Higher Exam

|Requirements  |Previous Exam Questions  |Sample Answers  |Back to Exam Page




Poetry is examined in the second section of the second paper. There are two questions on poetry: one on an unseen poem and one on the poetry studied during the course.

Students will be offered two questions on the poetry they have studied. They will be obliged to answer one of these two questions. Students should read the questions carefully before deciding which one to answer.

Students should only answer one of the two questions asked.

There are 30 marks going for this question. (There are 360 marks distributed over the two papers.)

The student has the option, some years, of answering on a poem and/or on a poet.

You may be asked:

If you are dealing with a specific poem or with two contrasting poems, it is very helpful to begin your answer by stating the name of the poem(s) and the name of the poet(s).

Remember to organise your answer into paragraphs.

On the higher level paper, students should be familiar with such aspects of poetry as theme, language , imagery and sound effects.

It is advisable to memorise some lines from the poems you have studied so that you can quote them in your answer. Try to include at least three short quotations in your response to the poet or the poem.

You may be asked to write about the language used in the poem you have chosen.

You may also be asked to explore the mood or the tone or the atmosphere of the poem you have chosen.

There is no specified length for an answer in this section. Pay attention to the number of marks going for each section of your answer. An answer worth 30 marks will require more detail than one worth 10 or 15 marks. You will be expected to display a much more detailed knowledge of the poem (or poet) you have studied than of the unseen poem, one you have never seen before. Therefore your answer should extend to more than three paragraphs.

You should express your opinions and describe the poem or the poems by the chosen poet in language that is clear, well written and accurate in the mechanics of the language (i.e. spelling, grammar and punctuation).


Total Marks
for this Question
Time suggested
for this question
30 marks
20-25 minutes

Back to top




Previous Exam Questions


1. Choose any poem you have studied which is "wonder-filled" or captures the "whoosh of the imagination".

(i) Describe what happens in the poem. (15 marks)
(ii) How does the poet fill the poem with wonder OR show the imagination at work. (15 marks)


2. Choose a poem that you think has an interesting title.

(i) Considering the poem as a whole explain how the title is interesting. (15 marks)
(ii) Name TWO other features of your chosen poem which appeal to you and explain why they appeal to you. (15 marks)



1. Take any poem you have studied which deals with wishes or thoughts.

(a) What are the poet's main wishes OR thoughts in the poem?
(b) Describe how either the imagery or the language of the poem contributes to the poet's expression of his/her thoughts or wishes. Explain your answer with reference to the poem.

(30 marks)


2. If you could invite a poet of your choice to your school, whom would you choose?

(a) Explain your choice of poet with reference to the poet's work.
(b) Choose your favourite poem by this poet and explain why you like it so much.

(30 marks)



1. From the poetry you have studied choose a poem which is set in an interesting time or place.

(a) Describe this setting. (10 marks)
(b) What does this setting contribute to the effectiveness of the poem? Give reasons for your answer based on evidence from the poem. (20 marks)


2. From the poetry you have studied choose a poem which deals with either Youth or Old Age.

(a) What picture does this poem give of either youth or old age? (10 marks)
(b) What is your personal response to the picture of youth or old age given in the poem. Support your answer with reference to the poem. (20 marks)


Back to top




Department of Education Sample Answers

The Chief Examiner's report for 2006 dealt with responses to the 2006 questions (see above).

This is what was said of Question 1 above:

Some candidates failed to adapt their chosen poem to the demands of the question and offered mere summary of the studied poem or commentary that was, at best, vaguely relevant.
Candidates should be aware that responses of this kind do not attract high marks. More satisfying answering showed candidates able to adapt the content of their chosen poem so as to provide sharp and focused answers to the questions set.

This is what was said of Question 2 above:

This question was generally well answered though some candidates wrote an invitation to the poet rather than an appraisal of his/her work. (Close reading of the question is essential). Many candidates, however, wrote a critical analysis of their chosen poet's work with wideranging, appropriate referencing.

