Wednesday, 30 January 2008

How to annotate Chaucer's "The Merchant's Tale"

How to annotate Chaucer for understanding and interpretation in “The Merchant’s Tale”

For literal understanding:

  • underline words and phrases that you do not understand, and find their meanings in your text's glossary and notes; write their meanings near them on the text. Be prepared to translate a line and sometimes several lines for understanding meaning as opposed to working through the lines word for word. (Sometimes phrases, old disused proverbs, sayings and early grammar can only be understood by looking at lines for contextual understanding.)

    For interpretative understanding

  • themes: characterisation, stereotypes and individualisation, themes: marriage and the marriage debate, the position of women, blindness and seeing, deception and self deception, appearance and reality, youth and age, etc.
  • note the historical and cultural context, arguments, imagery of gardens, animals and time; irony, alliteration, motifs, realism, digressions from the narrative, parallel plots and echoed themes, implied criticism, courtly love, literary contexts, myth and folklore, fate, commonly held beliefs such as lady fortune, superstitions, astrology, the use of “auctorites” including Biblical figures to support arguments, aspects of the form (fabliau –genre and form), realism, apostrophe, satire, social commentary.

    The Teller and the Tale

Always establish WHO is speaking and becomes the narrator. What is their attitude to what they are talking about? (Sincere, self-deluding, serious, angry, patronising, obsequious, ironic, etc.) How does the language and imagery that they use inform or colour their views. Are they undertaking a lengthy digression from the narrative? Why? How are themes expressed through the narrators?

Sunday, 27 January 2008


The art of losing isn't hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster;

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice,

a gesture I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident

the art of losing's not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop

21st Century Gold Rush Revisited 2008

One of the better letter writers and commentators on Gold, Aubie Baltin makes the case for the coming goldrush in gold and silver with stocks.

Monday, 21 January 2008

AS poetry essay style -planning and writing introductions

Good essay style for AS poetry essays should include most of the following:

(1) Use the stimulus (the brief quotation before the question) to identify key words and phrases that will be important for the argument that will form your answer.

(2) The key words and phrase in the main body of the question will echo the ones in the stimulus. Underline the key words and phrases in this part of the question, too, as this will be equally important for forming the body of your argument. (AO3)

(3) Begin by identifying the poems that you have selected to answer the question. Briefly justify with several key words and phrases in quotation marks from the question and why they are appropriate poems for the question.

(4) Spend five to seven minutes planning your answer by thinking about key words and phrases and then impose a structure on your plan. By numbering its points either in bullet point or spider-gram form, you should be able to write a good, coherent essay.

(5) Work in literary terms such as narrator, form, etc. as appropriate. (That gets you going with AO1).

(6) Be careful not to overload your introduction - you just need to identify relevant poems and briefly justify your reasons using the question's key words, phrases, etc.

(7) Try to avoid making your introduction appear abrupt by not justifying your choices of poems.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Some thoughts on how to write an introduction to a poetry question for the Edexcel Anthology

Take this example exam question from 2006.

'Even when poems appear to be about despair, they often manage to salvage something which provides comfort.'

Explore this view of poetry and the ways in which the poets' use of language in the anthology often appears to overcome very despairing and pessimistic feelings.

You should write about at least two poems, including "I Am" or "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" or both. You choice of poems must cover at least two groups.

Your should identify the key words from the stimulus statement: "despair", "salvage" and "comfort" and the question statement: "explore this view of poetry", "the ways in which poets' use of language often appears to overcome despairing and pessismistic feelings".

Rememember that you must write about poems from different groups of the Anthology.

For example,

The poems, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" and "I Am" both feature language of "pessimism" and "despair". However, these feelings are not "salvaged by something that provides comfort" in "Do Not Go Gentle . . ."; whereas in "I Am" the first person narrator seeks comfort in "God" and possibly death with, "The grass below - above the vaulted sky".

This, of course, is one of many possible introductions. (My students have work-shopped better ones which I will post next week!). It does, however, show the direction in which the argument will follow (important for AO4).You do not have to agree with the question - it is often fruitful to challenge the question fully or in part with the poems you select. Remember that there will always be an implied comparison between the poems' treatment of themes, language, presentation and ideas.

