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For Whom the Bell Tolls

Telegraph | Education | No prayers nor bells for the finest

(The) pleasure in great poetry is being denied to older children because of the politically-correct restrictions of GCSE English. Instead of the exam presenting a perfect opportunity to learn about the golden treasury of English verse - Chaucer, Milton, Tennyson - the focus is on poems and stories from other cultures.
Take the OCR exam board English literature course I've taught for the last two years. Yes, the pupils still have to study "War Poetry" but, instead of focusing on all-time greats such as Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon, nearly half the poems on the syllabus are written by little-known women. ...Moving lines such as "What passing bells for those who die as cattle?" give way to "There they go marching all in step so gay!" ....

The only advantage in studying such poetry is that, instead of spending hours going through a truly powerful poem such as Owen's Strange Meeting - surely one of the best anti-war poems ever written ("I am the enemy you killed, my friend") - it takes only minutes to uncover the complexities of Hinkson, Letts and Margaret Postgate Cole. Yet one of the few chances many of these teenagers will have to be hooked on poetry for life has vanished.

One third of OCR's English GCSE course is now devoted not to an appreciation of classic English writing - George Orwell's famous advice on how to write clearly in Politics and the English Language, for example - but to "different cultures".....

The problem, of course, is not that children are being exposed to other cultures but that, in many cases, inferior works of literature are being promoted at the expense of great ones, purely because they come from those cultures. As my teacher friend observes: "Why shouldn't these kids learn some really powerful English poetry instead? We are making them study all these other poems because of our obsession with multi-culturalism, and we're putting them off poetry for life."

I recommend a crash course in Wilfred Owen (Anthem for Doomed Youth), William Blake (Tyger), Thomas Gray (Elegy) and Shakespeare ("All the world's a stage") to put matters right.

And it is not just the poetry they miss out on - there is a bedrock of common culture that educated youths throughout the Commonwealth used to share, and reference through out their lives. I often use Poem titles as headlines - even Metallica have used the one I chose today..
Today's lesson can therefore be compare and contrast the two versions presented below.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
by John Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.


Metallica
For Whom the Bell Tolls

Make his fight on the hill in the early day constant chill deep inside
Shouting gun on they run through the endless grey on they fight for the right
yes but whos to say
For a hill men would kill why they do not know
Stiffened wounds test there pride
Men of five still alive through the raging glow gone insane from this pain that
they surely know

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Time marchs on
For Whom the Bell Tolls

Take a look to the sky just before you die, its the last time you will
Blackened roar, massive roar fills the crumbling sky, shattered goal fills the
soul with a ruthless cry
Stranger now are his eyes to this mystery, hears the silence so loud
Crack of dawn, all is gone except the will to be.
Now they see what well be blinded eyes to see...


For Whom the Bell Tolls
Time marches on
For Whom the Bell Tolls

Comments

Just to point out, as any fan of literature or poetry would know;

a) 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' (the piece you've written out first) isn't poetry, it's a piece of prose.
b) It's not called 'For whom the bell tolls', it is a passage from Meditation 17, from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, 1624 by John Donne.

Searching for the source of "For whom the bell tolls" in connection with the final passage of "An Outpost of Progress" by J.Conrad (the station bell tolls incessantly to show the company director the way up the the trading post which unbeknown to him holds the two dead white traders) I came across your very interesting site. Interesting in as much as I am actually also connecting the short story with a lecture by an ex-student who just graduated from uni with a thesis on the war poetry of the great British poets (see the beginning of your blog entry!) and the physicality of their exoeriences as mirrored in letters, poetry and diary entries. It never ceases to amaze me how often the internet opens up paths that I have already prepared for topics right there and then on my teaching schedule. A nice surprise and find at the end of a long day of studying, researching for and planning of tomorrow's lessons at a high school here in southern Germany!
Christine

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