Example of Good Answer:

(a) If I could invite a poet of my choice to my school it would be Seamus Heaney. Heaney writes with a distinct emotion which grasps the reader. He writes about things we can all relate to e.g. Mid Term Break. Heaney is a poet I greatly admire because his poems are always the most mind boggling but they can create a clear image of. He writes with a certain enthusaism in his poems. I like the way in Mid-term break, he writes about a very personal experience, the death of his younger brother. Heaney's willingness to talk about such experiences is very appealing to the reader you know the emotions he are writing about arereal compared to some poets.

(b) My favourite poem by Seamus Heaney is Mid Term Break. In Mid Term Break Heaney writes of a very personal experience, the death of a younger brother. Heaney writes from the perspective of a young boy who is still in shock and doesn't quite understand the enormity of the situation. I like the way Heaney uses alliteration to describe the sinuous ringing of bells, "knelling classes to a close".
My favourite aspects of Mid Term Break is the images it creates. Heaney describes the scene at the house very accurately. The platitudes of the neighbours, "it was a hard blow", and incongruous laughing of the baby. "The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram."
Heaney captures the frustration of his mother at the injustice of the situation by using adjectives, " angry, tearless sighs." Like any young boy the reality of the death doesn't hit Heaney until he sees the body, up until then his brother is referred to as "the corpse".
The emotion of the poem really shone through when Heaney wrote about the four foot box. "he lay there as in his cot", emphasising how young and babyish his brother was Heaney repeats the line adding " a foot for every year". In that simple line Heaney captures all his emotions.


Both answers read well and display insight and understanding in their response to the questions asked.

Answer (a) provides several reasons for inviting Heaney with reference to his very popular poem, "Mid Term Break". It could have been more specific in relating its key points to examples from Heaney's poems.

Marking: Grade B, 12 out of 15

Answer (b) is based on Heaney's ever popular 'Mid Term Break'. The points made are perceptive and show insight into the theme and technique of the chosen poem. There is a slight uncertainty in the reference to alliteration. The candidate could have explained the technique (alliteration) by identifying its use and effectiveness in the chosen quotation.

Marking: Grade A, 14 out of 15.


The Chief Examiner's report for 2000 dealt with responses to the 2000 questions (see above).

Both general questions in poetry proved challenging for candidates.

Many of them focused on one aspect of the first question, ignoring its double focus (choose one poem which made you think and whose language you liked). They either produced some good material on "made me think" and little material on "liked the language" or provided some very technical answers (copious references to alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc) with no evidence of personal response.

The double focus of the second question in this section also caused some difficulty. Candidates were asked to compare poems they liked best and least, explaining their preferences. Many of them were familiar with the two poems chosen, understood and perhaps appreciated them very well, but did not seem to have adequate resources to compare them.


Student Sample Answers

From the poetry you have studied choose the poet whose work you liked best of all. Explain why you liked this poet's work and support your answer by reference to his or her poetry.

The poet whose work I like the best of all is Seamus Heaney. The two poems I liked the most are Mid-Term Break and When All the Others.

The poem Mid-Term Break is probably Heaney's best known poem. It is about the tragic death of his brother Christopher while Seamus was away at school. I like the way the poet uses a vivid description of that tragic day. He remembers waiting in the college sick bay and also describes bells knelling classes to a close. The word knelling is usually used to describe the ringing of funeral bells. He then remembers meeting his father in the porch crying which is strange to the poet as the father normally took funerals in his stride. Heaney also gets embarrassed by old men by old men standing up to shake my hand. He describes seeing the corpse of his brother with a poppy bruise which is the flower often used to remember the war. He also tells us the age of his brother which makes the poem even more sad because he says: A four foot box, a foot for every year.

The poem When All the Others is both a sad and a happy poem. The happy part is where Heaney spends quality time with his mother and the sad part is where he describes the death of his mother. He remembers the happy time he peeled potatoes with his mother while all the others in the family were away at mass Later on in the poem, his mother dies.

