For example, if there’s a question on ‘power’ in Adrienne Rich’s poetry, a good quote might be “These are thing that we have learned to do who live in troubled regions” from her poem “Storm Warnings”.
  • Something that helped me to memorise quotes was to write out the quote and leave out or substitute a word. By doing this, you’ll train your mind to remember the word that was left out and subsequently memorise the quote. For example, in Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror”, if you say “I am silver and exact. I have no judgements”, a light bulb will go off in your head, saying “NO! It’s “I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions”.
  • Make a statement of the obvious! Think of the most obvious and general thing you can about the poem and write it down. Then you can deconstruct it and analyse the sentence. For example, “Seamus Heaney’s “Bogland” is about a bog”. When you consider this statement and break it down, taking into account all the different elements of the poem from imagery to language, you’ll soon have many more ideas on how the poem expresses Heaney’s relationship to the Irish landscape and its people.

One of My Favourite Poems – Jamie Tuohy

“EPIC” by Patrick Kavanagh

I have lived in important places, times

When great events were decided : who owned

That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land

Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.

I heard the Duffys shouting “Damn your soul”

And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen

Step the plot defying blue cast-steel –

“Here is the march along these iron stones.”

That was the year of the Munich bother. Which

Was most important? I inclined

To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin

Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind.

He said : I made the Iliad from such

A local row. Gods make their own importance.

Ever since studying the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh for my Leaving Certificate a couple of years ago, “Epic” has become one of my favourite poems. This is a poem about poetry itself, in which Kavanagh tells us that art does not need grandiose inspiration – it can be created from the habitual and the mundane. His message is inspiring and motivational and “Epic” is a sonnet which also elucidates the sonnet’s self-consciousness as a form, as it praises the art of poetry and the importance of the parochial within fourteen lines.

Of course, the title lends itself to an expectation of grandeur, as one expects a lengthy poem, recanting the exploits of an ancient hero, but instead Kavanagh’s poem is somewhat of a ‘mock epic’. However, the seemingly trivial dispute between these two families is elevated to the status of the Trojan War, rather than reduced to an insignificant parochial squabble. The inclination to think of something which is played out on a global scale as being more important than the “march along these iron stones” of the families from Ballyrush and Gortin is the very thing which Kavanagh rejects in “Epic”. The wonder of the poem lays in the combination of Kavanagh’s colloquial language and the sophisticated idea that the potential for poetry is inherently present in even the smallest event.

My favourite line comes when Kavanagh says “Gods make their own importance”. His message is powerful and is one which resonates universally and that is that the local and the close to home are what’s really important in life. A “rood of rock” matters more than a whole continent if that “rood of rock” is all we know. Kavanagh uses the sonnet form to express how one has to fight for their own place in history and that anything, no matter how small; is a proper subject of poetry.

Comparative Study, Guest Leaving Cert Bloggers, Hamlet, Paper 1, Poetry

Exams, Exams and more Exams!

Leaving Cert English students: I have to take a break from posting Leaving Cert English notes for the next month or so, as I have my own college exams to study for, which will be finishing on May 14th.

Thank you all for viewing the blog and checking out the essays and if I get time in between reading Chaucer and analyzing literary theories, I’ll see what I can do re: posting, but I have to dedicate my time to passing my own exams first!

There are plenty of notes on the blog to keep you all going and at this stage, I’m sure you will all fly through the exam! The posts for English are the most time consuming because I usually write them from scratch, rather than referring to notes from last year (I also do this occasionally).

Thanks for viewing and I’ll get back to more frequent posting when my exams are over on May 14th, which still leaves a few weeks before the Leaving Cert begins….the usual time when students actually start studying!


Best of Luck,


Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Poetry, Uncategorized

A Personal Response to “Design” by Robert Frost – Jamie Tuohy

A Personal Response to “Design” by Robert Frost


  • I’m well aware that Frost came up last year and many students seem to ignore poets based on that very reason.
  • This is one thing I would never do; in fact, it’s the opposite of what I’d do.
  • Never rely on predictions! Every student in the country expected Wordsworth to come up last year – he was ‘guaranteed’ and the audible gasps of horror around the exam hall when we received the paper were the all too obvious inclinations that many students had relied on predictions. NEVER ASSUME YOUR TEACHER’S PREDICTIONS ARE GOSPEL.
  • In 2010 and 2011, there were questions on Yeats and way back in 2001 and 2002, Bishop and Longley made appearances on the paper in both years.
  • When it comes to Leaving Cert English, be prepared and expect the unexpected. Cover all bases.
  • This is a little post on “Design” by Robert Frost – a close study if you will, which will allow you to see the kind of points you should be making in your own personal response question.

