A Level English Literature

Subject: English Literature

Exam Syllabus: Edexcel A Level English Literature

Course leader: Mr Lansdowne

Welcome to the English Department at APS!

Hello, and welcome to AS/ A Level English Literature at Ashton Park School.  If you’re here it’s because you like reading, discussing and writing about novels, short stories, drama and poetry.  Well done!  So do we.

There are three components to the course – poetry, drama and prose - and in poetry and prose you will be asked to compare texts in both your AS and A2 year.  AS course texts include War of the Worlds, The Handmaid’s Tale, A Streetcar Named Desire and an anthology of modern poetry.

In order to keep your skills honed in the gap between finishing GCSE English and beginning Post 16 English, we would like you to complete the task below which is drawn from the poetry element of component 1 of the course.  You will notice that the task is VERY similar to the comparing poems tasks in your GCSE Literature exams.  You should approach this task in much the same way.

TASK SET

Annotate the poems thinking about the following question and fill in the comparison grid

Compare the ways in which the poets explore the shift from childhood to adulthood in An Easy Passage by Julia Copus and To my Nine-Year-Old self by Helen Dunmore.

To do this you should:

  1. annotate the poems using the guidance below
  2. fill in the comparison grid with your findings

General things to consider:

  • The poems’ titles
  • The content of the poems (what happens in them/ what they describe)
  • What we learn about the theme of the shift from childhood to adulthood in each poem i.e. what aspects of this theme each poet explores and how they feel about these issues
  • How language is used to communicate these attitudes e.g. though imagery/word choice/ sound effects
  • How the structure of the poems is used to communicate these attitudes e.g. through how they start and end, how ideas progression, point-of-view, tense, enjambment, verse breaks, rhythm and rhyme

Specific points to consider: An Easy Passage

  • Think about the deeper significance of the word ‘halfway’ in the first line to the concerns and structure of the poem as a whole
  • How is balance/poise (in/down, indoors/outdoors) used to represent to the shift from childhood to adulthood?
  • Look closely at the descriptions of the two girls. What does the poet emphasise? How would you describe them? How does this differ from the other woman in the poem – there are three in total.
  • Why do you think the poet chose to write this poem in the present tense?
  • Perhaps the most arresting word in the poem is ‘armaments’. Why does the poet use this metaphor in relation to the girls?

Specific points to consider: To my Nine Year Old Self

  • Look at the verbs that relate to the girl and those that relate to her adult self. What do they tell us about the differences between the two? What do you think this suggests about the narrator’s attitude towards growing up?
  • As well as the verbs, look at other physical details in the poem. How does Dunmore use them to re-create a child’s world?
  • How does the poet’s use of pronouns enact the relationship between child and adult?
  • Why do you think the poet chose to set the encounter with her childhood self in summer?
Text 1 - An Easy Passage by Julia Copus

Once she is halfway up there, crouched in her bikini

on the porch roof of her family’s house, trembling,

she knows that the one thing she must not do is to think

of the narrow windowsill, the sharp

drop of the stairwell; she must keep her mind

on the friend with whom she is half in love

and who is waiting for her on the blond

gravel somewhere beneath her, keep her mind

on her and on the fact of the open window,

the flimsy, hole-punched, aluminium lever

towards which in a moment she will reach

with the length of her whole body, leaning in

to the warm flank of the house. But first she

steadies herself, still crouching, the grains of the asphalt

hot beneath her toes and fingertips,

a square of petrified beach. Her tiny breasts

rest lightly on her thighs. – What can she know

of the way the world admits us less and less

the more we grow? For now both girls seem

lit, as if from within, their hair and the gold stud

earrings in the first one’s ears; for now the long, grey

eye of the street, and far away from the mother

who does not trust her daughter with a key,

the workers about their business in the drab

electroplating factory over the road,

far too, most far, from the flush-faced secretary

who, with her head full of the evening class

she plans to take, or the trip of a lifetime, looks up now

from the stirring omens of the astrology column

at a girl – thirteen if she’s a day – standing

in next to nothing in the driveway opposite,

one hand flat against her stomach, one

shielding her eyes to gaze up at a pale calf,

a silver anklet and the five neat shimmering-

oyster-painted toenails of an outstretched foot

which catch the sunlight briefly like the

flash of armaments before

dropping gracefully into the shade of the house.

Text 2 - To my Nine-Year-Old Self by Helen Dunmore

You must forgive me. Don’t look so surprised,

perplexed, and eager to be gone,

balancing on your hands or on the tightrope.

You would rather run than walk, rather climb than run

rather leap from a height than anything.

I have spoiled this body we once shared.

Look at the scars, and watch the way I move,

careful of a bad back or a bruised foot.

Do you remember how, three minutes after waking

we’d jump straight out of the ground floor window

into the summer morning?

That dream we had, no doubt it’s as fresh in your mind

as the white paper to write it on.

We made a start, but something else came up –

a baby vole, or a bag of sherbet lemons –

and besides, that summer of ambition

created an ice-lolly factory, a wasp trap

and a den by the cesspit.

I’d like to say that we could be friends

but the truth is we have nothing in common

beyond a few shared years. I won’t keep you then.

Time to pick rosehips for tuppence a pound,

time to hide down scared lanes

from men in cars after girl-children,

or to lunge out over the water

on a rope that swings from that tree

long buried in housing –

but no, I shan’t cloud your morning. God knows

I have fears enough for us both –

I leave you in an ecstasy of concentration

slowly peeling a ripe scab from your knee

to taste it on your tongue

English Transition Task Sheet

To discover more about the subject at a higher level:

  • This website is excellent: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/4/17/
  • Also consider literary criticism web guides for key texts from
    • litcharts.com
    • sparknotes.com
    • shmoop.com
    • bestnotes.com
    • cliffsnotes.com

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