Monthly Archives: August 2012

Ofqual’s report on GCSE English Results (and some interesting links)

Somewhat late in the day on Friday 31st of August – its tardiness (due originally at 10:30 and delivered at about 4:00) prompting an awful lot of comments on Twitter about missed deadlines and handing in homework late – Ofqual reported on the GCSE English and Language grading row.

Their finding was that there was nothing wrong with the June grading and that they will stand: the January gradings were overly generous. Indeed Glenys Stacey, Chief Executive of Ofqual, in a BBC interview here describes students on January as having had a lucky break. What an appalling way of describing the hard work and effort our students put into their work!

The key findings are reported on the Ofqual News Page here

And for those with the nerve, the full report is here

These are, perhaps, the most salient parts of the report:

“People were particularly concerned about the June grade boundaries. We have found that examiners acted properly, and set the boundaries using their best professional judgement, taking into account all of the evidence available to them. The June boundaries have been properly set, and candidates’ work properly graded.

“The issue is not the June, but the January boundaries. Again, examiners used their best judgement in setting these boundaries, but they had less data and information to work with. Most candidates were not sitting at the time, they were waiting for June, and because they were new qualifications, examiners could not rely so much on direct comparisons with the past. As a result, those grade boundaries were set generously.

“We have thought carefully about what should be done, and spoken with external assessment experts about it. Our job is to maintain standards over time, so grades awarded are comparable from one year to the next.

“We have spoken to exam boards and they have been very responsive. Recognising the strength of feeling, they will be offering early resits for students who sat the June units. We will now go through our analysis and evidence with the representative groups for schools and colleges, so they can see it for themselves. We will also talk with schools, exam boards and assessment experts to see what lessons can be learnt and what can be done better in the future”

What this means is that the June grades will stand: the verdict is that they were the correct grades.

Now, it seems to me that this is not quite the independent review that the NAHT had demanded and there are going to be an awful lot of people who took exams in January who are now going to feel very undermined and undervalued, even though Ofqual have very generously said that they will not be downgrading the results from January.

Ofqual are saying that only 7% of candidates submitted in January and therefore there were too few candidates from which to properly grade and level work. Yet they still did it. It seems to me that if 7% is too few to accurately grade a qualification, it ought not to be offered.

Perhaps a mimimum uptake should have been put in place and unless sufficient numbers of students are submitted, the entry is denied. If one candidate alone had attempted to submit their GCSE in January, would they have been permitted to? Is it an inalienable right to take a qualification in circumstances where there is no way of accurately grading you?

7% of the GCSE entrants is also, however, quite a large number. One wonders as to the mechanics of this: when does the figure become sufficient? At 10% entry? At 15%? At 25%? I must confess I have not read the full report and those questions may be answered within it…

Ofqual says also that

Understandably, schools were over-reliant on the January 2012 boundaries to set expectations as there was little other information available to them.

Again, certainly for OCR this is not entirely accurate: raw mark grade boundaries are available for 3 cycles prior to June 2012 and they are all broadly consistent with the January 2012 grade boundaries. This blog post includes the grade boundaries and their changes from January 2011 to June 2012.

However, if we accept the point that there were insufficient submissions in January 2012 to accurately assess grades, there must have been even fewer in the first two cycles in 2011 when the course was only 6 and 12 months old respectively.

A big question that could be asked is: to what extent did examination boards warn centres that the January 2012 (or previous) raw mark grade boundaries could not and should not be relied upon? Personally, I know that I telephoned the exam board for clarification on grade boundaries and – in a telephone call I do specifically recall, followed up by an email link to the raw score grade boundaries – was told to refer to the Jan and June 2011 grade boundaries.

Also, are we to accept that Ofqual and the examination boards had no idea that this was likely to be a problem? Reports in the media suggest that this situation was anticipated three years before.

Huffington Post

TES

What was done to warn and alert centres? According to Ofqual’s news page

Exam boards will review the advice and guidance they give to schools about GCSE English including its structure, how grade boundaries are set and how they should be used.

which to me suggests and implies that the advice previously given has been minimal and / or unreliable and / or misleading.

So, putting ourselves into the position of a young man who has believed for two years that he has been working at a C grade only to be rewarded with a D, what have Ofqual offered him?

1. the opportunity to withdraw an application for remarking at no cost; and

2. the chance to resit his examinations in November 2012.