Monday, 14 January 2008

British Cultural Studies - from Matthew Arnold to The Birmingham School

R L Strickland on the background to cultural criticism in Britain.

Chaucer and context - the individual and society in modernity

This is an interesting Marxist interpretation of how society changed from the middle ages to the age of individualism. It should prove useful for interpreting the context of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales".

"To be or not to be" from "Hamlet"

Derek Jacobi's interpretation of that famous soliloquy from "Hamlet" (Act III, Scene, i)

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Doctor Keith Tankard's website -

I would like to comment on the posts that I made linking Dr. Keith Tankard's website to Go For Gold. His website is an inspiration for anyone interested in education, particularly those who either teach English Literature or are students of it. Tankard's erudition and attention to detail is to be savoured and enjoyed.

Thanks, Keith and to your wife, son and other contributors for all your hard work. Your altruism "adds to the growing good in this world".

Expect a postcard soon.

Best wishes,


"Hamlet" by William Shakespeare - the basic characters and where they fit in

Abbygail Meredith's very useful summaries of the characters from "Hamlet" and "where they fit in". Click on each character for more detailed information.

"The Second Coming" by W.B. Yeats - study guide and guided questions

Dr. Keith Tankard's study guide and guided questions of increasing challenge for "The Second Coming".

"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas - study guide and guided questions

Dr. Keith Tankard's study guide and guided study questions for "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night".

"Compose upon Westminster Bridege, September 3, 1802" - study guide and questions

Dr. Keith Tankard's study guide and guided questions for "Composed upon Westminster Bridge . . .".

"Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson

A study guide with guided questions on "Ulysses" by Dr. Keith Tankard. The questions become increasingly challenging.

"God's Grandeur" by Fr. Gerald Manley Hopkins - guided study questions

"God's Grandeur" study guide with guided questions of increasing difficulty.

"Kubla Khan" by S.T. Coleridge - study questions

Dr. Keith Tankard's study guide with questions for "Kubla Khan".

"My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning - study questions

Lorraine Knickelbein's guided study questions for "My Last Duchess". The questions become increasingly challenging.

"Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold - study questions

Dr. Keith Tankard's guided questions for studying this poem. Try the easy ones first!

Prayer Before Birth

This is an excellent study guide for this poem by Dr. Keith Tankard.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

This is a good website for reading about poems

Here are a few links from a website that has commentaries and sometimes essays on poems (see the links on the left of the their website)

"How Shall I Love Thee" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas

"God's Grandeur" by Gerald Manley Hopkins

"The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot

Starting to read poetry: form and langage

Lyric Poetry: poetry's many forms
These web pages and others that you may find at Suite101 will help you annotate your AS anthologies. Other exam boards seem well catered for as well.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Captain Corelli's Mandolin - AO1 Concept Map

Slightly updated for friendly printing. Click on the diagram to enlarge it.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Bush convenes Plunge Protection Team By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Bears beware. The New Deal of 2008 is in the works. The US Treasury is about to shower households with rebate cheques to head off a full-blown slump, and save the Bush presidency. On Friday, Mr Bush convened the so-called Plunge Protection Team for its first known meeting in the Oval Office. The black arts unit - officially the President's Working Group on Financial Markets - was created after the 1987 crash.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Flight to gold as investors lose faith in money
The last time gold touched $850 an ounce, the world was visibly spiralling out of control.

Soviet tanks had just rolled into Afghanistan. The Mullahs had seized US hostages in Iran. Pax Americana was on the ropes, and so was capitalism. Inflation had reached 14 per cent in the United States.

Bears Take Control - by aholebroke

aholbroke is an excellent chartist who produces thoughtful posts on Gold Eagle Forum. This post is one of his best. My view is that we are at a tipping point where things could go into a recession or a deeper depression than has ever been experienced.

