A Bundle of Sticks


A Bundle of Sticks – The Darby Children

My father always said that a family was like a bundle of sticks: if one broke away the family collapsed. Ironically, he did not consider what would happen if  he decided to give one of his eight children away.

This memoir was completed and published in 2016 and is available to purchase from Amazon or directly from me..

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This poem was read by Michael Holding before the cricket ICC final. Very appropriate.

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Macbeth ~ expression of despair

Faced with the encroaching combined forces of Scotland and England, Macbeth gives way to despair in his nihilistic speech:


I have lived long enough. My way of life

Is fallen into the sear,the yellow leaf,

And that which should accompany old age,

As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,

I cannot look to have. But in their stead,

Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath,

Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not.

When the doctor tells him that Lady Macbeth is ‘troubled with thick-coming fancies’ Macbeth asks with a wistful desperation:

Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,

Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow;

Raze out the written troubles of the brain,

And with some sweet oblivious antidote

Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff

Which weighs upon the heart?

But despite the growing realisation that the witches have fooled him, Macbeth is a soldier first and foremost, and gears himself for battle, and the inevitable bloody end.

However, these two speeches are profound in that Shakespeare, despite the limited knowledge there was of the effects of emotional turmoil in the early seventeenth century, has Macbeth speak powerfully and eloquently of the need for psychological and medical assistance for the mentally sick.  Macbeth has run amok, killing those who oppose him, sadistically and maliciously destroying Macduff’s family, and yet he can speak with tremendous insight and poignancy about the horrors the human psyche can endure.

I have lived long enough …how often have those words been uttered and repeated throughout the centuries?  And how often, looking back over the years, has remorse and regret over things said and unsaid, done and neglected caused human beings to reflect, along with Macbeth:

‘..honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have.’

The listing, showing just how much Macbeth has lost, gives extra emphasis to his plight and state of mind. The ‘sere, the yellow leaf ‘  is evocative of  his conviction that anything sweet, fresh and desirable has gone from his life. He is fully aware of the fact that he has brought this on himself, and we can only wonder about a man who knows, before he murders the king, that it cannot bring him any lasting joy or satisfaction.  His soliloquy where he praises King Duncan, is heartfelt and honest, and he admits:

I have no spur…but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself…

Yet still he goes ahead.

Is he any different from the reckless and misguided among us who carry on regardless of warnings, advice and inner doubts?  He is, in that relatively few plot murder, but so many of us can empathise with his implied regrets  about his past actions.

As always, Shakespeare’s words are apposite for any audience, spanning the centuries with timeless observation.










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AQA Poetry

Frequently students tell me that they find poetry difficult to understand, and I think that this difficulty arises from the fact that it is an unfamiliar medium for them. I assure you that the more you acquaint yourself with this form of literature the easier it will become to understand, and if you make sure that you have a sound knowledge of figurative language, you will soon find a great joy and satisfaction in writing about poetry. Apart from metre and rhyme, poetry’s main distinction is that it is concentrated ~ there is so much to unpack and that is why poetry is rich in metaphor and simile which we term imagery.

The poems you have to understand and write about for your AQA examination are found in two sections: Power and Conflict and Love and Relationships. I will examine some of them with you today and then put guidance for all of them, including the ones not discussed here,  on my blog, which you will find under Judy Darby My writing and aspirations.

The first one I’d like us to look at is Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley.  The form of this poem is a sonnet but it is not a regular Shakespearean or Petrarchan one, although it is written in iambic pentameter and has a volta or turning point at line 9 as a Petrarchan sonnet does. But it lacks the regular rhyme scheme of a classic sonnet. Shelley might well have chosen an irregular rhyme scheme for more than one reason. He was a natural rebel and often did not conform to accepted conventions, but there might also be the desire to show that man’s power is finite and often illusory and that human structures will be destroyed over time with nature triumphing.

Ozymandias is the Greek name for the Pharaoh Rameses 2nd, who was as tyrannical and arrogant as typically pharaohs were. In this sonnet Shelley ridicules him by allowing the king to portray himself as a fool with his own words. The theme of this poem is that material structures and possessions decay over time, and pride really does come before a fall if that isn’t recognised. Perhaps Shelley is also trying to persuade us that art and language will endure far longer than the arrogance of the temporal ruler. The sculptor’s skill is also recognised along with the knowledge that his work cannot last.