If this hypothetical young man has lost a place on a sixth form course or an apprenticeship or a college placement or employment, one wonders what sort of help this two-month early retake will be if his place has already been filled by someone else.

I also wonder what the sixth form schools and colleges’ stance is: are they adhering strictly to their original offers that expected a C-grade in English? Or are they using a wider discretion to admit students who have a D-grade?

Whilst Ofqual’s report has clarified some issues, I think there are still a range of concerns and questions that still need to be addressed and I wonder how long it will be before parents and / or unions attempt to make a legal challenge.

A response from ASCL is repeated on TES here and Steven Twigg, Shadow Education Secretary here. This is The Independent’s report. And Geoff Barton blogged about the situation on his always thoughtful blog here.

It is now looking as if a Parliamentary Inquiry is likely, according to The Guardian which claims it

looks all but inevitable

that Michael Gove will be summoned to give evidence.

This is, despite the headline, a very interesting article in the second half, showing an examiner’s point of view.

Somewhat uninspiringly – though perhaps predictably – out learned Prime Minister’s response is to “brush aside” the concerns of parents, students and teachers

saying he planned further moves to reverse ‘dumbing down’ and that he refused to ‘cave in’ to teaching unions who want to ‘pretend standards are rising each year’.

He added: ‘ “All must have prizes” is not just patronising, it is cruel – and with us it is over.’

Mr Cameron said there would be ‘no more excuses for failure in schools; no more soft exams and soft discipline’.

How terribly disappointing to our Prime Minister so completely failing to see the depth of concern and anger that this has generated, failing to understand the actual issue and continuing to undermine a profession which has nothing but the best interests of children at its heart.

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Word Of The Week, Mote

A mote.

A mote plays havoc with my autocorrect here. If, my dear iPhone, I had meant ‘more’, ‘moat’, ‘mots’, ‘motte’ or ‘mite’, please be assured that I would have written that! I am a man with a brain; you are a piece of plastic connected to the Internet. Therefore in all things, I am right and you are wrong!!

But is it my phone’s fault that it does not recognise the word mote? Let us consider: my iPhone is 6 months old, give or take; the word we’re looking at is perhaps over a thousand years old. I will have trouble next week putting names to faces of classes I’ve not seen for six weeks, let alone a thousand years!

Because mote evolved – I was going to say coined but I’m assuming that evolved is a better word: the deliberate coining on neologisms to describe new inventions or concepts feels very modern and industrialised; evolution feels more traditional, natural and organic. But these are just feelings and my prejudices with absolutely no evidence – around 1000-1200 AD. It seems to have come from Old English into Middle English.

And it means a speck, a particle, a tiny thing. A nubbin. Which is a glorious word itself: nubbin.

Anyway, I am being distracted!

Back to mote.

Phonologically, it is pronounced to be a homophone for moat.

On an aside and returning to the frustrations of autocorrect functions: when writing homophone the iPhone autocorrects it to homophobe. What a sad indictment of the universe we live in that we might be more likely to be discussing the prejudiced and abhorrent world of homophobes before the world of language and phonology.

Anyway, digressing again Mr P!

Phonologically, we open with the long sensuous /m/ rolling around inside our mouths, our lips pressed together. This /m/ could last for as long as we wanted it to. We could savour it, linger over it, prolong it.

Until, that is the short vowel /əʊ/ and precise /t/ cut it off short.

It is almost as if the tiny precise /t/ phoneme is the speck, hidden in the vast and rolling world encapsulated by the /m/.

And the word mote has a poetic and lyrical depth to it for such a tiny word.

The word is used biblically to describe hypocrisy:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

This at least is the King James translation of Matthew 7:3. More recent translations have tended to go for speck, speck of sawdust or even the – in my opinion very ungainly – chip. I understand why: speck of sawdust has a more direct comparison with beam or – even more ungainly – plank. And these are translation of the Greek word Καρφος meaning splinter – which is itself a translation from the Hebrew. But mote is just so much more resonant!

And the second massively familiar quote is from Carl Sagan who describes our own planet – our green and pleasant land – our terraqueous globe – as

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

http://robotics.dem.uc.pt/norberto/we.htm

Who says scientists can’t be lyrical?! What a beautiful phrase to encapsulate the beauty, preciousness, miraculousness and perhaps insignificance and fragility of our daily squabbles.

