With the Leaving and Junior Certificate exams just around the corner, here at The Circular we thought we’d take a trip down memory lane at five poems that remind us of (the dreaded) English Paper 2. We don’t know about you, but we’ve come to find a second appreciation for them.
1. The War Horse – Eavan Boland
Eavan Boland failed to turn up for English paper two back in 2010 and some of us are still traumatised from the event.
This dry night, nothing unusual
About the clip, clop, casual
Iron of his shoes as he stamps death
Like a mint on the innocent coinage of earth.
I lift the window, watch the ambling feather
Of hock and fetlock, loosed from its daily tether
In the tinker camp on the Enniskerry Road,
Pass, his breath hissing, his snuffling head
Down. He is gone. No great harm is done.
Only a leaf of our laurel hedge is torn—
Of distant interest like a maimed limb,
Only a rose which now will never climb
The stone of our house, expendable, a mere
Line of defence against him, a volunteer
You might say, only a crocus, its bulbous head
Blown from growth, one of the screamless dead.
But we, we are safe, our unformed fear
Of fierce commitment gone; why should we care
If a rose, a hedge, a crocus are uprooted
Like corpses, remote, crushed, mutilated?
He stumbles on like a rumour of war, huge
Threatening. Neighbours use the subterfuge
Of curtains. He stumbles down our short street
Thankfully passing us. I pause, wait,
Then to breathe relief lean on the sill
And for a second only my blood is still
With atavism. That rose he smashed frays
Ribboned across our hedge, recalling days
Of burned countryside, illicit braid:
A cause ruined before, a world betrayed
2. Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers – Adrienne Rich
Adrienne Rich was fond of a bit of aliteration and we are too.
Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.
Aunt Jennifer’s finger fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.
When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.
3. Mid-Term Break – Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney really pulls on the heart strings with this highly emotional masterpiece. The last line gets us every time.
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home.
In the porch I met my father crying—
He had always taken funerals in his stride—
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.
The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand
And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble’.
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand
In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.
Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,
Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four-foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four-foot box, a foot for every year.
4. The Road Not Taken – Robert Frost
A personal favourite here at The Circular, Frost’s poem is just as relevant today as when he wrote it back in 1915.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
5. The Lake Isle of Innisfree – W.B Yeats
There isn’t a soul on this island that has gone through the Irish education system who can’t recite a line or four of Yeat’s work of art.
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.