William Blake poetry
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Poetry – AS Paper 2, Section B The Language of Literary Texts
A Level Paper 2, Section A The Language of Poetry and Plays
At both AS and A Level, this examined component asks students to analyse the use and impact of poetic and stylistic techniques, demonstrating how meaning and effects are created.
Topic: William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience.
- Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of a substantial poetry collection.
- Apply relevant methods for text analysis, drawing on linguistic and literary techniques.
- Explore how linguistic and literary approaches can inform interpretations of texts.
- Identify how meanings and effects are created and conveyed in texts.
- Analyse the ways in which a poetry text draws on its literary, cultural and stylistic contexts.
At AS Level the exam asks the students to compare two named poems from the collection they have been studying.
At A Level the exam asks the students to compare the named poem with one or two others of their choice from the collection they have been studying.
This examined component requires the students to read the following fifteen poems from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience: “Introduction” (I), “The Lamb” (I), “Nurses Song” (I), “The Eccoing Green” (I), “Holy Thursday” (I), “The Divine Image” (I), “The Chimney-Sweeper” (I), “The Clod and the Pebble” (E), “Holy Thursday” (E), “The Chimney-Sweeper” (E), “Nurse’s Song” (E), “The Tyger” (E), “The Garden of Love” (E), “London” (E), “The Human Abstract” (E).
In this Language and Literature specification, the students will analyse how meanings are shaped in poetry, exploring how the poet uses poetic and stylistic techniques to present ideas. They will focus on the way in which meaning is created through the use of pattern making and pattern breaking, (deviation) and through repetition.
This analysis will require the students to have an awareness of phonology, lexis and semantics, grammar and morphology, pragmatics and discourse.
They will also analyse the connections between the poems, and explore the influence of context on the poems. The context may be the literary context (the way in which the poem uses the conventions of a particular genre, for example), or the broader social or historical context.
Conceptual links to other parts of the specification
In common with AS Paper 2, Section A (The Language of Prose), and A Level Paper 3, Section A (Reading as a Writer, Writing as a Reader), this paper requires the students to think about how the texts are constructed, rather than simply analyse the themes, for example. The focus might be on how the choice of first person narrator shapes the meaning of the poem, for instance, rather than on who that narrator actually is.
The students closely analyse the language of poetry through poetic and stylistic techniques, and this is a useful skill that can be applied to other AS and A Level units. The knowledge they gain about the way in which language works, the effects that it creates, and the ways in which it can be used, is also an excellent basis for the students’ own written work in A Level, and for any analysis that they do of either spoken or written texts in almost any genre.
An understanding of the relevance of context is essential to any study that requires students to think about the purpose or audience of the text (particularly relevant in the exploration of the texts in the anthology in AS and A Level Paper 1, for example).
In this component, the students are already required to make connections between two named poems (AS) or between one named poem and one or two poems of their choice (A Level), and this process of finding connections is part of thinking contextually. The students are exploring the poem in the light of at least one other poem in the collection, and are therefore thinking about the patterns that emerge or the patterns that are broken in terms of the poet’s choice of lexis, syntax etc.
An awareness of the broader context of other genres is also required in order that the students can see how the poet breaks or follows those conventions.
Some knowledge of the wider social or historical context may be useful, if that context affects the grammatical or lexical choices made by the poet.
The activities in this guide are examples of the way in which the context of the poems can be explored:
Learner Resource 2: Exploration of the terms “Innocence” and “Experience”, alternative interpretations of the definitions, literary context.
Learner Resource 5: Close analysis of “The Tyger”, three versions of the poem revealing lexical choices.
Learner Resource 6: Comparison of “Nurse’s Song” in Innocence and Experience, social context of influential perceptions of childhood.
This activity encourages the students to use the engravings of the poems to prompt their thoughts about the difference between Blake’s “innocence” and “experience”. They move from the visual image, through qualities of the terms as identified by critics, to the poems themselves. The activity offers them a gentle introduction to the first poem of The Songs of Innocence. The images could be produced on A3 to form a display, onto which the students could add the words they associate with each image.
For online access to Blake’s engravings click on the Resources link. Students could be asked to choose an engraving that they feel most strongly shapes the meaning of the poem, research it and feed back their analysis to the class.
This activity could lead to Learner resource 2, (a more in-depth analysis of interpretations of the terms “innocence” and “experience” and onto Learner resource 3 (in which the students closely analyse aspects of The Songs of Innocence “Introduction”).