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This is the photo taken in 1990 by Voyager 1 which inspired Sagan. Beneath is a more recent and spectacularly beautiful photo that shows again the mote on which we live, love, hope, dream and die.

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This picture was found here http://spaceweather.com/gallery/indiv_upload.php?upload_id=70852 and has been scaled for effect.

GCSE English Results 2012 OCR Grade Boundaries

Having looked through the OCR Website, these are summaries of the GCSE Grade Boundaries in all three of the English qualifications: English, English Language and English Literature.

I have gone back to the start of this qualification in 2010 and, as centres have the option of submitting Controlled Assessments or, indeed, sitting the examination, in either January or June there have been now four cycles of assessment. Therefore, the grade boundaries have been published – publically available on the OCR website – four times since the inception of the specification: January and June 2011, January and June 2012.

Let’s take English first: the standalone qualification that combines some elements of literature and language.

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You can see here that in every part of the qualification, the grade boundaries have increased and that the majority of the increase has focussed on the C/D borderline candidates and especially in the Reading Literary Texts and Imaginative Writing units which are Controlled Assessments. Students produce these essays in class, in examination conditions over the course of the two year qualification. When marked against criteria, students’ essays are awarded a numerical mark and these are the raw scores listed above. A student completing an essay in January 2011 may have achieved 21 marks and the evidence at that time would suggest it was a low C-grade essay; when submitted in June 2012, that same essay with the same raw score of 21 comes out as a low D-grade essay.

Only a student whose essay is marked at 25 points would have been awareded a C-grade in June 2012. However, when that student was being handed the essay back, they would have been under the impression that it was a very strong C-grade essay and almost a B-grade essay. If a school were to be offering additional support and assistance and mentoring to their C/D borderline students as many schools do, this student would not have been a candidate even though the essay has only barely crossed and C/D threshold in June 2012.

The effect is even more pronounced in the Imaginative Writing unit: if students were awarded a C by their teachers for their work produced in the course of Year 10 or 11, every single student would have been downgraded to a D because the C-grade boundary has shifted from 21-25 to 26-29.

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These are the English Language Grade Boundaries. The same pattern emerges: the grade boundaries of Controlled Assessments have shifted by a significant number of marks and especially in the C/D borderline. Here, however, the effect is slightly less extreme: because this qualification marks are out of 60, the increase in grade boundaries does not shift attainment by whole grades as it does in the English qualification. Therefore a larger proportion of those students receiving essays and stories back at C-grades still achieved their C-grade.

This qualification also demands only one literary essay whereas the English qualification requires three which are then averaged out.

These two qualifications are important: these are the grades that sixth form and vocational colleges, employers and schools look to to determine whether the candidate has the baseline C for literacy and is almost invariably looked for. Whilst many colleges will still be accepting students with a D instead of a C, and no doubt have been inundated with phone calls recently, the C-grade in GCSE English / Language is still going to be a benchmark for the ability to communicate into the future.

For the sake of completeness, below are the English Literature grade boundaries.

This shows that the Literature qualification has not suffered from this rise in grade boundaries to anything like the same extent as the English or Language: the C-grade threshold is almost identical to the previous years, having increased by a single mark. The rise in grade boundaries here has affected the lower grades: Es and Fs have seen the gratest rise in grade boundaries; A*-B demonstrate a lowering of the grade boundaries. A number of factors may help to explain this: a large number of schools elect not to enter students for Literature without a realistic probability of achieving a C grade; it is a more challenging exam requiring detailed knowledge and understanding of six texts encompassing drama, poetry and prose in both contemporary and “heritage” contexts and from other cultures.

The Heritage Prose and Contemporary Poetry examination is peculiar: at foundation level, the grade boundaries have reduced slightly; at the higher level, there is a huge rise: every student who wrote to the same level as a C grade essay in January 2012, which would have required 19-23 marks, would have achieved a D-grade in June 2012.

Now, I am not banging any particular drum here. These are publically available statistics and I have done nothing more here than put in one place information in the OCR website.

The OCR Examination Board’s official stance, as stated on their website, is

Grade boundaries are not automatically carried forward and are set in the context of the overall performance on a specification.

This summer is the first time we have certificated at specification level for GCSE English and English Language and also saw a far higher entry for the coursework units than at any previous exam series.