Let us look at this poem line by line:

There are three voices in this poem: the narrator speaks first and very briefly, and tells us that he encountered someone who had visited an ancient land. This would have been a reference to Egypt. The second voice in the poem is that of the traveller who speaks of finding the remains of a statue in the desert. Vast and trunkless (line 2) emphasises how massive the statue was originally, and the arrogance of its namesake. We see from the outset that nature in the form of the desert is more powerful as the remains are ‘half sunk’ in the sand, and the face is ‘shatter’d’ . But signs of what the ruler was like are clear with his character revealed in his face: words such as ‘frown’, ‘wrinkled lip’ and ‘sneer of cold command’, the harsh chilling alliteration of the latter giving an unpleasant, uncompromising picture of Ozymandias. (lines 4 and 5)

The shrewdness of the sculptor is displayed in that he has ‘well those passions read’ of the king,  (line 6) recognising and reproducing in stone the arrogant tyrant’s nature, and he ‘mock’d’ his master by his portrayal of him. ‘The heart that fed’ is ambiguous but could well allude to the fact that while the sculptor was mocking Ozymandias, the ruler was paying him, doubtless unwitting of the sculptor’s scorn.

The words engraved on the pedestal are further proof of the egotistic, imperious nature of the king.

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.

He is describing himself as greater than any other ruler, and he is contemptuous and dismissive of those he terms as ‘mighty’. He cares only for his own power, more than willing to challenge others who are powerful also. The caesura in these two lines (10 and 11) emphasises king of kings, and also ye Mighty, and despair.

However, the ruin of this statue symbolises how fleeting his arrogant words and actions are, and the short, statement with its cold finality, nothing beside remains. The final lines with the caesura before the plosive alliterative boundless and bare and the lingering alliterative lone and level followed immediately by the smooth alliteration of sands stretch emphasise how nature has triumphed over man’s all too brief reign of arrogance and intimidation.

The themes of this poem are those of arrogance, pride and fleeting power. Ozymandias lacks any understanding of what is important in life along with other rulers of the time. Might was right and there was no place for empathy, compassion and humility.

London     William Blake

Blake’s London was a grim place for the working classes. Poverty was the norm and Blake felt that those who could help the poor did absolutely nothing. In this poem he writes of a walk round London and describes what he sees. He is filled with anger and a sense of helplessness. Each stanza examines a different aspect of everyday life, composing a complete picture of misery and despair. Blake’s criticism of the rich and powerful could also have been affected by the French revolution as there were many in England who saw that as a symbol of hope.

The form of the poem is regular trochaic tetrameter. This is four feet or eight syllables to the line, having one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one. Such regularity is rare in English verse, and this regularity paradoxically makes Blake’s description even more bleak and hopeless.

The first stanza tells us what Blake actually saw as he walked round the city.

The streets are ‘chartered’ which means that they are privately owned by virtue of Royal charters which led to restrictions in the rights of common people. The repetition of ‘chartered’ gives this emphasis, and Blake ‘marks’ or notices the ‘weakness’ and misery on the faces of everyone he sees. Again, he uses repetition to stress this fact, with ‘mark’ utilised as both a verb and noun.

The second stanza introduces the sounds of distress in the city and this time the repetition of ‘cry’ whether it be that of man, or laced with fear when from an ‘infant’ is given a sense of urgency and conviction when prefaced with ‘every’ for no one is immune, at least amongst the impoverished. Their plight also affects the way they think, for their restricted lives and punitive laws cause ‘mind-forged manacles’ which repress free thinking, for they aid the rich and powerful whose interests lie in keeping the working classes powerless.

Blake moves on to criticising those bodies who cause or ignore the problems. He is angry that the church does not speak out about child labour, specifically child chimney sweeps, their cries ‘every black’ning church appalls’, a double meaning as literally the filthy spewing factory chimneys would cover all buildings with a layer of soot, and metaphorically his reference is to the wilful ignoring by the church to suffering. Then the ‘hapless’, meaning unfortunate , soldiers who fight to protect privileged royalty, perhaps another reference to the battle with revolutionary France.

Stanza 4 is dark in both meaning and time. Blake refers to ‘midnight’ and prostitution. The girls are young: youthful harlot’ who would be prone to unwanted pregnancies and sexual diseases. These would be passed on to their clients and hence the oxymoron ‘marriage hearse’ as the diseases, often fatal would infect a whole household, ending in death. ‘Plagues’ has connotations of Old Testament biblical stories, with its hints of punishment.

This poem, with its ballad form, is angry and vitriolic. Blake feels helpless to change anything while inveighing against a political and religious system that is callous and self seeking with its blatant disregard for the impoverished and suffering.


The Prelude   William Wordsworth

This extract is from a much longer autobiographical poem in which Wordsworth records his experiences with nature as he grew from child to adult. He personifies nature, seeing her as having great influence on his moral and spiritual development.  In these lines he considers how nature rebukes his ‘borrowing’ of a boat without permission.

Wordsworth has written ‘The Prelude’ in iambic pentameter,ten syllables or five feet to a line, and it is also blank verse, which gives it a conversational air. The mood at the beginning of this extract is upbeat: One summer evening (led by her), and here he sounds as if feels that he has nature’s approval for what he intends to do, which is take the little boat for a ride. However, the poet has a sense of wrongdoing when he says, it was an act of stealth and troubled pleasure, the oxymoron emphasising his emotional conflict.