Bears take control
Jan 05, 01:41

What could possibily save this market now? I think it has entered the bear phase in earnest. I suspect it could last years. Gold should make it over 1000 this year. GDX to 70, HUI to 619 and XAU to 262. Man it really looks bad for the market though. This reminds me of 2000.
An entire generation has past since the great depression. The present generation knows nothing about it at all. From their standpoint it is ancient history - something that could never happen again. Yet it is right at their doorstep and they don't even know it. It will not be well received. There will be much weeping and wailing. The sun is going down. The night is upon us. The good life is over.
What are all the highly educated going to do? There are no jobs for them. Forget the vacations. No more four cars for every household. Teenagers will be lucky to have bicycles, let alone their own cars. Hand-me-downs will be back in fashion. The shoe repair shops will reopen again 'cause a new set of soles and heals will be a lot cheaper than new shoes. Young wives will have to learn to sew up the holes in socks since buying new ones will not be an option.
Ah, the poor trees - people will be sneaking into local parks and cutting them down for firewood. Boiled rain water is coming back in fashion - set the barrels out in the yard to catch it.
The poor will simply stand in awe as the middle class is wiped out. They won't understand what all the weeping and wailing is about. Hard times are nothing new to them. They are the lucky ones.

North on the HUI

Click to enlarge
North is one of the best chartists out there and he frequently posts at Goldtent and Gold Forum. He is also no mean poet! Here is is most recent chart of the HUI. It's useful to see how the bull market in unhedged goldshares has developed and where it might go this year.
Here is North's intriging post in full:
"If HUI emulates its action in 01-02, then it will hit the first blue rail in May 08, then draw back until the beginning of 09. And it will hit the highest blue rail in May of 09. That is a breathtaking scenario if it materializes."

Mega Move Underway, Stay With It - The Aden sisters

The Aden sisters are always worth reading on gold

by Mary Anne and Pamela Aden

"As we enter 2008, gold is hitting a new record high. That's a great way to kick off the new year and it looks like there's a lot more to come. Why?"

Friday, 4 January 2008

Blake's "London" followed by an interpretation of the poem

The following analysis is from Andrew Moore's "Universal Teacher" website.

Moore's interpretation of the poem may in places be a little different to your own.


This is a poem which makes sense to the modern reader, as it exposes the gulf between those in power and the misery of poor people. The picture of the city as a place of nightmare is common in the 20th century, but is perhaps surprising to find in such an early text as this. We have to wait for the novels of Dickens and James Thomson's Victorian poem The City of Dreadful Night, before we find such a grim view of the city reappearing.

Although there are several details which we need to note, we should begin with the central metaphor of this poem, the "mind-forg'd manacles" of the second stanza. Once more a vivid symbol explains a deep human truth. The image of the forge appears in The Tyger (stanza 4). Here Blake imagines the mind as a forge where "manacles" are made. "Manacles" (for the hands - French les mains) and shackles for the legs, would be seen on convicts, perhaps passing along the streets on their way to prison or, commonly in London in Blake's time, on their way to ships, for transportation to Australia. For Blake and his readers, the image is a very striking and contemporary one: they will have seen "manacles" and will view them with horror. The image is also an allusion (reference, loose quotation) to an even more famous statement. In 1762, some thirty years before Blake wrote London, the Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in The Social Contract: "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains". Blake agrees with Rousseau that man's lack of freedom, his "manacles" are "mind-forg'd" - they come from the ideas and outlook imposed on us by external authority.

We see this beautifully in the poem's opening: it is a matter of fact that charters were granted to powerful people to control the streets of London and even the river. It is absurd that the streets are "chartered" (not free to ordinary people) but blatantly so in the case of the mighty river, which cannot really be controlled by the passing of a law. Blake writes ironically of "the chartered Thames". The "weakness" and the "woe" (a strong word in 1794; =misery) of every person is plain to see "in every face", as in their cries, whether of adults or babies (stanza 2).

Blake gives us three powerful examples of this "weakness" and "woe", starting with the chimney-sweep. As the church building is literally "black'ning" with smoke from the chimneys, so the church as an organisation, which should help the poor, is blackened, metaphorically, with shame at its failure to give that help. The church should be appalled, as the poet evidently is, by the cry of the "chimney-sweeper". (There is a pun here: "appals" means "goes pale", as with fear, but these churches are going black, with smoke and soot.)

The second image, of the "hapless" (unfortunate) soldier is topical: the poem was written shortly after the start of the French Revolution: this was so bloody an uprising that the figure of speech called hyperbole (=exaggeration) was often used, as blood was said to be running down the walls. Blake shows how the unhappiness of the English soldier could, if its causes were ignored, lead to similar bloodshed here.