I like this poet, Seamus Heaney, because he uses clear simple English to describe tragic times in his life. This also makes his poems easy to understand. For these reasons I like the poet.

project students







Jamie Quirke

From the poetry you have studied choose a poem which is set in an interesting time or place.
(a) Describe this setting. (10 marks)
(b) What does this setting contribute to the effectiveness of the poem? Give reasons for your answer based on evidence from the poem. (20 marks)

(a) From the poems I have studied, a poem which is set in an interesting place is Requiem for the Croppies by Seamus Heaney.

This poem is set during the 1798 rebellion when the local farmers - the croppies - are moving quickly and suddenly in their own country. The priest lay in the ditches with the tramp. The farmers struggle to defend themselves as they have no proper weapons. We know that it is in a field where they are fighting as they rretreat through hedges. The rebels used clever tactics to defend themselves. They stampeded cattle towards their enemy, the British armed forces.

It is also set in Vinegar Hill in County Wexford. Many people died there as the enemy had superior forces and won in the end.

(b) The setting contributes the themes of war and desperation to the poem.

The poem is based on the 1798 rebellion when the farmers in Wexford and all over Ireland rebelled against the British, leading to war. We know the Irish were poorly armed when we read We'd cut through reins and rider with the pike. The British would have had guns, cannon and superior weaponry. The rebel croppies struggled to defend themselves and had to use clever tactics such as stampeding cattle into infantry.

The poem is set in Wexford at Vinegar Hill. We get the sense of war here when he says, Terraced thousands died. Heaney describes the setting on the hill - The hillside blushed. This shows how the Irish croppies were well beaten and were desperate to get rid of the British as thousands died trying.

project students





Thomas Foy


From the poetry you have studied choose a poem which deals with either Youth or Old Age.
(a) What picture does this poem give of either youth or old age? (10 marks)
(b) What is your personal response to the picture of youth or old age given in the poem. Support your answer with reference to the poem. (20 marks)

(a) The poem I have chosen is "Markings" by Seamus Heaney. This poem give me a picture of youth and age because in the poem Heaney describes himself from th viewpoint of an adult (age) as a child playing a football match with his friends.

As you read the first part, you get the picture that Heaney is like any other child in Ireland, just wanting the freedom to play. One line that tells me this is the first line - We marked the pitch: four jackets for four goalposts - and another is Youngsters shouting their heads off in a field. These two lines, I think, really show the madness and enjoyment of youth.

As you get into the second part, I think Heaney really descibes his love for the summer. The lines that show us that are the first one - You also loved lines pegged out in the garden - and, further on in the stanza, the other line is when he describes his father's new timber boards as Spick and span in the oddly passive grass.

In the third part of this poem about his youth and how he remembers it when older, I think Heaney is showing us the point that when you are a child playing, everything else is forgotten and that the world passes you by when you are having fun. The lines that get that message across to me are in the final image of this poem:

Two men with a cross-cut kept it swimming
Into a felled beech backwards and forwards
So that they seemed to row the steady earth.

In this poem Heaney manages to show us the importance of youth.

(b) My personal response to the picture of youth given from the view of age is that youth should be enjoyed and not forgotten. Heaney manages to get across much excitement and enjoyment in the poem.

The lines that prove to me his sense of excitement are when he describes how, when the time came we picked the teams/
And crossed the line our called names drew between us. These lines really sum up the excitement of youth because as the young boys are waiting for their names to be called out, they are thinking to themselves who they want to be with.

But, as the match goes on, the excitement turns into enjoyment and the lines in the poem that shows us this enjoyment are

Youngsters shouting their heads off in a field
As the light died and they kept on playing...

But the best thing about youth is that, as the match goes on and goes on in their heads, the young players never seem to get bored playing. That is the essential difference between youth and old age.

I think Heaney is trying to tell us that you should enjoy your youth and not waste it because, if you do, you will regret it in future years to come.

Ryan Nicholson

Back to top