Heaney on Homer

“When the bard Demodocus sings of the fall of Troy and of the slaughter that accompanied it, Odysseus weeps and Homer says that his tears were like the tears of a wife on a battlefield weeping for the death of a fallen husband. His epic simile continues:

At the sight of the man panting and dying there,
she slips down to enfold him, crying out;
then feels the spears, prodding her back and shoulders,
and goes bound into slavery and grief.
Piteous weeping wears away her cheeks:
but no more piteous than Odysseus’ tears,
cloaked as they were, now, from the company.

Even to-day, three thousand years later, as we channel-surf over so much live coverage of contemporary savagery, highly informed but nevertheless in danger of growing immune, familiar to the point of overfamiliarity with old newsreels of the concentration camp and the gulag, Homer’s image can still bring us to our senses. The callousness of those spear shafts on the woman’s back and shoulders survives time and translation. The image has that documentary adequacy which answers all that we know about the intolerable.”

—from Seamus Heaney’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “Crediting Poetry”, 1995.

Y12 HL: first post

Please write one paragraph of an essay that responds to this question:

In Books I-IV of The Odyssey, how does Homer show us that Telemakhos is changing from a boy to a man?

You may discover three or four ways in which Homer does this; I want you to write about only one of them. For example, you may find that Homer uses the motif of green cheese: every time Telemakhos shows signs of maturity, green cheese is mentioned. In your single paragraph, focus on just the one method that you choose to write about; do not write an entire essay in which you analyse all the ways in which Homer indicates that Telemakhos is growing up.

Your evidence must consist of details from the text.

Due: Monday. I will give you tomorrow’s lesson to work on it.

Submit your paragraph as a post on this blog; I have emailed your login credentials to you.

Was George Orwell anti-Semitic?

Those interested in this question, which arises in light of some of Orwell’s remarks about Jews in ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ and other pieces he wrote earlier in his life, should have a look at these links:

1. Orwell’s essay on anti-Semitism in Britain: http://orwell.ru/library/articles/antisemitism/english/e_antib

2. DJ Taylor writing in The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/aug/13/biography.highereducation

Besides the particular question of Orwell’s own sentiments, one can learn from these pieces a great deal about how common anti-Semitism was in the first half of the 20th century—not just in Germany or Poland or Austria, but across Europe, including France and Great Britain, and in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Understanding how common and widespread it was, we can then make more sense out of the Allies’ relative lack of interest in the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews, even after the existence of the extermination camps became known in the West. And then, circling back to Orwell, we won’t be so surprised to find that in his earlier years he made anti-Semitic remarks. Rather we would be surprised if, given his background, he had not been prejudiced against Jews, when just about everyone around him was.

Toni Morrison interview


Do you write to figure out exactly how you feel about a subject?


No, I know how I feel. My feelings are the result of prejudices and convictions like everybody else’s. But I am interested in the complexity, the vulnerability of an idea. It is not “this is what I believe,” because that would not be a book, just a tract. A book is “this may be what I believe, but suppose I am wrong . . . what could it be?” Or, “I don’t know what it is, but I am interested in finding out what it might mean to me, as well as to other people.”



Regarding the sonnet, I don’t think it’s one of the best i have ever read, granting that i’ve only ever read the prescribed anthology ones for my GCSE’s. Unlike Anita, I didn’t really find it confusing, more tiresome and samey-same. As it’s like many other sonnets about the death of a loved one or just death of love it’s self. After reading Mr Macknight’s commentary essay, I feel I have a greater understanding of what is expected of me when I am writing a commentary. I liked his essay as it was clear and always to the point, which drew my attention to the fact i have a tendency to ramble, especially over small details. Over all I enjoyed reading the essay and the accompanying sonnet, even if it did bore me slightly.


Sonnet 29

When I first read the commentary I thought I had the meaning of the sonnet straight away (a never ending chain of heart breaks that’s getting worse due to the poets advancing age). Mr. Macknight’s essay gave me an entirely different outlook on the commentary as well as the style of writing needed in a commentary. It was precise and to the point. There were no generalized statements or run on statements, it was more like state point => example=> explanation/analysis/comment. This essay had lots of different ways of analysis that he had mentioned in class before yet I neglected to follow such as details about the sounds when reading the sonnet and language used, which was also explained with great detail. Another thing I didn’t do in the essay was looking at the poem as a whole. Instead I merely explained parts of the sonnet while failing to link it to the rest of the sonnet, as opposed to Mr. Macknight who managed to efficiently link his points back to the sonnet as a whole. This has given me the idea of creating a basic template or list of ideas of different aspect that need to be mentioned in a commentary, I believe this would also improve my general level of analysis in English, giving me new points and outlooks to a text.

Cardinal virtues, Christian virtues

From Wikipedia:

In Christian tradition there are 4 cardinal virtues:

  • Prudence – able to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time
  • Justice – proper moderation between self-interest and the rights and needs of others
  • Restraint or Temperance – practicing self-control, abstention, and moderation
  • Courage or Fortitude – forbearance, endurance, and ability to confront fear and uncertainty, or intimidation

In The Inferno these virtues, represented by the classical poet Virgil, are enough to make you a good person, just as Virgil can guide Dante to the Earthly Paradise at the top of Mount Purgatory. But they are not enough to gain Christian salvation. For that, you need the three Christian virtues: faith, hope, and charity (also translated as ‘love’) [from the New Testament of the Bible, I Corinthians 13].

Welcome to IB English A Literature!

I am looking forward to this first year of the IB programme at Dulwich, and the first year of the IB’s newly revised English A Literature course. I hope you are, too!

Most of the writing you do in the course—apart from final assessments—will be posted on this blog, giving you the chance to practice writing and try out ideas in a supportive space, and to learn from each other’s work. The more you use these opportunities to read and comment on your classmates’ posts, the more your own writing and thinking will benefit.

Have a great year, everyone!