Nevertheless, all is well for the moment, and Wordsworth gives us a beautiful picture of the lake in the evening with the sibilant small circles glittering idly and sparkling light, and the young boy is proud of his skill believing that the  boat is magical, an elfin pinnace. The boy has a sense of being alone  with words such as utmost boundary, nothing  but the stars and the grey sky, and silent lake,  indicating this. This feeling lays the foundation for his overwhelming fear when suddenly he moves from the calm, happy simile, heaving through the water like a swan, to  ‘a huge peak, black and huge’ threatening his peace of mind. The repetition of huge coupled with upreared its head emphasises the sudden terror of the young boy, and he personifies the peak with the alliterative measured motion, usually a warm sound but given sinister overtones here. The simile like a living thing strode after me , is powerful, and the alliterative ‘L’ sound slows the words down creating extra emphasis.  

The boy turns the boat round, trembling oars revealing his emotional state, and still the lake is silent, as guiltily (stole) the boy makes his way back to the covert, or secret place. His mood has changed drastically from that when he set out . Words such as grave and serious and the fact that he feels darkness, and solitude of blank desertion give a bleak, frightening picture of the young boy’s emotions, with his lonely terror. This terror caused by his feelings of guilt, is marked, and remains with him for days. The repetition of no as he lists the loss of everything friendly and familiar gives us insight into his disturbed and guilty state of mind, especially as the pleasant images are replaced by huge and mighty forms ~ here again the vaguely defined huge reflects the young boy’s confusion. Despite the fact that earlier he sees the peak like a living thing, he sees the forms which now haunt him as not living like living men with the alliterative ‘L’ again slowing the language down to give greater emphasis. He is obsessed by these images in the daytime and troubled with nightmares.

This extract displays graphically the profound effect nature had upon Wordsworth from a young boy. It is a stark experience and illustrates how nature can chastise and punish as well as uplift and inspire.

My Last Duchess    Robert Browning

Browning’s inspiration for this poem came from the fact that the Duke of Ferrara’s wife, Lucrezia, died in suspicious circumstances in 1561.  Browning was further attracted to her story as she was a patron of the arts. Here, he imagines the story of her unfortunate marriage to the Duke, through the Duke’s eyes and viewpoint, yet manages to create sympathy for her alone.

The poem, a dramatic monologue, is written in iambic pentameter, in rhyming couplets. However, the use of enjambment keeps the poem flowing with his self righteous anger and the rhymes are not obvious or intrusive, although indicative of his cold self control and desire to control others.

The setting for the poem is the Duke’s palace. He is showing a visitor round, showing off his possessions. The visitor is part of a group from a count, and they are finalising the financial arrangements for the Duke’s marriage to the count’s daughter.

The poem begins in the middle of a conversation and immediately we learn that the Duke’s wife is dead. The alliterative looking as if she were alive lingers the words out giving emphasis to the fact that this man prefers her picture to the flesh and blood live woman. He recognises the fact that she has ‘depth and passion’ but suspects that it was not directed at him alone, but in this instance towards the painter, Fra Pandolf. He acknowledges that the Duchess appreciated courtesy and that courtesy from the painter was ’cause enough for calling up that spot of joy.’

In his frustration at his wife’s attitude the Duke declares: She thanked men –good! But thanked somehow – I know not how…’

And then the real reason comes flooding out: as if she ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name with anybody’s gift. His understanding of his wife’s appreciation of the minor pleasures of life and its beauty is strictly limited, and we receive the impression that the dropping of the daylight in the west, with its hard alliteration giving the words emphasis leaves him untouched.

His anger rising as he recollects, the Duke reveals his arrogance as he asks who’d stoop to blame this sort of trifling? It is patently clear that he wouldn’t, though he makes the claim that he hasn’t the verbal skills to educate her into his way of thinking, not expecting his words to be taken seriously as he is too egotistical for that or to attempt to explain what he considers she should instinctively know. His pronouncement, I choose never to stoop, is characteristic of his arrogant ruthlessness.

The tipping point for the Duke appears to be the fact that his wife smiled at everyone in acknowledgement, and not just him. The chilling words: This grew; I gave commands; then all smiles stopped together. He follows this seamlessly with there she stands as if alive. He is now satisfied.

This poem is ironic in that the visitor is expected to approve and sympathise with the Duke. He is cruel and monstrous, and the picture we receive of his wife is contrary to his perception of her. We also note that he is grasping, in that it is clear that the dowry he will receive is what matters to him most in this present marriage negotiation. The symbolism of Neptune taming a sea horse is a sinister reminder of what happens to those who do not act as he expects them to.