Exactly what qualities “innocence” and “experience” carry in Blake’s work has occupied critics for decades. It is generally accepted that the innocence has connotations of naïvity, and this activity encourages students to settle on this definition of “innocence” rather than on one that implies a lack of guilt. It may be that the students end up (having explored the dictionary definitions and the critics’ summarised views of the two states) deciding that the two terms are not antonyms of one another.
For a further summary of Blake’s ideas of “innocence” and “experience” click on the 'Blake's songs' link. The students could arrive at their own understanding, and then identify aspects of this view with which they agree or disagree. It could be the starting point for a summative class discussion.
This activity could be done once a few poems have been studied, in order that the students have an understanding about how “innocence” and “experience” are represented in the poetry. It could also be done as a revision exercise at the end of studying this unit.
This is an activity in which the students work in groups on clusters of different word classes taken from the poem “Introduction” from Songs of Innocence. They have guidance in the form of open and closed questions to help their discussion and analysis. Having heard all the feedback, it may be worth having a discussion about how the meaning emerges from these apparently disconnected words. This may be a new way for the students to approach the poem, and they may be surprised to discover the depth of analysis that can be achieved. The summative discussion that takes place after the students have read the poem is a useful opportunity for the students to realise this. The introductory paragraph task could be done individually in class, as an assignment, or as a group activity.
This activity would work well early on in the teaching of Blake, building the students’ confidence in terms of writing about Blake and considering his use of poetic and stylistic techniques.
For an example of stylistic analysis of a poem (at degree level) click on the Resources link.
This activity encourages the students to explore the shape and the metre of the poem before they look at the content.
They are given prompts to help them to think about the patterns that are evident from a study of the syllables, and the shape – highlighting the simple, song-like, question-answer structure of this poem. The students might then listen to the stresses that naturally emerge in their reading of a line, and begin to think about how the different stresses and rhythms within a poem might shape our understanding of the poem’s meaning. The final aspect of this activity encourages the students to explore the alternative interpretations that can arise from a linguistic reading, culminating in a class discussion that sets a more literary reading against a more linguistic reading.
This activity could work as part of an introduction to linguistic analysis of poetry.
Here, the students look at different drafts of the poem in order to closely analyse the choices that Blake made. They have an opportunity to emulate Blake’s style in an activity that involves them anticipating a line that Blake removed in a later draft, before they go on to work in groups to analyse the choice of verbs, adjectives, syntax etc.
This activity highlights the way in which even a single change in lexis or syntax influences the way in which meaning is produced, and it should also serve as consolidation of earlier work done on taking a linguistic approach to poetry.
There is a huge amount of material available on the internet on the study of “The Tyger”, but one example of this poem in the context of its manuscript can be found on the www.bl.uk website, which includes an essay on the poem as well as links to the manuscripts and images.
The students start from two very brief extracts taken from Rousseau and Wollstonecraft, in order to start thinking about what might have influenced the representation of childhood in these poems. In their exploration of the links between the poems, the students should begin to think about the relationship between them: is the second an answer to the first? Or a counter to the first? Or a development of the first?
The activity then culminates in an analysis of the depiction of childhood through an exploration of choice of narrator, graphology etc.
Jeff Gillett has set these poems to music, and his overview can be found by clicking on 'The Nurse's Song' link. The music could also be used as an introduction of the study of these poems, with the students responding to the contrasting tone, pace and key used to capture each poem, before they even read the poetry itself.
In addition to the activity offered in Learner resource 7, these two tables could be used in many ways in the classroom. They could be used after the students have done their own analysis, at which point they could annotate the tables to add in their own ideas. They could use them to help to think about the structure for their essay, numbering the boxes and discussing whether they agree as a class. They could work in groups, taking the notes as a starting point in order to produce a presentation on one of the poems, or on a comparison of the poems, to the rest of the class. They could be encouraged to do further research, using the engravings, for example, as PowerPoint slides for their presentations.
This activity is designed to be done later on in the study of Blake, as it presumes that the students have an understanding of the terminology and of Blake’s characteristic use of language.
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OCR acknowledges the use of the following content:
Learner Resource 1: © The British Library Board, Songs of Innocence and Experience, C.71.d.19, frontispiece, ×2. http://www.bl.uk/britishlibrary/~/media/bl/global/english-online/collection-item-images/b/l/a/blake%20william%20william%20083150.jpg and http://www.bl.uk/britishlibrary/~/media/bl/global/english-online/collectionitem-images/b/l/a/blake%20william%20william%20083155.jpg.
Learner Resource 2: Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition © 2013 the Philip Lief Group, http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/experience?s=t.