Because of their structure, poems are a great way of learning about the rhythm of the English language. In these Activities you will be able to listen to poetry, read it, and then improve your knowledge of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols, thus improving your pronunciation. The Activities also include information about the poets and some background to the writing of the poem. Finally, you will have the chance to test how much you have learned about the vocabulary and other aspects of the poems through some interactive exercises.
Did you know that there are over 600,000 words in English? That's a lot of words, and far more than any human being could ever manage to learn. Even Shakespeare only used around 55,000 different words in all of his works. Mind you, he did actually invent quite a few of them. To get a good mastery of English, you do need to expand your vocabulary as much as possible. The more words you know, the better your English will be. The Activities here will help you to quickly develop your vocabulary.
The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabetic system of phonetic notation that was devised in the 19th century as a standardised way of representing the sounds of speech in written form. The British English IPA chart consists of 44 symbols representing the pure vowels (monophthongs), the gliding vowels (diphthongs), and the consonant sounds of spoken British English. The Britlish Library contains a wealth of Activities to help you to learn, remember, and use the British English IPA symbols efficiently whether you are a student or a teacher.
No matter how good your English grammar and vocabulary may be, if your pronunciation is so bad that nobody can understand a word you say, then your English won't be much good as a means of communication. You might be good at grammar, have a broad vocabulary, and be able to explain all the aspects and tenses of English, but it's not much good if you can't be understood when you speak. I have designed these Activities to help you to improve your pronunciation, as well as other areas of your English.
Some students like to sit back and listen to some interesting English. It doesn't get much more interesting than some of the old classics from English literature. These Activities have been created to help you get the best from the vocabulary found in some of the old classics. As you listen and read your way through these Activities, you will also broaden your understanding of English culture.
Reading is the easiest way to take in English. Listening is a much harder skill and one that has to be developed as you study the language. There are lots of speech features that arise when native English speakers speak English. These speech features, such as elision, simplification, intonation, stress, and rhythm, and the way in which speakers may miss out sounds or whole words, are important to understand if you are to be able to listen to and fully understand spoken English. These Britlish Library Activities will help you to develop you listening skills.
This most famous of poems about flying is mostly known and remembered for the first and last lines: Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, Put out my hand, and touched the face of God. I use this poem by John Gillespie Magee Jr. in this lesson to help you with your pronunciation, your vocabulary, your understanding of the British English IPA chart symbols, and to introduce you to this most beautiful of poems. Poems are a great way to enrich many aspects of your English and I hope that you enjoy the poem and the exercises included in the lesson.Popular Poetry Course
High Flight (An Airman’s Ecstasy)
August 18th, 1941
John Gillespie Magee (1922-1941)
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air . . .
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
John Gillespie Magee was born in Shanghai, China, and spoke Chinese before he spoke English. His American father and English mother were missionaries. They sent their son to be educated in England and America. Despite winning a scholarship to Yale, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940. He trained as a pilot in Canada before being posted to Britain where he flew a Spitfire with RCAF's No.412 Fighter Squadron at RAF Digby.
Despite experiencing air-to-air combat in autumn 1941, it was during a routine training flight over Lincolnshire that Magee was killed on December 11, 1941. Another aircraft on a training flight collided with Magee's plane and both pilots were killed. Magee was 19 years old. He is buried in Holy Cross Churchyard, Scopwick, Lincolnshire, UK.
He wrote High Flight on the back of a letter sent to his parents, saying, "I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed. I thought it might interest you." The letter also told them that his training would soon be over and said, "I think we are very lucky as we shall just be in time for the autumn blitzes (which are certain to come)."
The original of the poem is faded and difficult to read. Several reprints vary in punctuation, capitalisation, and layout from the original. The version used in this lesson is as close to Magee's original as can be established and stays true to his wish that, "if anyone should want this, please see that it is accurately copied, capitalized, and punctuated." Most versions use, even eagle, while the original version uses, ever eagle.
There are many poems that are recognised, if not known, by many people, and which have become cultural icons. Far from being dead or irrelevant, poetry still maintains the capacity to strike deep at the heart of what it means to be English. These poems are as English as cathedrals and castles, Maypoles and Morris dancers and should be read and enjoyed by all English speakers and by those who aspire to understand more of what it means to be English.
Widely anthologised, The Windhover, by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1884-1889), though dedicated To Christ our Lord, is a rapturous love poem to life itself. Hopkins struggled to balance his vocation as a Catholic Jesuit servant of God and his poetical yearnings. Because of this, and his experimental use of new metrical forms, and his religious faith, his poetry was largely unrecognised when he died aged 44. It was not until 1918 that his poems were first published. This poem remains one his best known and will help you with your pronunciation, your vocabulary, and your mastery of the IPA symbols. The lesson also has a prose interpretation to help you better understand the poem.
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by a Britlisher in the United Kingdom
I think this is the best poem about flying ever written.
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