Kamikaze   Beatrice Garland

This is a gentle, sad poem about a kamikaze pilot who changed his mind at the last minute, overcoming the training and brainwashing to return to a family and community who acted as if he didn’t exist, so great was the reflected shame. Kamikaze pilots were Japanese pilots towards the end of the second world war who were trained for suicidal missions by flying into enemy ships.

The form of the poem is irregular and this reflects the irregularity of its content. The enjambment at the end of most lines, including the final line of the first five stanzas gives the poem flow and pace. One sentence comprises the tale of the pilot’s aborted journey. The poem is mainly told in  third person reported speech by the pilot’s daughter, but her actual words are italicised in the last two stanzas.

The first stanza informs us of some of the tools of the trade of a kamikaze pilot, both physical and mental: a flask of water, a samurai sword…a shaven head full of incantations. The smooth sibilance causes the ritual to sound mundane, but the stanza finishes with the grim reminder that this is a one-way journey into history. The reader’s imagination is left to insert the fact that not only will the pilot not be coming home, but in the name of patriotism wholesale destruction will have occurred also.

The pilot’s daughter imagines that he is greatly affected by the fishing boats below him and the simile strung out like bunting gives a strangely festive air to his suicidal mission, while the green-blue translucent sea is a peaceful image made even stronger by the dark shoals of fishes he spies with the beauty of their flashing silver. The alliteration is onomatopoeic and evocative as we imagine the fish happily turning their bellies swivelled towards the sun.

It is certainly evocative for the pilot and we are given another picture of boy on the shore with his brothers with the colour of pearl-grey pebbles, the plosive alliteration firmly fixing the image, and the aural sense is brought into play together with the visual with the turbulent inrush of breakers. This turbulence must have found echoes in the adult who changed his mind, although the poet never spells that out, but leaves the reader to discover from subsequent events. Just as the pilot’s father came home safely in his fishing boat, and safe is repeated to emphasise that point, so too does the pilot, but ironically his homecoming, unlike his father’s, is not met with welcome and joy, but with silence.

The description of the fish caught by the grandfather is vivid and powerful, finishing with the metaphor of the tuna the dark prince, muscular, dangerous, and demonstrates the power of memory to change a mind set. The alliterative safe… shore, salt-sodden, awash…creates a peaceful picture of the pilot’s past, a far cry from his present destructive activity.

He was never to re-create that peace and happiness. Treated worse than a pariah by his wife and neighbours who treated him as though he no longer existed, this unfortunate man was condemned to silence even in due course from his children. The words, no longer the father we loved are ironic as to establish that position he had rejected wholesale slaughter. The final words have great poignancy as his daughter reflects that he must have pondered which had been the better way to die.


Storm on the Island    Seamus Heaney

In this poem Heaney describes a community, and how it is prepared for a storm which could also be a metaphor for facing the storms and difficulties of life. It is written in blank verse, unrhyming iambic pentameter, except for the half rhyme in the opening and closing couplets. It is a dramatic monologue. The conversational aspect is emphasised by such comments as, as you can see and you know what I mean.

The poem begins with a simple, strong statement: we are prepared. We learn that the buildings are squat set in rock and roofed with good slate. It is clear that the islanders are no strangers to storms. There is a gentle ironic humour in the assertion that the wizened earth has never troubled us with hay. The adjective wizened graphically describes the dry barren ground with which the islanders are surrounded, and the alliteration in stacks or stooks and the fact that such things are absent, emphasises the lack of natural growth on the island.

The gentle irony is continued when Heaney writes that trees might have prove(d) company. He then explains that their tragic chorus might have given distraction from the worry of what the storm might bring, when it pummels the house, despite listening to the thing you fear. There is a paradox here and the personification of the trees with their wailing gives a strange, eerie impression.

After discussing the potential company of the trees and acknowledging that there are none, with the repetition of no and the alliterative no natural, and also the caesura, giving emphasis to this, Heaney moves on to considering the sea as company. He uses the onomatopoeic  oxymoron exploding comfortably as if to negate its threat, but then contradicts this by describing it as a tame cat turned savage; there is something disturbing about a domestic pet changing in this way, and the onomatopoeic spits gives an added dimension to this disturbance.  

The caesura before Heaney moves on to seeing the storm in war terms gives extra emphasis to this change of imagery. The islanders have no option but to sit out the storm and just sit tight implies a resignation, for they will have endured it all before. Battle imagery now takes over with the use of strafe and salvo with the islanders being bombarded by air. Heaney finishes on a surreal note about a state of mind which he acknowledges is strange.

It is a huge nothing that we fear.

The poem moves from its assured beginning about safety from the storm to fear and danger, but finishes on a wondering note as he concludes that there is nothing to fear. Is Heaney implying that, despite its apparent dangers, we should also be unafraid of what life can throw at us? Do we, in his words, just sit tight?


