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HSC English Module A Exemplar Essay: John Keats X Jane Campion Bright Star

Dissecting a John Keats X Jane Campion Bright Star Essay with Katriel Tan!

English Team Katriel Tan and Marko Beocanin

I promise you, you can girlboss harder than Fanny.

I won’t lie, when I first started Mod A: Keats/Campion I was absolutely terrified. I mean, TWO TEXTS? It was hard enough writing an essay on just one in the other modules, how could the HSC possibly want me to write on a film and a collection of poems?

If you feel the same way, I get it! But I promise you, writing a stellar Keats x Campion essay is most definitely within your reach. It felt daunting at the start, but in the end it became my favourite module…well for the most part!

So welcome to my 20/20 Keats x Campion essay, let’s dissect what went right and along the way I’ll share with you a few tips I picked up!

Let’s start with everyone’s favourite…a Mod A intro!

Now something to note is that introductions in Module A have a very different ring to them than the other modules. We need to remember that it is called Textual Conversations for a reason - no matter the question you will always have to identify the nature of the textual conversation between Keats and Campion in your introduction. Interweaving between the two texts becomes your absolute bestie.

By no way is this the ONLY right way to write an introduction - it’s just one example of how you could structure one! The introduction is basically your “first impression” with your marker, and in Module A focusing on integrating comparison in every sentence becomes key in making them automatically start to love your essay! In my experience, Keats had so many themes that honestly the possibilities were endless in interchanging different parts of my base essay to fit the question. I used this intro again and again and again. Remember, INTEGRATE AND ALTERNATE :)


Paragraph 1 - When I have fears that I may cease to be

First I must admit, WIHF (When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be) is one of my absolute favourite Keats poems - you wanna know why? IT’S VERY EASY TO DISSECT AND WRITE ABOUT. I like to call WIHF and BS (Bright Star) the og’s - they have the classic Keats themes and follow a logical and smooth transition between lines and ideas. If there is one piece of advice I leave you with - try to write a WIHF/BS practice essay it’s one of the best base essays you could have!

Let’s take a look at my first paragraph!

In “When I Have Fears” (1818), Keats perpetuates that the only possibility of immortality is through creation and elucidates his fears that he will never achieve this against the grasp of mortality. Shaped by the prominence of death in his life - the early death of his brother Tom and his own worsening tuberculosis, Keats voices his overwhelming need to fulfil his artistic endeavours in order to preserve his legacy posthumously. The sonnet portrays his unfinished ambition early on, ‘Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain / Before high piled books…hold like rich garners the full ripened grain’ whereby his ‘teeming brain’, symbolic of his creative spirit is equated to images of overflowing fecundity and harvest via the simile of ‘like rich garners the full ripened grain’. Yet the anaphora of ‘before’ emphasises the urgency of his fear; even though he has the capacity of creating an abundance of art, he is limited by the brevity of mortality. At the volta of the poem, Keats pictures himself ‘on the shore of the wide world I stand alone’, presenting himself as a reflection of the revered and isolated Romantic genius who is the sole prophet of the creative spirit, standing on the intensely sensorial threshold of life and death. Keats then suggests that ‘till love and fame and nothingness do sink’, concluding that these pursuits are ultimately meaningless in the face of mortality. Furthermore, whilst the metre expects an iamb, the lack of additional stress in the word ‘nothingness’ illustrates his artistic ambition becoming consumed by the deep and inevitable expanse of mortality.

Just like every normal paragraph, we start with a topic sentence that introduces the poem and its main idea. Always answer the question in your first sentence! For me, I always then go into some context - never chuck in random pieces of context that don’t help your argument. Remember cause and effect, just because it’s context doesn’t mean it needs to be irrelevant to your main point about the poem. In this paragraph, the context about death and its correlation with artistic endeavour links directly to all of the following ideas and quotes! The paragraph then flows through the poem SEQUENTIALLY. This means that you can dissect the poem to its fullest - showing the marker you totallyyyy understand what Keats is going for. *wink wink*

I try to break down the quotes and really lay it out clearly to the marker. Remember, when you are writing evidence statements, think to yourself - how exactly does the technique impact the quote’s purpose? Identifying a technique is not enough, being able to apply it is what gains you the marks!