Our responsibility is to ensure that, overall, we maintain standards as we move to the new specifications and this, inevitably, has an impact on the setting of the boundaries.

Whilst significant increases in coursework or controlled assessment boundaries from one examination to the next are not desirable, all the examination boards needed to raise these this summer.

Overall, the awarders were confident that the right standards had been carried forward for the new English specifications to meet the regulator’s expectations of comparable outcomes in these subjects.

The OCR website is www.ocr.org.uk for those of you who want to check it out yourselves.

If you have concerns about your results, it is possible for your school to request remarking – the deadline for that or for any sort of appeal is 20th September 2012 according to the Joint Council for Qualifications http://www.jcq.org.uk/attachments/published/1695/Post%20Results%20Services%20Booklet%2012-13.pdf

However, as I understand it, it would be remarked and then the marks would be converted back into grades using the same grade boundaries as are above and, therefore, this would not itself improve your grade. And remarking will always run the risk of marks being lowered.

Three forms of post-results review are possible:

1. A clerical review to ensure that all pages of the script have been marked and the maths has been correct;

2. A review of marking to ensure that the mark scheme has been applied correctly. Note that this will only change the mark which will then be converted into a grade by the same mark scheme as in June;

3. A review of moderation if and only if the moderator has marked down Controlled Assessments that we’re submitted in June. Again, this is a review of the mark, not of the conversion from marks to grades.

There are a range of calls from NAHT, Ofqual and now even Jeremy Hunt  to have some form of review and possible regrading.

And we all must be relieved and have faith in the power of Mr Hunt to put things right!

Ofqual has now reported back and their findings are somewhat disappointing. Click here to see see my observations on the Ofqual report and a variety of other commentators from the media.

 

GCSE English Results 2012

Let me rewind the clock for you a bare two months, a scant eight weeks ago. Our Controlled Assessments had been marked, our students had sat their exams, we had thought their exams were fair and accessible. Even the kids were happy with them – as happy as teenagers can be having been cooped up for a couple of hours writing.

Now fast forward to last Wednesday. The night before the results are due. Kids and their parents may or may not have been aware that schools would have had their examination results on Wednesday. They may or may not have been aware that there was a bubble of concern, disbelief and horror burbling informally around Twitter.

They may well have woken on Thursday to the beginnings of the bursting of that bubble. Results down; historic end to grade inflation; English grades down. Perhaps they will recall all the stern-faced serious teachers and Principals telling them how their future absolutely depended on their English grade. Maybe their parents were staring hopefully at the offer letter from sixth form colleges asking for a C grade.

And this is the mood in which kids came to get their results: hopeful, confused, worried and scared.

And results were down in English nationally.

Now, we sit OCR, an examination board renowned for rigorous marking and tough assessment. Having done a brief investigation of the web and OCRs website it is absolutely clear to me that the grade boundary shifted massively between January and June 2012.

Let’s look at the C/D boundaries as, in my school as in all others, this is often the focus of Senior Leadership Focus. In my school, this was basically my teaching group and this bunch of kids sat the English examination rather than the Language and Literature specifications. Ironically, because we felt it gave them a greater chance of getting a C grade.

Looking at the A*-C rates however, it looks like we were totally wrong! OCR nationally awarded 35% of students A*-C in English and 85% in Language. That is such a staggeringly vast distance between these success rates it can only really indicate that English is being viewed as poor cousin to Language.

For those who don’t know, there are three “English” course: English is a standalone qualification; Language and Literature are two distinct qualifications and, combined, constitute a wider course with more reading the English. Not harder but wider.

So, we went through the course over the past two years. There are three pieces of Controlled Assessments:

1. Reading Literary Texts – which requires three essays on three texts;
2. Imaginative Writing; and
3. Speaking and Listening

and there is one examination testing students reading of unseen media and non-fiction texts and original writing.

In January 2012 – in fact in every examination series between the introduction of this course two years ago and January 2012 – the grade boundary for a C was 21 – 25 marks. That means that an essay submitted in January marked at 23 would receive a good solid C grade.

In June 2012 the grade boundaries were

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which means, to me, that the same essay, still meeting the criteria for 23 marks, is now graded as a D.

Now I may be wrong. Numbers and statistics are not my strongest point. But how can that be fair?