The Charge of the Light Brigade

This is probably the most famous and well known poem in this section, and tells of the fateful Battle of Balaclava in 1854, during the Crimean War. The soldiers were ordered to advance into a valley which was surrounded by the enemy Russian forces. Six-hundred-and-seven entered that valley: three-hundred-and-two returned.  The pointless loss of life was appalling and the The order to charge was a terrible mistake, and Tennyson acknowledges this,  someone had blunder’d , but concentrates on the bravery and heroism of the men rather than the blunder.

The form of the poem is written in dactylic meter, a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. This gives a regular, pacy rhythm, evocative of horses galloping. Repetition is used throughout the poem, emphasising the tragedy and the courage of the men. Anaphora emphasises Tennyson’s message and also the sense of intensity and impending doom.

The first stanza demonstrates the energy and momentum of the men as they enter the valley, intent on retrieving their stolen guns.  But we are made aware of the dangers with words such as valley of Death which is repeated.  In the second stanza we learn that the men were aware that the order was mistaken but went on stoically. The men were not dismay’d and then follows some of the most well known words in English poetry:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die…

The repetition and the hard alliteration make the message forceful and the men’s sense of duty is unflinching: they obey without question.

Despite the tragic situation Tennyson sees glory in the battle. Indeed he uses the word glory, along with noble, honour, and hero. The men are storm’d …with shot and shell, the sibilance emphasising the flying ammunition.  They charge boldly and well, chillingly into the jaws of Death, into the mouth of Hell, and the personification gives a sinister, forbidding aspect to the proceedings. The repetition of this later in the poem, this time their return from the valley gives a bleak emphasis to the loss of life.

Tennyson appeals to the reader to admire these brave men whose patriotism and sacrifice go beyond the bounds of duty.  There is a terrible poignancy in the words all that was left of them…They had come back from the mouth of Hell, like mythological heroes, and a Biblical connotation is found in the valley of Death. 

As Poet Laureate Tennyson would be expected to write loyally and patriotically about any war his country was involved in, and therefore there is no real criticism of the mismanaged situation.  Attitudes were different also and the overwhelming feeling and emotion was that of pride for the British soldiers.  However, the reader is left with a feeling of horror and poignancy about the avoidable massacre of these courageous, doomed men.






Love and Relationships

Porphyria’s Lover

This poem tells of an obviously deranged man who takes desperate measures to make sure that he owns his lover, that she becomes his alone. It is written as one long stanza in dramatic monologue with an asymmetrical rhyme scheme with eight syllables to the line ~ tetrameter. This lack of symmetry indicates the narrator’s instability, while the regularity of the rhythm is in harmony with his disconcerting calmness over his actions.

The poem opens with pathetic fallacy setting the scene: the rain set early in…the sullen wind was soon awake. The personification gives an eerie strange foreboding to this opening, with a sense of malice, for the wind tore the elm-tops down for spite. The narrator is a deeply emotional man as he listens to the storm with heart fit to break, while he is separated from his lover.

Porphyria arrives, and her arrival changes the way he feels but not immediately, as he sits sulking while she shut the cold out and knelt down to re-kindle the fire. The language which describes her willingness to make him comfortable is positive and loving as she made…all the cottage warm. By contrast, despite the fact that she has come through ‘cold’ and ‘storm’ and ‘soiled’ her gloves re-lighting the fire for him, ‘no voice replied’ when she calls him, for Browning offers us a petulant image of the narrator. Porphyria is presented as flirtatious and generous hearted, free both with her actions and endearments for she made my cheek lie on her shoulder, and murmured how she loved me.

The narrator begins to believe that Porphyria really does love him, but his conundrum is that she needs, in his opinion, to commit to him totally, free from pride, and vainer ties dissever. He resents the part of her life in which he has no part. But he has mixed thoughts about this as he acknowledges that she left her other companions to come to him,so pale for love of her…through wind and rain. The repetition of pathetic fallacy emphasises the sense of unease and the unpredictably of the situation.

We realise that the narrator is dangerous and unstable when he contemplates what to do, stressing the fact that she was his. The repetition of mine, mine and his desire to keep her perfectly pure with its plosive alliteration has menacing overtones. This menace is given a sense of incredulity when he deludes himself: no pain felt she; I am quite sure she felt no pain, and the repetitive, emphatic ‘no’ reveals his need to convince himself. By this time his delusion seems to be bizarre as he says that when he warily opens her eyes, using the simile of a bee enclosed in a bud as if afraid he might be hurt, her eyes are without a stain, a situation that would be impossible. His delusion continues and the plosive blushed bright he attributes to his burning kiss rather than the effects of strangulation.

Browning’s portrait of this man is disturbing in the murderer’s conviction that all is well now that Porphyria is dead, and his long night’s vigil increases his certainty. He tells himself that her smiling rosy little head is glad that now she is with him permanently, that it is her utmost will, and  her darling wish, a strange comment with its connotation that Porphyria connived at her own death, darling meaning favourite in this context. We are given a happy, charming picture of Porphyria and feel the injustice and cruelty of having her life ended by the destructive, selfish love of her lover.

