AQA English Literature - Unseen Poetry Essays - June 2017
Exemplar Poetry Essays - AQA English Literature Exam - June 2017
Here are two exemplar unseen poetry essays, at GCSE standard, based upon Section C of the AQA English Literature Exam (June 2017). The poems written about are Alan Bold's 'Autumn' and Billy Collins' 'Today' and attained full marks. The essays were written by a student (aged 16) in exam conditions, taking approximately 50-55 minutes to complete.
In ‘Autumn’, how does the poet present the effects of the season of autumn?
The poet, Alan Bold, presents autumn as mischievous, “cunningly” angering the “placid sky” until it “glows” with “quiet rage”. The simile “Autumn arrives/Like an experienced robber”, indicates that Bold perceives autumn as sly - perhaps as a disturbance to the peace of summer and winter that neighbour it. Usually, the effect of a robbery is devastating – resulting in loss and anger. Whereas when this metaphor is placed onto autumn, we see that surprisingly, those effects transfer to the natural world. Bold contrasts words with a criminal semantic field, such as “robber”, “accomplice” and “cunningly” to the obvious beauty of autumn, such as “colourful” and the phrase “deep multitude”. Juxtaposing these images implies a sense of conflict and “chaos”. The contrast serves to highlight the way most people perceive autumn and how the poet perceives autumn.
This difference is emphasised when autumn changes the sky from a “placid” good-natured one to “red with a quiet rage”. The oxymoron “quiet rage” could hint at the “chaos” that autumn brings with it to the surrounding environment. The colour “red” is also an interesting choice, as red often signifies danger or fear, which could indicate that the poet thinks of autumn as something to fear.
To reinforce this fear, the poet creates the idea that it is quick moving through the use of the adverb “suddenly”. The poem is written in a single stanza, as if there is no time to pause, which could mirror the brief way in which autumn occurs, or the short amount of time it stands for. In this sense, like a “robber”, autumn is depicted as fleeting and not content, which again adds to the negative portrayal of the season.
The poet also personifies the wind, describing it as “his accomplice” in wreaking havoc to the “temper of the earth”. This personification gives a natural force a human characteristic, which only strengthens its power in the eyes of the reader. This forceful, powerful, controlling wind shows autumn to be even more terror-instilling, because something powerful is merely its accomplice. Similarly, the fact that the poet states how autumn affects the “sky” again, displays its power in its effects – the ripples that explode as a result of its force, even can change the sky. The ability to alter the sky suggests that autumn is somewhat God-like or is similar in its state of power. Moreover, unlike a God, autumn is displayed to use its power unwisely, to cause “chaos” not to resolve it.
In both ‘Today’ (Billy Collins) and ‘Autumn’ (Alan Bold) the speakers describe attitudes towards the seasons. What are the similarities and/or differences between the ways the poets present these attitudes?
In ‘Today’ and ‘Autumn’, Bold and Collins present opposing views of their respective seasons. For instance, in ‘Autumn’, the wind is described as an “accomplice”, as if it was guilty for committing wrong-doings or was offensive to laws or people. In “Today”, the wind is described as a “warm intermittent breeze”. The phrase “breeze” gives the impression of a calm, relaxing, tranquil environment, which directly contrasts with the “chaos” of ‘Autumn’.
Also, indicating a difference in atmosphere and tempo is the structure. For instance, ‘Autumn’ is written in one continuous stanza, with little punctuation, indicating that ‘Autumn’ is fast-paced, difficult to control and chaotic in its nature, whereas in ‘Today’, the structure is nine couplets, with pauses in between and varied punctuation. This, when read, creates a more relaxed feel and indicates that the poet’s attitude towards spring is far more positive.
Similarly, the effect on people is obviously very different within each poem. In ‘Autumn’ the people are “inquisitive strangers” looking on the “chaos” with disbelief and compassion, whereas in ‘Today’ they are “holding hands” and rejoicing the day. The verb “inquisitive” has connotations of confusion, fear and intent, which could demonstrate how the speaker feels about autumn – that it is interesting and beautiful, but also “deep” and mysterious. Contrastingly, in ‘Today’, the sensory description of “sunlight” forces the reader to think how the speaker does, as if spring is beautiful, perfect and constant – unlike autumn.