Paragraph 2 - Campion x WIHF

Okay! Now we gotta bring in Campion! This is what the textual conversation bit is all about - especially in a ‘shorter paired paragraph’ structure (total of 4 body paragraphs), this paragraph needs to be just as strong as your Keats one!

Campion shares Keats value of creativity, but her film offers a reprieve from the paralysing finality of Keats’ fears surrounding mortality, as through choosing to reimagine Keats life through Fanny’s female lens, Campions feminist dissonance, allows audiences to see Keats as human - despondent and intoxicated by love, rather than just the isolated artist we assume from Keats poems alone. Understanding the notion of artistry to be a defining theme in Keats’ work, Campion pays homage to this through Brawne’s gift of a handmade pillow slip to Keats upon Tom’s death, celebrating the ability for the creative arts to alleviate the despair and loss of mortality. Yet Campion’s focus on their relationship is emphasised when Keats is invited to recite “WIHF” during the Brawne’s Christmas dinner, where at a focus on Fanny’s face, he pauses at the line ‘Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance’ as he meets Fanny’s gaze saying, ‘I’ve gone blank’. As ‘cloudy’ has connotations of gloom and uncertainty, Campion illustrates how Keats’ relationship with Fanny has transformed his understanding of the value of creativity. Moreover, this is immediately followed by an intimate closeup shot of Keats ‘tracing’ Fanny’s hand, and as such Keats pursuits of a ‘high romance’ are taken out of the realm of the unreachable as he realises he might have something tangible and more valuable - the love between himself and Fanny. As he ‘breaks away’ from the fears of mortal constraint present in the succeeding lines of the poem, Campion reveals a new insight that perhaps pursuing and appreciating the joys of mortal existence can alleviate the crushing fears of mortality.

I always personally found Campion a little bit harder than writing for Keats, but once you realise that Campion is just working off of Keats ideas, it gets a little bit better. In this essay structure, your Keats paragraphs will never really have any textual conversation bits in it, and these have to shine in your Campion paragraphs. As such, the first sentence must compare and integrate the two authors. You must make links between Keats and Campion in every bit of evidence!! In Mod A rubric terms/words specific to the module are really important. Try to make a bank of these to throw into your writing - e.g in this paragraph: offers reprieve, dissonance, reimagine, pays homage, transformed, reveals a new insight.

Think about it like it’s a collab song - what does each singer lend to the song, how does it make the song sound different overall and how does one singer affect the artistic choices of the other?

Need some inspiration for your Textual Conversations work? Check out this other module A analysis!

Paragraph 3 - Bright Star <3

My advice for picking two poems: look at the question, what poems would offer two insights, ideas or perspectives to your thesis? You want to be saying different things! To help with this I recommend attaching ‘keywords’ to each poem in his collection - in this way, you can quickly sort through them in your brain. This is what I took into my HSC.

For ‘Bright Star’ my keywords were: mortality, love, personal context, good pair with WIHF

Okay now let’s look at this paragraph on Keats’ ‘Bright Star’ - what I think is one of the poems that sums up Keats whole set of canonical works pretty well.

In Keats’ “Bright Star!”, he portrays his seemingly paradoxical desire to experience profound love and immortality against the inevitability of mortality. Shaped by the Romantic value of the ‘sublime’ in which nature and emotions offered otherworldly sensations, Keats ultimately invites audiences to relish in the present moment. Keats personifies the star to laud immortality, ‘Or gazing..of snow upon the mountains and the moors’ whereby alliteration the alliteration of ‘mountains and moors’ creates emphasis on the marvelling of the majesty of the natural world. Yet at the volta, ‘No - yet still steadfast, still unchangeable’, Keats emphasises through the anaphora of ‘still’ that the kind of steadfastness that he desires is not the lonely eternity of the star merely observing in the sky. Rather, the sestet moves him from the natural world to the physical world as he lies ‘pillow’d upon [his] fair love’s ripening breast’ whereby through fructuous imagery, Keats also implies that it will eventually decay - explicating that whilst love is tangible and grounded in contrast to the unreachable star, human love is still embedded within mortality. In the last line, ‘or else swoon to death’, Keats’ ultimatum is emphasised by the sexual connotation of the word ‘swoon’; as he cannot possess immortality he should at least die in a moment of ecstasy.