The narrator finds it necessary to have God’s approval for what he has done, and the implication is that because he has sat there all night, and yet God has not said a word! he has divine approval, or that he has escaped divine punishment. The former is more likely, as it is apparent from the rest of the poem that he feels that his actions are not only justifiable, but desirable for both him and Porphyria.

As in My Last Duchess this is a dramatic monologue told from a man’s point of view about a woman who is close to him. Again, despite the fact that we do not hear the woman’s voice at all, our sympathy lies totally with her. In Porphyria’s Lover, as in MLD an apparently innocent, loving woman meets a terrible death at the hands of a jealous man whose role should be to love and protect her.


The Farmer’s Bride   Charlotte Mew

Charlotte Mew’s life was often deeply unhappy and tinged with tragedy. This poem can be seen to reflect her own ambivalence towards men, and the fear of the young bride of her husband’s sexual advances is poignant.

The poem is in the form of a dramatic monologue, mainly iambic tetrameter, told through the voice of the husband, a farmer who is bewildered by the attitude of his young bride. When she runs away she is brought forcibly back to the farm and locked in to endure a life of domestic servitude, but taking herself up into the attic to sleep alone. Both husband and wife are distressed by the situation for very different reasons.

The farmer admits that the young his bride might well be too young for marriage ~ too young maybe ~ but he is a down too earth man and says that there is too much to do at harvest time than bide and woo, meaning that courtship has no place in his busy life, and that he needed a wife to run the domestic side of the farm. His insensitive attitude leads to immediate problems, but the language he uses to describe her fear is strangely lyrical and sympathetic:

Like the shut of a winter’s day her smile went out, and this powerful simile regarding the sudden change in the girl, is followed by another with the gentle alliteration emphasising her vulnerability: more like a little frightened fay, an allusion to a fairy. Her running away, like some terrified animal, seems almost inevitable. Further comparisons with wild animals are made when she is likened to a fleeing hare, that she has a wide brown stare and is all in a shiver and a scare, just like an animal at bay.

The farmer has been married three years (summers) and he reflects in some bemusement on the present state of affairs. She carries out the domestic chores expected of her but her only real contact is with the animals who love her, as she interacts happily with birds and rabbits and such as they. But her terror of men seems to have increased, and the repetitious not near, not near, is directed at the men on the farm. There is a sad comment on the situation by the farmer when he relates how fond the cattle is of her: look round like children at her call. He comments: I’ve hardly heard her speak at all. Not only does she not sleep with him but she also has no social interaction with him at all.

Four of the most beautiful lines in the poem follow, packed with similes about nature and her affinity with it. She is shy and swift as a leveret, she is straight and slight as a tree with the alliteration emphasising her smooth, slender, upright form and she is sweet and wild, but, the farmer pleads, what to me? He is unable to understand her reaction and attitude.

As the days pass from summer through autumn to winter, the farmer becomes more bewildered and discontented. He speaks in a country dialect but utters words of beauty, revealing a sensitive side to him. The colours he uses to describe the countryside are beautiful, with the brown of the oaks, the blue smoke, black earth with its white frosty layer and the red berries. These observations lead the farmer to contemplate Christmas and the fact that it is a time for birth: What’s Christmas time without there be some other in the house than we?

The last, relatively short stanza, reveals that the farmer has grown close to breaking point, and we fear for his bride up in the attic there alone, although he describes her as a poor maid. His frustration is growing as he considers the fact that there is but a stair between us. His language takes on a desperate note with his exclamation Oh! my God!  The repetition displays his desire: the down, the soft young down of her, and again she is described as one would a young animal. He also repeats the brown, the brown of her, and links this with her eyes and hair. These last lines are full of half rhyme and repetition and indicate how close he is to breaking point, and we fear that there can be no happy ending for either of them, but particularly his bride.


Singh Song

The form of this poem is irregular but has some lyrical humorous repeated rhymes as the poet takes on the persona of a young, newly married shopkeeper who resents the time spent working when he could be with his bride. His relationship with his wife contrasts sharply with that of the farmer in The Farmer’s Bride. The young shopkeeper’s bride is worldly wise and modern, with ideas and attitudes of her own.

Nagra uses dialect to give emphasis to the voice of the narrator and uses lighthearted language and puns such as the title. Repetition is used which emphasises the rhythmic feel of the poem:

Vee share in chapatti

Vee share in di chutney.

And the chorus adds to this lighthearted refrain:

Hey Singh, ver yoo bin?

Putney is Punjabi for ‘wife’ so again there is a play on words here along with the simile to describe their love making.

