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.

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, 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

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.
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,
Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Poetry

A Personal Response to the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh by Jamie Tuohy

The following is an essay I’ve written on the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh. I’ve written a very general personal response as opposed to answering a specific question (simply because there haven’t really been any). Patrick Kavanagh is one of my favourite poets and it’s very likely that he will be one of the four poets that will come up on the Leaving Cert English paper this year.

He was on the course last year and he didn’t come up and if memory serves me correctly he was also prescribed the year before and he appeared on the paper. Therefore, I would predict that he will be on this year’s paper – after all Yeats came up in both 2010 and 2011. If he comes up this year, it will undoubtedly be a specific question, rather than a general personal response, but Patrick Kavanagh is the master of ‘making the ordinary extraordinary’ and I would imagine all questions to be loosely based around this idea.

Whatever the question is, the following essay should give you an idea as to how to structure your answer and what to talk about – language, metaphors, metonyms etc…


Jamie Tuohy

Patrick Kavanagh is an innovator of poetry. His avant-garde style of writing transcends time and his ability to make the ordinary extraordinary is both captivating and awe inspiring. His poetry made such an impact on me because it is his unadulterated love and sheer dedication to his craft that allows each poem to come to life. His ability to create a simplicity of image makes his poems accessible to all. Whether Kavanagh is detailing his isolation in Inniskeen, his love of theGrand Canal, or commenting on the sexual oppression felt by a rural farmer constrained by social criticism, I felt I was present when each line was spoken and this is a testament to Kavanagh’s ingenuity as a poet.

Kavanagh’s honesty is conspicuous in each one of his poems as they are written under the liberty of innocence. In his poem “Inniskeen Road: July Evening”, Kavanagh manages to capture the atmosphere of that ‘July Evening’ by combining effective imagery with his own emotional feelings towards the night. In the opening lines he says, “the bicycles go by in twos and threes”. I immediately get the sense that Inniskeen is a close knit community as everyone is travelling to the dance together. However, the camaraderie among the locals does not extend to Kavanagh. In the closing lines he says, “I am king, of banks and stones and every blooming thing”. In my opinion, this is the most effective line of the whole poem. By holding this image of himself, he is setting himself apart from everyone else – his profession sets him a part. There are slight undercurrents of condescension within these words, as I feel that Kavanagh is saying he is different from everyone else by virtue of being a poet. Ultimately, however, this poem evokes sympathy in me for Kavanagh. There is a certain worthlessness to his self title, as his kingdom holds no people – he is isolated from society.

Evidently, Kavanagh had a strong sense of place and in “Shancoduff”, I see a different attitude in Kavanagh towards his homeland. Immediately he connects with the place by claiming ownership of the hills – “my black hills have never seen the sun rising”. He displays a sense of pride over the hills, praising them as being “incurious”. My favourite image is when Kavanagh compares the lowly hills of Shancoduff to the majestic beauty of the Alps – “they are my Alps and I have climbed the Matterhorn”. This line inspires me to see things in a different light – through an artistic eye like Kavanagh. I too want to see the wonder in the mundane.

Kavanagh’s accessible language and clever use of language techniques play an intrinsic role in his poetry and in my opinion, it is displayed to perfection in “Canal Bank Walk” and “Lines Written on a Seat on theGrand Canal”. By employing techniques like alliteration and neologisms, Kavanagh captures my imagination and allows me to become enthralled by the words before me. In the opening like of “Canal Bank Walk”, Kavanagh opens with a neologism combined with alliteration when he says “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. The repetition of the ‘l’ sound creates an image in my mind where things are in full bloom and it arouses our senses to explore and thus read on. Neologism features heavily in “Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal”. Kavanagh says “where by a lock Niagarously roars”. Taking all his poems into consideration, this is my favourite neologism used by Kavanagh. I feel that his 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 breathtaking natural beauty of Niagara Falls.

Kavanagh makes each poem accessible and relevant through the straight forward titles he chooses for them. “A Christmas Childhood” and “Advent” are the poems  to which I could best relate. The first poem deals with the innocence of a child where everything is new and wonderful, while the latter deals with how experience diminishes innocence and everything becomes habitual and mundane. “A Christmas Childhood” is a highly sentimental poem where Kavanagh remembers his childhood. He says “my father played the melodeon outside our gate; there were stars in the morning east that danced to his music”. This memory struck a particular relevance with me as my grandfather plays the melodeon. When I was young, I used to sit on the floor, mesmerised by the expansion and contraction of the instrument. Even though he could only play one tune, it didn’t matter to me – I was just amazed that he could produce a melody that gained my interest. In “A Christmas Childhood”, Kavanagh beautifully describes and celebrates the innocene of childhood, highlighting the appreciation and excitement of the extraordinary in the ordinary. It’s a poem we can all relate, because as children, we all experienced the same delight as Kavanagh in the everyday world around us.