But the last image is the most shocking to Blake, as to us: the cry of the child-prostitute is the truth behind respectable ideas of marriage. New birth is no happy event but continues the cycle of misery, and the wedding carriage is seen as a hearse, leading to a kind of death (of innocence? of happiness?). The word "plagues" here suggests the sexually transmitted diseases which the "youthful harlot" would contract and pass on to others (men married for convenience but with no desire for their wives), giving her cursing words real destructive power.

Writing about poetry
Each poem is (or should be) unique, but many poems can be explained in terms of certain elements or conventions which are commonly used: in discussing a poem, you might consider its subject (what it is obviously about), its theme (what it is about at a deeper level, important ideas), its argument (how the ideas are organised), its structure and form (use of stanzas, rhyme, metre and so on), its key images (word-pictures, symbols, metaphors and similes) and any other effects (like sound-effects, puns, allusions). If there is not much to say on one of these, don't worry: there will always be something worth saying on some of them, if the poem is any good. These different categories are now explained in more detail. In your writing they do not need sub-headings, but should normally appear in different paragraphs.

Blake's early version of "London"

Check out Blake's early version of the poem and consider his reasons for changing some of its words, for instance, "dirty" for "chartered" and the insertion of "mind-forged manacles." The British Library also has interesting information on this poem such as what Blake would have "heard" from his house:

"The version of 'London' in the notebook was further revised before it was etched. 'Each dirty street Near where the dirty Thames does flow' refers to the narrow streets near Blake's home at 13 Hercules Buildings, Lambeth. Backing onto the Thames, they housed the labourers who worked for the local manufacturers, and the 'infants cry of fear' would have been heard by Blake emanating from the nearby Lying In Hospital and Asylum."

"We have used the published version for the reading of these poems 'The Tyger' and 'London' from Songs of Experience for the audio."

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Create It And They Will Spend It

The inimitable Richard Russell spells out why gold will trounce other investments in 2008. His analysis is from several perspectives and his drole humour is unique. Russell echoes the magic realism of the movie, "The Field of Dreams": "Build it and they will come", with "Create It And They ( the Americans) Will Spend It". LOL!

For more:

Wednesday, 2 January 2008


Saxo Bank, the Danish online investment bank, issues a cautionary 2008 outlook - warning investors of the end of cheap money, tighter lending conditions, rising inflation and a UK recession ushering in a new mood of "forced savings" for Western consumers.

Saxo is bearish on the pound

Financial outlook 2008
US and Western consumers will have to stop living beyond their means and start saving, for the first time in decades, as rising inflation in 2008 sees the cost of living soar, applying a break on consumption and turning GDP growth negative five quarters after house prices peak. For the first time since the seventies we are seeing the re-emergence of "stagflation," which means we are seeing a reduction in risk-appetite, rising inflation and slowing GDP growth.

For more, click the link below:

Top economist says America could plunge into recession

Losses arising from America’s housing recession could triple over the next few years and they represent the greatest threat to growth in the United States, one of the world’s leading economists has told The Times.

Robert Shiller, Professor of Economics at Yale University, predicted that there was a very real possibility that the US would be plunged into a Japan-style slump, with house prices declining for years.

Professor Shiller, co-founder of the respected S&P Case/Shiller house-price index, said: “American real estate values have already lost around $1 trillion [£503 billion]. That could easily increase threefold over the next few years. This is a much bigger issue than sub-prime. We are talking trillions of dollars’ worth of losses.”

For more:

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Biggest drop for sterling since '92

Uh,Oh! Entirely predictable as the UK economy is actually worse and more vulnerable than the US's.

Biggest drop for sterling since '92By Edmund Conway, Economics Editor
Last Updated: 11:03pm GMT 31/12/2007
The pound suffered its weakest annual performance for 15 years in 2007, as markets bet that 2008 will be a miserable one for the British economy.

But despite the chaos caused by the credit squeeze, London's blue chip index the FTSE 100 has risen by 3.8pc since the start of 2007, along with a host of other equity markets around the world.

About Me

I teach Film, Media and English Lit.