In what world can that be deemed anything but grossly unfair? Let me share with you an open letter sent by the National Association of Head Teachers to Michael Gove

Dear Michael

I write to share NAHT’s grave concerns about the circumstances surrounding this year’s GCSE examinations, with particular reference to English Language. It has become apparent that grade boundaries were significantly altered between the January and June examinations series and the consequence of this has been that the overall requirement for attaining a C grade increased by ten marks between January and June.

These adjustments appear to have been made because of unsubstantiated concerns that there was too high a pass rate emerging from the January series.

NAHT believes that this is an iniquitous and unfair state of affairs, discriminating against those pupils whose schools took the decision to enter them in June. The decision will have serious consequences for those pupils adversely affected. In many cases, this may well prevent them from taking up opportunities to pursue A Level courses. This situation offends natural justice and is, quite simply, unfair. If no action is taken it could also risk doubt being cast on the reliability of the grades awarded to the January cohort.

We are asking you to instigate an independent enquiry as to how this situation was allowed to occur. We believe that there is a course of action that could begin to address the manifest unfairness of the situation and restore confidence in the examination system. This involves the re-grading of June entrants using the same criteria applied in assessing the work of January entrants. However, only a full, independent enquiry will start to assuage the universal outcry from pupils, parents and school leaders alike against this appalling situation.

I am sending a similar letter to Glenys Stacey.

Yours sincerely

Russell Hobby
General Secretary

Doesn’t look like it is just me then!

What’s more, the grade boundaries have risen across the board but, by far, the most marked rise is at the most critical point: the C/D borderline. The A* boundary has risen by a mark; the C boundary by 4 marks; the G boundary by 1 mark. Now, I can accept that statistically you would expect a bell curve like that. But that bell curve is disproportionately affecting C/D borderline kids. The kids who need that C grade to progress to the next level of their education or their jobs.

And it creates a perfect storm for schools: at the same time that Michael Gove is demanding increasing A*-C grade levels from schools, pushing the benchmark level up from 35% to 40%, the exam boards are slashing the numbers of kids who are getting the C grade. Has Gove put pressure on the exam boards? Have instructions or indications been given, implicitly or explicitly by Gove?

I suppose that’s for someone else to decide.

Winter Is Coming

Having slogged my way through 3 books and 400 pages of the fourth of the Song of Fire and Ice, I have learnt many things primarily that

Winter Is Coming

as the Starks of Winterfell say. Often. All the time!

“My Lord Father has been beheaded as a traitor! Winter is coming!”

“My son has been thrown from a window and an assassin looms over his bed. Winter is coming.”

“I have recurring dreams of crows trying to peck my third eye! Winter is coming !”

“I’ve abandoned my friends and murdered a good man to prove myself to a bunch of outlaws. Winter is coming… And who’s the hottie with the red hair?”

“Paper cut! Winter’s coming!”

“The X-Factor’s back on television. Winter is coming!”

Therefore, I have considered taking sensible precautions.

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Food must be stockpiled, hibernation anticipated. After all, Winter Is Coming!

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Robert Browning

The Last Ride Together and The Lost Mistress

These poems by Robert Browning are both written in the Victorian period, within a decade of each other: The Last Ride was published in 1855; The Lost Mistress ten years earlier in 1845. Whilst both poems show a very similar situation, the characters that Browning’s poetry creates are markedly different.

Both poems open in the middle of a conversation between two lovers as the woman calls an end to the relationship and both men appear to react similarly: “all my life seemed meant for fails” laments the speaker of The Last Ride; whereas The Lost Mistress opens with the wonderfully simple “All’s over, then”. Both men are seen here equating the love of their mistress as being “all”: it is all-encompassing and all-important and for it to be denied seems, in these lines, to doom more than just the relationship and the romance between the two but everything in the world. Indeed, in the second stanza of The Last Ride Together, Browning’s speaker comments and perhaps even wishes, almost off-handedly, that “the world may end to-night” as his mistress has consented to spend the evening with him on one last ride. However this lover does modify this sense of nihilism: his love was not what his life was meant for; it only “seemed” that it was meant for. Both men are also addressing this apparent despair to the mistress and, therefore, the objective reader may infer that this increased sense of loss could be little more than courteous flattery or an attempt to emotionally coerce the Mistress into taking the lover back.