The shopkeeper is unembarrassed by the criticism he receives from his customers and repeats it with the alliterative lemons are limes giving a lingering emphasis to the comments. He has no regard for the quality of the shop’s provisions or its opening times. Perhaps his sense of injustice from his father vunt me not to have a break, enables him to shrug off the accusation that his is di worst Indian shop on did whole Indian road.

The shopkeeper’s new wife is quite a character with her loud, uncoordinated dress sense blending her red crew cut…tartan sari and …donkey jacket with her clearly dangerous personality: eyes ov a gun, and more endearingly, tummy ov a teddy, with the crisp alliteration creating a vivid picture of this young woman.

Her husband admires her skill in operating her dating site, a far cry from an arranged marriage situation, yet paradoxically she is helping to arrange marriages. She exploits her clients, two cat by charging them cheese ov her price. He also finds her disrespectful attitude towards his parents, amusing, and there is humour in effing at my mum in all the colours of Punjabi. She also implies not too subtly that his father likes alcohol too much when she stumble like a drunk making fun at my daddy. This girl is far from the stereotypical Indian bride.

The bride and groom are of second generation Punjabi culture and Nagra is demonstrating the differences between the generations, both in work ethic and personal life. His father clearly owns several shops: I run just one and his son is indifferent to any effort that went into the building of his father’s business. He has chosen a wife who also shows contempt for tradition.

The young couple have their dreams and their mutual love. The narrator addresses the shoppers directly when he writes musically and alliteratively of the concrete-cool precinct, the whispering stairs down which they go to reach the silver stool where they share their love and thoughts. The shopkeeper’s love for his wife is double the cost of the moon, and indeed is priceless. The views of the community are irrelevant as far as they are concerned, all that matters is their mutual gratification, and their tender romance.


Love’s Philosophy   Percy Bysshe Shelley

The word ‘philosophy’ comes from the Greek, meaning ‘love of wisdom’ and has come to be defined as the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence, and how we make sense of it all. Here, Shelley tries to come to an understanding of the nature of love.

Shelley was one of the Romantics and as such believed in the freedom of self expression, emotional intensity, spontaneity and originality. The Romantics put emphasis on nature also and thought of themselves as free spirits expressing imaginative truths.

The form of Love’s Philosophy is regular in its rhyme scheme except for two lines in each stanza which don’t fully rhyme, just as the narrator and his loved one stand apart from harmonious nature. The argument is clear: if everything in nature is linked harmoniously why isn’t his relationship also, especially as it decreed by God: by a law divine.

Shelley uses beautiful imagery in his description of the harmony of nature and the fact that fountains mingle as they flow into the rivers which in their turn flow into the sea, gives a sense of fluid, unbroken connection while winds with their divine connotations blend with sweet emotion. Shelley avers, like Donne before him, that nothing in this world is single, nothing detached, and that this is the decree of God. The stanza finishes with a plaintive plea that if everything’s being is merged with that of another, Why not I with thine?

Shelley’s thoughts soar as he imagines that mountains kiss high heaven, and continues the personification with waves clasp(ing) one another and dismissing any idea of a sister-flower disdaining its brother. Indeed all nature is loving and supportive of any aspect of nature, whether it be the sunlight clasp(ing) the earth, and moonbeams kiss(ing) the sea. His words are hyperbolic and he is repetitious in his argument with clasp and kiss being stressed. His argument is simple in that if everything is nature finds it possible and easy to cooperate and come together, then surely he should be able to be together with the woman he loves. The last line in each stanza is monosyllabic and simply expressed for Shelley finds nothing complicated in his assertion that he should be one with his love.

Shelley’s introduction of God into his reasoning helps to give it extra power for divine approval makes his words more persuasive. Ironically, Shelley was an atheist, and was expelled from university for his views. So perhaps this poem is not altogether serious but rather meant to be playful and amusing. Either way it is lyrical and the central idea with its natural imagery is very endearing.

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Sea with clouds

Behind, in front, above, there’s no way out,

Contempt and mockery unleash my fears:

Fingers of mist and menace point and jeer

The fog surrounds and masks my blinding tears.


Once more the shaft of fear, of icy dread,

Once more the fog of guilt and stark remorse,

Once more paralysis of mind and soul

Save for the active conscience, potent force.


I struggle forward but to no avail,

The tentacles of fog reach out to bruise;

My lungs are drowning in the poisonous mist:

Once more the battle I’ll concede and lose…


But there’s a voice of warmth, control and balm

That urges me to venture through the hell;

Its quiet tone fills me with hope and calm

Gives me the strength to fight the fog’s cruel knell.


It will not leave me battling on alone,

It will not leave me stranded on the shore:

I must have faith and hope, my trust in you

Will see me through the fog and dark once more.


I hear the sea, the gulls’ wild plaintive call,

I hear the waves come crashing on the beach,

I taste and feel the salt upon my lips

Yet still the kindly ocean’s out of reach.


