"I would define, in brief, the poetry of words as the rhythmical creation of Beauty."

Edgar Allan Poe

This article is there going to focus on section 3 of paper 2 of the ordinary level English leaving cert exam, the questions we are going to look at are from the 2017 exam papers.

Past exam papers are a great way to practise different answering styles for your Leaving Cert. Revise Wise books, contain multiple past exam papers and cost about €10 per subject, if you don't mind printing them yourself you can find past Leaving Cert English exam papers online at The Leaving Cert.

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What Does the Poetry Section of the English Exam for Leaving Cert Consist of?

For the Poetry section of the Leaving Cert English exam, you will have to answer questions on one unseen poem and one prescribed poem.

First, you will be given the unseen poem to read, which will be followed by 2 questions. You will have to answer both of these questions, this section is worth 20 marks.

Whereas the prescribed poem section is worth a total of 50 marks. In this section, you will be given 4 poems that you have already studied to choose from. Once you have chosen the poem you would like to answer questions for, you must answer all of question 1 which is worth 30 marks and then choose to answer 1 part of the second question which is worth 20 marks.

Poetry the language of love
Poetry is often referred to as the language of love, perhaps that is why people gift greeting cards filled with beautiful verses of poetry - Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

How to Answer the Unseen Poetry Question

When it comes to answering questions on the unseen poem, I recommend that before even looking at the questions, you read the poem at least twice. By reading over the poem before you look at the questions, you're giving yourself the chance to understand and appreciate the words, rather than just looking for answers within the text. It is also a good idea to highlight or underline anything that seems important or interesting to you. Then you can move on to reading the question.

The unseen poem and questions we are going to look at now are from the 2017 exam paper:

For We Shall Stare at Mobile Phones

Streets shrug as we roam back to our homes,
obstacle courses of lamp posts and cones.
For we shall stare at mobile phones.

Landmarks languish and attractions close;
statues, cathedrals, Byzantine domes.
For we shall stare at mobile phones.

Reading gets shelved, poetry and prose,
with the dusty rebuke of neglected tomes*.
For we shall stare at mobile phones.

Conversation falters, dries up, unflows,
feelings once said lie buried, unknown.
For we shall stare at mobile phones.

Yes, we shall stare at mobile phones,
when we’re together and when we’re alone.
For we shall stare at mobile phones.

And when we die, let us hope that they’re thrown
into the pit with our crumbling bones.
So that we might stare at mobile phones.

Brian Bilston

  1. Based on your reading of the above poem, outline the impact the poet claims mobile phones have on our lives today. Support your answer with reference to the poem.
  2. Do you like or dislike the above poem? Explain your answer with reference to the poem.

I actually really like this poem, it's not too long which means you can read it 2 or 3 times without rushing, and it's modern which means that the language being used is quite easy to understand.

Each of the questions above is worth 10 marks, and you can see the boat of the questions are interested in finding out your comprehension and opinion of the poem. Below I have given my sample answers for each question:

  1. From my understanding of the poem "for we shall stare at mobile phones" Brian Bilston is stating that modern-day humans cannot survive without their mobile phones. He points out that we are so obsessed with our mobile phones, we don't know how people around us are feeling and we don't know how to talk to people unless that communication is made through the mobile phone. He even points out that we are so attached we will have to be buried with our mobile phones.
  2. Personally, I like this poem. At first reading, this poem is a little sad as the poet points out that people are a bit self-obsessed and all they want to do is stare at their phones. But, as I re-read the poem I noticed that Brian Bilston was also pointing out all of the things we are missing, I like the everyday beauty that surrounds us from the landmarks to the museums and human communication which it's something we desperately need in life.

The above are just samples of how I would answer these questions, but other people may not like the poem and may choose to answer in a different way. As I said before these questions are mainly focused on your understanding and your opinion of the poem, which means you cannot give the wrong answer once it is a detailed answer.

power of a single word
Even a single word can hold so much emotion and expression - Photo by AROMATEEC on Unsplash

How to Answer the Prescribed Poetry Question

Unlike the unseen poem, these questions are not simply about your understanding and your opinion of the poem. Whichever poem you choose to answer questions on for this section, you will have to have a deeper knowledge for answering these questions, in a way you will have to prove that you studied the prescribed poetry.

The following are just a few examples of what you might be asked in question 1:

  • Identify an image from the above poem - explain why you like this image/explain the impact this image had on you
  • Describe a feeling or emotion you feel in response to this poem. Support your answer with reference to the poem.
  • Explain what you think the poet means (usually a line or expression the poem will be inserted here)
  • Based on your study of (chosen poem), explain what you think the poet is saying in the last line of the poem.
  • Identify (specific amount of) images used by the poet in this poem. Which of your chosen images do you find the most appealing? Explain your answer.
  • In your opinion, is this an optimistic or a pessimistic poem? Explain your answer with reference to the poem.

The following are just a few examples of what you might be asked in question 2:

  • Do you find this poem easy or difficult to understand? Explain your response, supporting your answer with reference to both the language and the content of the poem.
  • Does the language and imagery used by the poet add to your enjoyment of the above poem? Support your answer with reference to the language and imagery used in the poem.
  • In your opinion, is the above poem still relevant today? Explain your response, supporting your answer with reference to the poem.
  • You have been asked to give a talk to your class about the use of language and imagery in this poem. Write the text of the talk you would give. Support your talk with reference to the poem.
  • You have been asked to make a short video to accompany a reading of this poem on YouTube. Describe the images, colours, music, sound effects, etc. that you would use as a background to the reading and explain your choices based on your knowledge of the poem. In your answer, you may choose to refer to the extract provided or to the poem as a whole.
Lyrics and poetry
It could be said that song lyrics are poetry that has been put to music - Photo by Soundtrap on Unsplash

My advice for answering this section is if you are unsure what you were going to say,  you should re-read the question and look for what is specifically asked of you. If you're still unsure after re-reading I recommend you start your sentence with "to me, it appears" or "in my opinion", Why? It's simple, your opinion or comprehension cannot be the wrong answer.

Poetry, like all art, is subjective, which is why once you state it is your opinion, not a fact, you will earn some marks.

Where can I get Help Revising for Leaving Cert English?

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For more information on how to answer questions for ordinary level English, click on any of the links below to see the related articles.

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