Not averse to quizzing Google

29th April 2005 at 01:00
Hilary Moriarty's article (TES, March 25) on the difficulties many young people have understanding the context and allusions of poetry (both contemporary and older) rang many bells. However, I felt that their difficulties can be more than overcome by students' educated and intelligent use of the internet.

As part of its outreach work, Cambridge university's English faculty holds online seminars for A-level students, and we are constantly impressed by the research skills we see.

A group studying Andrew Marvell's poem, "Bermudas", for example, would have puzzled over his description of pineapples, if one bright student had not chipped in that "in the 17th century, they thought that pineapples could fruit only once before dying".

She then explained that she had found the line puzzling, so had used Google to track down an explanation. Another student, looking at Tennyson's line "Now lies the Earth all Dana to the stars" offered a painting of Dana , again found through a search engine, which made the line immediately comprehensible.

A few students have taken this even further, and have begun to use Google to find similar uses of language and imagery in a range of poets and writers across time.

Students today may lack a range of references that poets assume they will understand, but the internet provides them with a powerful research tool at their fingertips, and many students can more than compensate.

If English literature teachers would like their A-level students to take part in the free online seminars described here, they can contact me directly at look at our website,

Harriet Truscott. The Converse Project Faculty of English Cambridge university 9 West Road, Cambridge

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