“Design by Robert Frost is a deeply metaphorical poem in which he portrays the destructiveness of nature and questions God’s grand design. In this poem, Frost presents the dark face of the natural world through which he expresses that evilness is an innate part of nature. In saying this, Frost demonstrates the possibility that there is no grand plan governing the universe and that everything exists and arises simple from a preordained design.

The poem is appealing for its use of unusual and ironic imagery which is extremely thought-provoking. “Design” is written in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet and the octet 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. I feel that through this image, Frost is communicating the destructive aspect of nature and highlighting its unforgiving qualities.

In the sestet, there is a change of mood and a departure from the vivid and descriptive imagery of the octet. Frost queries why such a thing would happen. He says

“what brought the kindred spider to that height then steered the white moth thither to the night?”

This is an extremely effective line, as, in my opinion, it exemplifies how this was meant to happen – there’s nothing contrived about the scene, because its brutality and cruelty is a testament of reality. It’s almost like the flower and the spider have conspired to trap the moth, thus underscoring how everything that happened was by ‘design’.

However, the poem closes with Frost saying

 “what but design of darkness to appal? If design govern in a thing so small.”

There is an underlining pessimism and scepticism to these lines, as Frost questions whether or not life is predestined and led by a design which has been created by something beyond human stature. I enjoyed reading this poem, not least for the unusual and vivid imagery, but moreover for the way in which it provokes thought and offers us insights into the human experience.



Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet, Indulgence, Paper 1, Poetry, Ramblings, Showbiz

Check this blog out on Facebook

Hey everyone,

Apologies for the lack of posts in recent weeks – I’m in the midst of studying for my summer exams! This is just a short post to tell you all that I’ve created a Facebook page for the blog, so all you LEAVING CERT ENGLISH students can now ask me questions on there related to the exam or specific essay questions.

A few students have Tweeted me saying they can’t comment on here, so the Facebook page will hopefully make this blog more accessible. In the coming months, I’ll be revamping this blog and gearing it more towards a lifestyle blog, but for now, the majority of the posts will be related to Leaving Cert English.

If you have a minute and are on Facebook, please like the page here: and feel free to ask me questions and post comments! Thank you all for reading, liking, commenting and viewing! It’s much appreciated!


Jamie 🙂

Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Poetry

A Personal Response to the Poetry of Adrienne Rich – Jamie Tuohy

A Personal Response to the Poetry of ADRIENNE RICH – Jamie Tuohy


  • I wrote this essay in 30 minutes from memory, so naturally, it’s not going to be as succinct as all your answers will be, but it should give you an idea about structure, and hopefully will be helpful content wise.
  • In college, I’ve become used to writing academic essays, where we are told NEVER to include the first person pronoun as it takes away from the tone of your essay. In LEAVING CERT– ALWAYS USE THE FIRST PERSON PRONOUN. Especially in your PERSONAL RESPONSE.
  • The poetry question is as much about showing the examiner how you interpreted the poem and reacted to it, as it is about displaying your knowledge of the piece itself.
  • Give your opinions – go beyond the normal P.Q.E. – show the examiner that you’re thinking about what you’re writing and they’ll automatically be impressed with your literary consciousness!
  • However, this doesn’t mean you have to be a wordsmith and use lofty and highfaluting words – it is better to say it simply. I cringe when I look back on some of my Leaving Cert essays – they were so unnecessarily wordy. It just adds pomp to your writing – save your language experimentation for the composing question in Paper 1!
  • I say that this is an essay, but due to time constraints (study and all that), I haven’t really had time to make this essay as cohesive and fluid as it should be. As always, you SHOULDN’T  just learn this essay off by heart, but if you are taking some pieces from it, remember the importance of linking sentences from paragraph to paragraph (which is something that could improve this essay).
  • Always write about literature in the present tense.



“These are thing that we have learned to do who live in troubled regions”.

These are words written by Adrienne Rich in “Storm Warnings” which encapsulate the essence of her poetry. Rich’s poetry appeals to me because her poems explore concepts of both power and subjugation. Whether she is detailing the oppression of Aunt Jennifer, the destructive aspect of “Power” or commenting on the relationship between man and woman (“Living in Sin”), her ability to create a simplicity of image ensures her poems are both accessible and memorable. Rich writes from an obvious Feminist perspective, but I, as a male can still appreciate the sentiment of her work. Poems like “The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room” and “From a Survivor” elicit a variety of emotions in me, ranging from anger to hope and this is what lends credibility to her pieces. Her poems are honest, human and real. On one hand, they’re deeply personal, but on the other, they are commentaries and reflections on society and this juxtaposition of the personal and the public is what makes Adrienne Rich such a fantastic and appealing writer.