Again, just like WIHF, the paragraph is sequential and has a good flow between the lines and ideas. You can see now that I have my paragraphs down to a repetitive structure!

Paragraph 4 - Campion x BS

When I tell you I spent probably 3 weeks refining my Campion x BS paragraph, I really did spend 3 weeks. It took me so long to figure out what film analysis I wanted to use - but see this is the good part about Campion. Her film is so versatile! Whatever point you want to make, her film is there for you, there isn’t only one interpretation of a scene. Getting to a point where your essay is cohesive takes time! So don’t worry if it’s feeling really hard right now!

Campion resonates with Keats’ elevation of love yet reimagines his idea that one can only achieve one or the other: love or immortality. Rather, impacted by the early loss of her own son Jasper in 1993, Campion’s post-modern reframing of Keats’ concerns through the perspective of Fanny who stands on the periphery of death, reveals a new insight that perhaps their love is the legacy which will immortalise him. When love letter correspondence between Keats and Fanny begins, mid shots capture the chaotic littering of butterflies, contrasted later with close-up shots of dead butterflies with tattered wings, illustrating Campion’s mirroring of Keats portrayal of the transience of nature to compliment the transience of love, as the motif of butterflies foreshadows the succumbing of their relationship to mortality. Yet when Fanny recites “Bright Star!” at the end of the film, Campion uses an extremely wide establishing shot in which Fanny’s black mourning pelisse contrasts the glaring white snow, and as such, the audience is positioned to focus solely on Fanny and offers a forced consideration of her perspective and the consequences of Keats’ death. A tracking shot of Fanny elevates the emotional potency of her facial expressions, as we follow her wrought with tears whilst reciting the poem, and as such, in having the final word, Fanny eternalises their romance and brings new insight to Keats’ legacy. If Keats’ poem concludes that love and immortality become polarities in the shadow of mortality, Campion reveals a more hopeful insight, elevating the power of love to become vessels of remembrance and legacy that can achieve immortality after all.

This was personally one of my favourite Campion paragraphs! Don’t be scared to try different scenes and examples and get feedback, sometimes some scenes will work better than others for different questions, no matter the poem!

Struggling with how to integrate context into your writing? Take some inspiration from this article!

Let’s wrap it up

Conclusions are something most people have mixed feelings about, and personally, it took me a little bit of time to understand that your conclusions don’t have to be so lengthy or overly wordy! But they are most definitely important, and extremely necessary in your essay! Always write a conclusion!!

In my example, you’ll see that my conclusion is only one sentence. This isn’t to say that every time I wrote a practice Keats x Campion I always had a one-sentence conclusion. It always depends on the question and how much you need to wrap it up.

Thus, the textual conversation between Keats and Campion reveals new insights into our ability to transcend the rigid notions and fears of mortality through love and human connection, proving immortality can possibly be achieved despite the inevitability of mortality.

Some Mod A questions will have a specific theme that you just need to make a solid opinion on (like my example above) and some will be more lengthy alluding to more expansive concepts like time and space, context and values - which require a little more prodding.

So there you have it! My guide through my Keats x Campion essay. Remember that Module A is one of the best opportunities to show your comparative skills in writing - integrating between the two texts constantly is always the way to go! I hope this helps you - keep writing and reviewing! You got this! A banger Keats x Campion essay is in your future :)

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Maximise Your Chances Of Coming First At School

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