Sigh of relief as Sylvia Plath returns in triumph for higher level English paper 2

The much-anticipated Plath question was described as a “gem”

A sigh of relief cooled the air around Ireland today as the popular and elusive American poet Sylvia Plath appeared on yesterday's higher level English paper 2.

Plath is a popular choice among Leaving Cert students and when she failed to feature on last year’s exam there was widespread dismay.

“There’s a fascination with Sylvia Plath among students, especially female students, because of her interesting background, her relationship with Ted Hughes, her tragic death and, most importantly, her poetry, which has an angst that resonates with many students at this point in their lives,” said teacher and ASTI subject rep Michael Doherty.

The much-anticipated Plath question was described as a “gem”, and focused on intense emotions expressed in her poetry.


"There were no surprises, in either the selection of poets or the questions set : a huge relief for everyone," said teacher Jim Lusby of the Institute of Education. "Sylvia Plath would have been the choice of many candidates, closely followed by the popular Elizabeth Bishop and Derek Mahon. "

A question on Gerard Manley Hopkins’s innovative use of language was considered difficult.

The majority of candidates studied the Shakespeare play Macbeth, and the expected focus on character and language appeared on the paper. A question on Macbeth's character was the choice of most students and although the phrasing of the question was complex, containing four separate elements, the canny student would have spotted what was being asked, according to Jim Lusby.

“The well-prepared student would have recognised that an examination of ‘Macbeth’s mind’ could best be conducted through a detailed exploration of his various soliloquies in the drama,” he said.

As well as Macbeth, students had options to answer questions on set texts such as Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald's iconic work was a popular choice this year in the wake of Baz Luhrman's lavish screen adaptation starring Leonardo di Caprio.

Students also had the opportunity to discuss films they had studied as part of the Comparative Texts section of yesterday's paper. Films on this year's curriculum included Casablanca, A Constant Gardener and I'm Not Scared.

Three out of 10 students took yesterday's English paper at ordinary level, and the paper was largely welcomed, apart from mixed views regarding an unseen poem from Bill Holm on the subject of people thoroughly absorbed in what they are listening to on their phones or music devices. The poem, titled Earbud, was regarded by some teachers as difficult for ordinary level students. Others however, felt the theme was engaging.

"The Unseen Poem, Earbud by Bill Holm, was accessible and relevant to the world of 2013 students and the prescribed poetry offered a good range of questions including an invitation to make a short YouTube video to accompany a reading on Elizabeth Bishop's The Fish," said Jim Lusby.

Try This At Home

Higher Level English Paper 2

"Readers often find aspects of The Great Gatsby attractive but ultimately the world of the novel is not admirable." Discuss this view, supporting your answer with suitable reference to the text.

“Plath’s provocative imagery serves to highlight the intense emotions expressed in her poetry.” To what extent do you agree or disagree with this assessment of her poetry?