In “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”, Rich writes about the oppression felt by a woman constrained by marriage. It is a powerful poem, albeit a bleak view of married life which left me feeling an immense sense of sympathy for Aunt Jennifer. She longs to be like the tigers that “prance across the screen” with “chivalric certainty”, however she can’t and is trapped because she “fears the men beneath the trees”. In my opinion, the tigers represent an aspiration for Aunt Jennifer – these powerful and fearless creatures are the antithesis to Jennifer who is suppressed and obedient. By sewing the shapes of the tigers, she escapes from her trouble, but this escapism is only in her imagination as “the massive weight of uncle’s wedding band sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand”. Jennifer can never be as carefree as the tigers and her wedding band is a poignant reminder of her unhappy marriage which is characterised by a lack of freedom and power.

Rich frequently uses tone to set the backdrop of her poem and I think that is displayed to perfection in “The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room”. Immediately, his tone of condescension is perceptible, as the uncle speaks of the threat a “sullen mob” poses to society. However, his primary concern lies solely with himself as he is only worried about what a rebellion from such people would do to his position. He says “lead in times like these to fear for crystal vase and chandelier”. These are metonyms of the upper-class which is an echelon of society to which the uncle is a part of. The poem made an impact on me because even though Rich is writing from the uncle’s point of view, there is an underlying sardonic tone to everything he says. Rich is ridiculing his pretension and is expressing her concerns for society through the uncle’s selfish snobbery. I get the impression that she is also making a social commentary on the imbalance of power and the injustice in the distinction of classes. The uncle tries to distance himself from the “follies” of a lower class, which highlights his arrogant demeanour.

I feel that “Living in Sin” is relatable to all relationships. It speaks to the idea that men and women fall into roles when they become comfortable with each other. This poem is a departure from the pedantic form of the preceding two poems, as Rich was developing her own style as writer, rather than following the strict form instructed to her by her father. In this poem, the couple Rich write of are not married, but the imbalance of power and inequality between men and women is unquestionably present. “Living in Sin” is closer to conversational speech rhythms and in it; Rich adopts a stream of consciousness. Like much of her poetry, this poem garnered a great deal of sympathy in me for Rich’s female subject, as she is condemned to the relentless rigour of household duty, while her partner “shrugs” and “scratches his beard”. The woman’s partner is apathetic towards her and his laissez-faire and chauvinistic attitude presents the reader with a grim and uninspiring view of domestic life.

When I first read “From a Survivor”, I was shocked at what I initially thought was an apathetic tone from Rich. I felt uncomfortable reading this because it seemed as if Rich was gloating on her husband who she says is “wastefully dead”. However, after a second reading, the sentiment of this poem expresses something quite different. Rather than a bitter message to her dead husband, “From a Survivor” becomes a touching tribute to him, in which she expresses the necessity for positivity in the midst of turmoil. She uses beautiful, painterly language to create vivid images of regret, but also scenes of hope. Rich says “I live not as a leap, but a succession of brief movements, each one making possible the next”. This is a fantastic line and I feel it is the epitome of hope. Rich will continue to live her life as happily as she can, not out of a lack of compassion, but because it’s the only thing she can do to survive.

“Power” is my favourite poem by Adrienne Rich. Once again, she details the necessity for equality between men and women. She uses the famous scientist Marie Curie as her subject. Curie died from the “element she purified” – a tragic example of the destructive aspect of power itself. I think that Curie “denied her wounds” because admitting them was a sign of weakness. I believe Rich is saying that women feel inferior to men and feel like they have something to prove to them. It is particularly poignant in this case because Curie saw suffering as a necessary self-sacrifice for science. It is a curious twist of logic that Curie died from the very thing that brought her fame.

“Storm Warnings” is a chillingly accurate poem that deals with the inevitable passing of time – a theme which is both universal and relatable. It is enriched with appealing lines that also showcase the inevitability of death. She says “time in the hand is not control of time”. I find this line effective because it highlights the fact that we are mastered by nature and regardless of the age we are, we are powerless and essentially controlled by time. There is an undercurrent of fear in Rich’s voice when this line is spoken, as if this realisation only becomes concrete of evident to her when she writes this line. All she can do is “draw the curtains as the sky goes black and set a match to candles sheltered in glass”. The potential threat of the storm is juxtaposed with the frailty of glass. She is hiding from her problems because that is all she can do – the glass will eventually shatter. This is a poem which is full of relevance – ageing, death and fear are things we all have to experience in our lives, whether we like it or not.

Adrienne Rich is one of the most prolific poets in the English language and her mastery of her craft is evident through her poems, which are honest, accurate and at times haunting and chilling. Whether she is commenting on her own inability to control time or even on the imbalance of power in society, her lyrical and imaginative descriptions make her poems enticing, powerful and highly thought provoking. Her ability to allow me to become engrossed by the words in front of me and be transported into the world of the poem, in my opinion makes Adrienne Rich one of the greatest poems in English literature.