We lose this childhood innocence as we grow older and experience new things. In “Advent”, Kavanagh says “we have tested and tasted too much lover, through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder”. The Romantic idea of excess and the fact that we take things for granted when we become desensitised to them has not changed with the eras of English literature. “Advent” inspires me to see “the spirit shocking wonder” in the mudane and the ordinary. I believe that this poem epitomises the essence of innocence and encourages us all to taste the “dry black bread” and “sugarless tea” to regain what we have lost through cynicism. In the second stanza, Kavanagh brilliantly contrasts the views of an adult with those of a child by saying “and the newness that was in every stale thing when we looked at it as children”. This is a paradox, but encapsulates how wonderful childhood innocence is. The idea that something which an adult takes for granted is fascinating to a child, is both thought provoking and highly evocative. After reading “Advent”, I want to experience penance, forgiveness and grace “to charm back the luxury of a child’s soul”.

Despite the paradoxical title of “Epic”, Kavanagh’s fourteen line Petrarchan sonnet deals with the Duffy’s and the Mc Cabes – fighting over a “rood of rock” when a war beckons. This is the view I had about the quarrel until I read the last line – “Gods make their own importance”. Kavanagh is telling us that we have to fight for what is ours and make our own importance in history. I think that he is also reminding himself that poetry does not need grandiose inspiration – it can be created from the parochial. This further exemplifies Kavanagh’s ethos – the habitual and the ordinary make for great art and inspiration.

“The Great Hunger” is Kavanagh’s epic poem and it is undoubtedly my favourite by him. I find this poem effective because I see a bravery emerge in Kavanagh’s writing. He wasn’t afraid to comment on the taboo issue of sexual relations or challenge the Catholic hierarchy’s view of such activities. I admire Kavanagh for defying the sometimes idealistic view of what Ireland should be like, a view held by many of the other poets on my course, for example – Yeats. Yeats was a keen supporter of cultural nationalism and his work often promoted an unrealistic, over-spiritualized view of Ireland. Kavanagh rejected this in “The Great Hunger”. He distanced himself from Yeats and the Irish Literary Revival, as he felt that it was something which promoted an overly sentimental view of Ireland, and ignored  the real concerns of the Irish population. In “The Great Hunger”,  Kavanagh speaks about the lethargic life of Patrick Maguire who has led a solitary life of social, spiritual and sexual impoverishment. The intensity of Maguire’s hunger for this fulfilment is powerfully conveyed, as Kavanagh compares it to the Famine. There is a dominant sombre tone pervading the whole poem and after reading it, I feel an immense sense of sympathy for Patrick Maguire.

In the opening line of the poem, Kavanagh says, “clay is the word and clay is the flesh”. I feel that this line epitomises Patrick Maguire. He is defined only by the love he holds for his land – it is his religion. “Clay” is used as a metonym for Monaghan and I get the impression that it is barren and lifeless. I felt like I was a witness to Maguire’s loneliness, as Kavanagh repeatedly invites the reader into the poem by interjecting the inclusive pronoun “we”. In his head, Maguire feels lucky to have escaped the constraint of a wife and family, but his heart is filled with regret. The poem is dominated by his self delusion and I think that he is trying to convince himself that he has made the right decisions. The most heartbreaking line of the poem comes when the futility and emptiness of Maguire’s life is perceptible.  Kavanagh says, “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 fulfilment.

Kavanagh’s use of archetypal imagery adds to the heartbreak of this poem – as each leaf falls, Maguire is closer to death. I believe the last stanza is the most important in the poem as it is an amalgamation of Maguire’s life. Kavanagh says “come with me imagination”. The word ‘imagination’ is personified because it is the very thing that Maguire did not befriend. He lived his life through a lack of imagination and so he dies as he lived – “passively”. “The Great Hunger” is a wonderfully poignant and touching poem. It’s so appealing because of its seeming artlessness – it is accessible and enriched with colloquialisms, yet it is a beautifully crafted masterpiece that is highly sensual and evocative, containing a wealth of pathos and subtle brilliance.

I thoroughly enjoyed the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh because his poems are timeless and universal. Each poem gives the reader an insight into his imagination and allows us to experience the world through innocent eyes. His poetry is a celebration of the ordinary and familiar and a communication of the infinite wonder of the simple things in life. His poetry contains honest and truthful depictions of rural life, fantastic accounts of the wonders of a city and a plethora of thought provoking themes. The poetry of Patrick Kavanagh had such an effect on me because he wasn’t constrained by the views of an era. He was a libertarian of poetry, as he knew that is poetic licence knew no bounds!

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:


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!