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.
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.
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.
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.
Perhaps one of the most famous World War I poems, The Soldier, by Rupert Brooke is known at least in part by most British people as it is often used on military memorials. The poem is one of a series of 5 sonnets that Brooke wrote on themes from the war published as 1914. This evocative and poignant poem romanticises the war rather than focussing on the grim realities. At the time Brooke wrote the poem, in the early years of the war, bodies of the dead were buried near where they fell and there are vast graveyards of British soldiers in foreign fields. Using patriotic language, the poem represents the idealism of the early days of the war which would be replaced by the horror of mechanised warfare as the war dragged on. Brooke would himself lie buried in a corner of a foreign field in 1915.Popular Poetry Course
By Rupert Brooke
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
A handwritten copy of the poem was written by Brooke for Edward Marsh, who was an early critic of Brooke’s poetry and the editor of the anthology, Georgian Poetry, published in 1912. Marsh donated it to the Library at the British Museum in 1915. He explains in a letter accompanying his donation that the poems were written when Brooke was staying with him in January 1915 three months before his death of septicaemia at Skyros in Greece. Marsh writes that the poems are ‘one of my most precious possessions’ which he can hardly bear to part with but for the fact that he thinks that they should become part of the Library’s collections.
Brooke sailed with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on 28 February 1915 but developed pneumococcal sepsis from an infected mosquito bite. French surgeons carried out two operations to drain the abscess but he died of septicaemia at 4:46 pm on 23 April 1915, on a French hospital ship, moored in a bay off the Greek island of Skyros in the Aegean Sea, while on his way to the landings at Gallipoli. As the expeditionary force had orders to depart immediately, Brooke was buried at 11 pm in an olive grove on Skyros.
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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