Jamie Tuohy.

Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Poetry

Unseen Poetry – Paper 2, 2010 – Seed by Paula Meehan

Unseen Poetry – Seed by Paula Meehan

  • I’ve decided to post about ‘Unseen Poetry’ because it’s one of those areas that can get ignored by students because it’s not something you can study for.
  • However, you can study for it – it’s all about practice and becoming familiar with the type of questions they ask.
  • There are two questions – one is made up of two individual questions which merit 10 marks each and the other is usually a personal response, worth 20 marks.
  • I’m going to deal with Question 1 in this post because the personal response is much less pointed, and if we’re being honest, it’s much easier.
  • However, if you choose to write about your personal response (which I’d recommend if you’re stuck for time), then I’d suggest that you look towards the first two questions to give you an idea about what to talk about.
  • The trick to getting the 20 marks in this question is pretty simple – answer the question and avoid any unnecessary quoting.
  • It’s so tempting to use as many quotes as you can to illustrate your point, but this is much more suited to the prescribed poetry section, rather than this question, which just proves you can read!
  • Underline the key words in the question and focus on them in your answer.

1.   (a)  What in your view is the mood of this poem? Explain briefly how it is conveyed.

Make reference to the text in support of your answer.  (10)

In my opinion, the mood of this poem is one hope and optimism. Despite the initial mood of gloom and sorrow, “Seed” develops into a beautiful poem which speaks to the power of hope and positvity.  In the opening lines, Meehan says “I step out into the garden from the gloom of a house where hope had died and tally the storm damage”. At this juncture, the tone and mood is somewhat dark, as it’s suggested that not everything has survived the storm. However, the discovery of some “forgotten lupins” excites and inspires the poet and her tone changes to a more hopeful and thankful one, thus changing the mood of the poem. She says “I am suddenly grateful and would offer a prayer if I believed in God, but not believing, I bless the power of the seed”. It doesn’t matter that Meehan isn’t religious because she recognises the ‘power of the seed’ and praises its endless abilities. In my mind, a seed conjures up and image of growth and fertility and of new beginnings and hope. Even though the poet doesn’t find solace in religion, she recognises and appreciates the power of nature. The arrival of the seed means that “the winter’s ended” and this is an extremely important message. It not only expresses the wonder of the seed as a means of new beginnings but underscores the hopeful, positive and optimistic mood of the poem.

  • Here you can see that this isn’t an overly complicated answer and in actual fact, I’ve tried to keep the answer as concise as possible. This is a 20 mark question, so you’re not going to be giving it the same amount of time as you’d give other questions, so naturally you’re not expected to go into the same amount of detail.
  • The question deals with the poem’s ‘mood’ which is often communicated through the tone, so your answer should reflect that in some way.
  • I’ve given a short answer that refers to the question throughout and avoided any unnecessary or superfluous words that only add pomp to your answer.
  • I’ve also tried not to over quote – this really isn’t that impressive, given that the poem is in front of you. If you’re over quoting, the examiner immediately recognises it as padding and an avoidance of the question.

(b)  Choose one image from the poem that appealed to you.  Explain your choice.    



“Seed” by Paula Meehan is a beautiful poem that contains a plethora of images which communicate the wonder of the seed. An image that appealed to me is one of the poet discovering a lupin in the aftermath of the storm. Meehan says that the lupins were “holding in their fingers a raindrop each like a peace offering or a promise”. I find this image to be extremely powerful and inspiring. Meehan recognises the damage of the storm as she “emerges from a house where hope had died”, but this discovery somehow reconciles the damage. I think that the poet acknowledges the cathartic qualities of the flower and it’s perceptible that Meehan views it as something which has the ability to withstand the harsh conditions of the storm. The idea that it is a promise is representative of the hope it brings with it. The raindrops have emerged from the storm in splendid glory and I believe that Meehan is communicating an uplifting message which is resoundingly positive. The raindrops are uses as a metaphor for new life and new beginnings. Meehan also personifies the flower, which elevates its importance and allows the reader to relate to it on a human level. The fact that it emerged “holding” the raindrops further exemplifies the immense power of nature. Throughout the poem, we are made aware of the regenerative qualities of the seed and this image highlights its ability to overcome adversity and emerge stronger than ever. Paula Meehan wishes to convey how something as small as a seed can be so powerful and important and her message is touching and uplifting. This image of the resilient lupin is not only one of the poem’s most appealing images, but it elucidates Meehan’s hopeful and upbeat message.

  • Once again, this is a simple answer, but it attends to the question throughout.
  • I’ve chosen my image and explained how it appealed to me.
  • What I’ve also tried to do is relate that image to the rest of the poem.
  • The important thing is to be aware of the question the question throughout and avoid waffling.