Your voice is gentle, urging on my steps

I hear you through the gulls’ loud, piercing cries;

But yours, the voice eternal, reigns supreme:

Measured and mellow, comforting and wise.


The sand is cool and gritty through my toes,

Its dampness tells me that the waves are near;

Your voice impels me forward in the darkness

And mitigates my nightmare and my fear.


And finally!  the water now engulfs me,

Horizons beckon in the lightening skies;

The fog is clearing, stars blink down benignly

And joy once more finds voice to sing and rise.


July, 2017


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A Bundle of Sticks ~ now published

At last my memoir has been published and is selling well.  It is good that my American friends and relatives have received it so favourably, and it is selling equally well on Amazon.co and amazon.com.  It’s great that people are seeing how wonderful Shirley was to her younger brothers and sisters, and so sad that she sacrificed her childhood to do so.



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English Enigmas

Help with English?

I am happy to answer any queries regarding grammar, punctuation, style…or anything else you might find tricky.

I know that so much that is found on-line is inaccurate, but will give you the experience of years of English teaching.  Just post your enquiry and I will explain anything that is puzzling you.

Whether your problem is with language or literature, for examination purposes, business or general interest, don’t hesitate.  Just get in touch.



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Yesterday I went to Bournemouth on the train.  I craved a glimpse of the sea and the chance to battle against the waves.  I also needed somewhere natural and untamed to think.

I arrived at Bournemouth Station feeling hot and tired, thinking that I was crazy to have come all that way for a few hours.  Outside the station I hesitated.  Which way to the sea?  Approaching the only person not absorbed in conversation or mobile phone, I asked for directions.

‘You’d need a taxi,’ he said.  ‘I’m meeting a friend here, and then I’ll give you a lift.’

‘No thank you, if you just point me in the right direction.’

He waved away my refusal.  ‘Of course I’ll take you. It’s no bother at all.’

His friend arrived at that moment, saying, ‘Hello, Mr. Moles.’ They hugged and kissed and he introduced her as Sonia,  explained that they would be giving me a lift.

‘This is really kind,’ I said, in some embarrassment.  ‘I hope it’s not out of your way.’

‘Not at all,’ said Sonia.  ‘Where do you want to go, Bournemouth or Boscombe?’

‘Anywhere where I can swim.’

‘Boscombe’, they said together.

‘I used to live there,’  explained Sonia.  ‘Now I live in Sheffield, but I come down every now and then to stay with Mr. Moles, don’t I Mr. Moles?’

He chuckled.  ‘You do,’  and reached for her hand briefly as he drove,

‘Why Sheffield after this beautiful spot?’

They both laughed and looked at each other.  ‘Why indeed?’  said Sonia, and Mr. Moles added,  ‘That’s a very good question.’

‘I like Sheffield,’  said Sonia, ‘but it’s grey by comparison.  I used to live in one of the flats overlooking Boscombe beach. It was beautiful.’

She paused,  ‘My leaving here and going to Sheffield is a long story.’

They exchanged glances again.  Then Sonia turned her attention to me.

I explained that I had come down from London for a few hours to be by and in the sea.

‘You’re brave to come all that way for such a short time.’

‘No.  I just had a longing to be by the sea.’

They dropped me off and advised me  that ‘Brief Encounter’ was the place for a meal and drink if I wanted one later.

‘Like the film?’

‘Yes, like the film,’ and they laughed.

I discovered later, as I strolled past that it was ‘Reef Encounter.’

I waved goodbye and made my way down to the sand and sea, the shrieking of gulls, the steady rhythmic beat of the waves, and the shouts of the children all around me, and wondered about Mr. Moles and his Sonia. There is a story there but only they can tell it.

I changed with a towel round me for modesty although no one gave me a glance, and hid my bag and possessions under the lifeguards platform.

Then to the sea!  It was wonderful!  The waves were rough and playful and knocked me off balance as I struggled into deep enough water to swim.  I was buffeted and thrown back to the beach time and again, and loved every minute.  Several people were standing in the surf, jumping and squealing bur few were actually swimming.

When I finally and regretfully emerged I put my clothes back on and damply set off for a walk before realising that I had mislaid my glasses.  Back to the lifeguard’s platform, blindly scrambling round in the sand, I found them, and triumphant, set off once more.

Once away from the ice cream sellers and the hot food stands, with their greasy queasy smells, I soon found it became quieter.  I walked until I was weary, then sat down with my book, cheese sandwich and water and felt that it was heaven.

I finally walked back to Bournemouth station. It was a long slog but it was some time before I hit a road with any bus stops and by that time I though I might just as well keep walking.

On the train back I thought about Mr. Moles and Sonia.  What private joke had originated her name for him?  I wondered if they would be eating in ‘Brief Encounter’ and hoped that when she returned to Sheffield their parting wouldn’t be sad.

Did I find the peace I craved in Boscombe?  Not remotely, but I don’t regret the trip.










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