Unseen Poetry – Sample Answers 2014 Q.


You should have 20 minutes to answer this section at the end of tHE exam. Below are sample answers to both options. Obviously in the exam you only need to answer one or the other. The examiner’s guidelines are also included.

2014 LC Paper II    A  UNSEEN POEM (20 marks)


GENERAL ‘Students should be able to… read poetry conscious of its specific mode of using language as an artistic medium.’ (DES English Syllabus, 4. 5. 1)

Note that responding to the unseen poem is an exercise in aesthetic reading. It is especially important, in assessing the responses of the candidates, to guard against the temptation to assume a ‘correct’ reading of the poem.

Reward the candidates’ awareness of the patterned nature of the language of poetry, its imagery, its sensuous qualities, and its suggestiveness.

Answer either Question 1 or Question 2.

***N.B. Note carefully the balance of P.R. (Personal Response), R.Q. (Relevant Quotation) and L.P. (language of Poetry) that each answer contains.***

  1. (a) In the above poem Seamus Heaney recommends driving “all round the peninsula”.

Based on your reading of the poem, explain why you think the poet recommends undertaking such a journey. (10)

There’s no doubt that Seamus Heaney felt strongly that we the reader should  drive “all round the peninsula.” One thing that really struck me about the poem was the suggestion from Heaney that you should ‘just drive for a day’ even though you will ‘not arrive.’ I really liked this idea of driving simply for the sake of it, in complete contrast to the usual manic commuting that forces most people into a car. This ties in brilliantly with the whole atmosphere of the poem: Heaney is describing a place of serenity far away from the usual rat race. The heavy assonance as he personifies the ‘horizons’ as they ‘drink down sea and hill’ perfectly captures the pace and pitch of life on the peninsula. I loved the idea that images like that of the ‘glazed foreshore and silhouetted log’ will leave an indelible mark on us visitors, making sure that we will be stunned into silence, ‘with nothing to say’ and forever more look at the world differently, drawn to ‘uncode all landscapes.’ I really felt that this poem seemed like a perfect odeboth to nature and to escape. In that regard, it reminded me quite a bit of Yeat’s ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree,’ another poem where a powerful regard for an area of raw and simple beauty shines through.

(b) Choose two images from the poem that appeal to you and explain your choice.  (10)

One image that appealed to me in the poem was the simile that Heaney uses to describe the vast openness of the world on the peninsula.  The simple description of the sky as being ‘tall as over a runway’ immediately evoked for me a real vastness. It is the sort of image that inevitably makes you feel very small and insignificant. Although it seemed unusual and even counter-intuitive to compare a part of an area of rural beauty with a symbol of the urban chaos that is an airport, it still made perfect sense to me. Never am I more aware of how small we are beneath the sky above than when seeing these eventually tiny planes defy gravity as they disappear up into faraway clouds. I always feel that the greatest comparative imagery is often the simplest and that is certainly true in this case.

Another image that really appealed to me in the poem was that of the ‘land without marks.’ For me it really captured the idea of an unblemished untarnished landscape, where the relentless march of mankind’s expansion has been held at bay. I really felt that it was an intriguing metaphor and one that in some ways caused me a certain amount of anxiety. Clearly much of the land is marked by mankind and I can only wonder how long it will be before Heaney’s beloved peninsula with its ‘whitewashed gable’ and ‘leggy birds’ suffers the same fate. The other thing that I immediately thought of when I read that line was the tragic image of a ‘little stalk without wrinkle’ in Sylvia Plath’s unforgettable poem ‘Child.’ In that poem the metaphor seemed to represent how the child remained pure and undamaged, similar to the beautiful and uncorrupted peninsula.

  1. Discuss the effectiveness of the poet’s use of language throughout this poem. Your answer should refer closely to the text.

I suppose the thing that immediately struck me about the poem was the assonance Heaney uses so heavily. The line where he brilliantly personifies the ‘horizons’ as they ‘drink down sea and hill’ was one that I though really captured the mood of the poem. I think that Heaney use the assonance to subtly convey the calm pace of life on the peninsula, bringing to mind Yeats and his ‘peace comes dropping slow’ on the Lake Isle of Innisfree. Similarly the image of the ‘ploughed field’ as it ‘swallows the whitewashed gable’ lent an air of serenity to the scene as the ‘dark’ descended. I really felt that  the air of peace that pervades in those lines captures the sense of a beautiful sunset perfectly, one of nature’s greatest gifts.

Another aspect of his language that I quite enjoyed was the variety of adjectives that Seamus Heaney uses. The ‘silhouetted’ log, along with the ‘skirting’ landfall, ‘whitewashed’ gable and ‘leggy’ birds really gave life to the rugged beauty of the peninsula. The adjective that stuck with me the most though was the description of the foreshore as being ‘glazed. I found this memorable metaphor to be extremely evocative as I thought it perfectly captured the play of the light on the shore, something we rarely find time to stop and notice amid the hustle and bustle of daily life.

The thing that I was most surprised by in this poem was the tone that Heaney uses. He addresses us readers directly in his efforts to convince us of the merits of visiting this place where you can see ‘islands riding themselves out into the fog’. He seems to be almost ordering us to ‘just drive for a day all round the peninsula.’ I felt that there was a real air of confident certainty when he declares that ‘you will not arrive but pass through.’ I really liked that idea of ‘just driving’ with no destination in mind, a type of journey far removed from the chaotic commuting that is so central to the modern travel experience. Most of all, I loved the idea that as you ‘drive back home’ you will have ‘nothing to say.’ To me, Heaney seems to be saying that you will be stunned into silence by the beauty of the ‘clean’ uncorrupted landscape where ‘water and ground are in their extremity.’




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