If Keats Was Sitting the English AS Levels
So, exam “season” is upon us. I wonder what the Romantic poets, with their capacity for celebrating the beauty of nature, would have to say about that phrase. Students, at this time of year, hardly look like poetic inspiration. We really don’t have time to think about gardens, like Blake, nor do we resemble the “dancing daffodils” Wordsworth stumbled upon and instantly fell in love with on his walk through the countryside. Unlike Sir Thomas Wyatt, most of us have to follow a revision timetable instead of spending the time of day pursuing unattainable mistresses.
Some of us, however, have probably felt at some point like the knight in Keats’ poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” (The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy), who is “palely loitering” in the winter, his heart apparently wounded by some angelic fairy lady. If Keats was sitting the English AS levels, sat in a stodgy exam hall, trying to write an essay that covers all of the assessment objectives in under 45 minutes, all the fuss about the Belle dame would probably give way to the much more terrifying thought of the ‘Examiner-sans-Merci’. Slight stretch to expect a horde of 17-year-olds to sympathise with these men.
I wouldn’t end my little pre-exam rant without making a case for literature, and it is this: agreed, most of us aren’t exactly after pre-1900 romantic conventions in our everyday lives, but it also goes to show that words can come round and fit in unexpected ways into the puzzle of the 21st century, and of the centuries to come. I think it helps not to forget that bigger picture. This is the message I’d like to leave you with while I go on yet another blogging “break” (a break, that is, to power through the May and June AS exams). Good luck to those of my readers who have their exams too!
Keep reading and rejoicing,