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English Literature

Gillian Clarke: Cold Knap Lake

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Sample question

In your exam you will be asked to compare a certain aspect of one poem with another. To do this, you need to get to know this poem better by considering one of its main aspects.

What follows is a sample question, which concentrates on one feature of the poem, and an answer to the question.

Question

How does the poet present memory in Cold Knap Lake?

Answer

Here are some suggestions for points that you could make:

  • The poem tells the story of an incident from Clarke's childhood about the rescue of a drowning girl. Although it initially seems to be about a miraculous rescue, actually Clarke is exploring the nature of memory, and ends up challenging her own memory of being present.
  • There is a dreamlike quality to the poem. For example, the long flowing sentence that makes up stanza 4 is not entirely clear in meaning, and could suggest the difficulty of grasping what happens in a memory.
  • The rhyming couplet which finishes the poem has a sense of finality about it which contrasts with the idea of 'lost things' within it. This could suggest that memory could seem definite but be wrong.
  • The structure of the poem moves the reader from an apparently clear memory to uncertainty at the end.
  • The images of 'mud' and 'cloudiness' suggest uncertainty and tension. This lack of clarity in the water is a metaphor for Clarke's own memory.
  • The half-rhyme throughout the poem creates the impression of an echo. This reinforces the idea of a lack of clarity in memory.
  • In conclusion: memory appears to be uncertain in the poem. Imagery and sound suggests a lack of clarity within it, and the reader is lead from an apparently certain scene to the idea that there are 'lost things'.

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