The speaker in The Last Ride Together is much more serious in his view of love in a way which is disconcerting to a modern audience. He describes his mistress’ decision to end the relationship as his “fate” which is a word that has connotations of death and, further, he claims that her decision whether to acquiesce to the ride held “life or death in the balance” and that he so hoped for the ride that his heart stopped beating and it was only when she agreed that “The blood replenished me again”. In his language, therefore, the speaker seems to equate love with life and the denial of love with a form of death. Even the possession of love seems to be in some ways destructive of the man. His final ride allows him to be “one day more deified” and the presence of his mistress means that “flesh must fade for heaven is here” and bliss in love would “sublimate / My being”. All these phrases imply that the man will be changed, altered and remade into a more spiritual or more angelic form through the possession of love. The corollary of this, however, is the implication of the loss of or death of the physical or more bestial form.

In contrast, the lover in The Lost Mistress is much more reasonable: he imagines a life after the end of the love affair in which he and the woman are “mere friends”, albeit with a painful sense of loss. In the very simple language of that poem, he is able to imagine a “To-morrow” whereas the speaker in The Last Ride Together denies the prospect of a tomorrow in the anticipation that the world “may end” and wishes for the “instant made eternity”. He wishes to leave the past behind and yet never achieve a future but to remain in the present forever.

There is something that echoes Platonic and Christian in The Last Ride Together in the speaker’s sense of a division between the flesh and the spirit, the body and the soul. Indeed the opening four lines of stanza VI explicitly compare the high ambition of “brain”, “thought” and “will” to the weakness and failures of the “hand”, “act” and “fleshly screen”. Love is seen as being transformative and capable of changing the lover from mere impure flesh to pure spirit. In this sense, the speaker compares himself with the final achievements of the soldier, the statesman, the poet and sculptor and musician in order to exalt the power of both love and of his final ride with his Mistress. The soldier achieves only a “flag stuck on a heap of bones”; the poet’s “brains beat” out rhymes but leave him only “poor, sick, old ere your time” and no nearer the sublime; the musician’s achievements become stale and fall out of the “fashions” of the day. The speaker sees his own riding as a superior memorial and closer to the sublimation offered by love.

The speaker, additionally, derives comfort from this division of body and soul: being but frail and weak flesh, it is not his fault that he was unable to achieve the love that he had hoped for. In fact, he claims further relief from this: as “all men” are limited by their physical weaknesses, he sees himself as being one in community of men, all of whom “strive” but not one “succeeds”.

The lover in The Lost Mistress also attempts to derive comfort for the ending of the relationship. Very realistically, on hearing his mistress’ bad news, he initially distracts himself in his own surroundings, the “cottage” of his mistress. He hears the sparrows’ “good-night twitter” and notices the woolly “leafbuds” on the verge of bursting into leaf. In very economical language, Browning here identifies a very specific setting redolent with subtle meaning: it is rural cottage at evening in the springtime. The evening time seems wholly apt for the ending of the relationship as the day ends; whereas the vitality of springtime and potential vigour of the leafbuds being about to “burst” into new life could ironically imply that the relationship which is ending could have been a strong and powerful one which has been cut short. The lover also tells his mistress that her voice “when you wish the snowdrops back” will “stay in my soul for ever”. This subtle image may carry a number of meanings: as snowdrops flower much earlier in spring time, the reader may equate them with the relationship itself and infer that the mistress will come to regret her decision as much as the speaker, or to wish that the relationship was at its inception and full of potential rather than having proved itself to have failed.

The entirety of The Lost Mistress is a dramatic monologue addressed to the silent mistress. After the opening stanza of The Last Ride Together, however, Browning switches into a soliloquy: the speaker addresses the reader directly rather than the mistress, even switching to the second person in stanza III which opens with the direct address “Hush!” This difference in form is reflected in the language and form:

The Lost Mistress conjures a realistically imagined setting and relationship described in natural and conversational tones; The Last Ride Together is altogether more rhetorical and literary in its language and word choices as well as philosophical in its tone. The choice of words such as “deified” and “sublimated” belong more to a philosophical tract than a genuine conversation. Browning also uses the rhythm of his verse in The Last Ride Together to imitate the beating heart of the lover and the thumping hoofbeats of the horse, exploiting the shorter tetrametric lines, rhyming couplets and generally iambic rhythm to create the pace and pattern of the character. In stanza III the rhythm increases in pace, using internal rhymes and caesurae in order to create the sense of panic and fear as the mistress makes him wait for her answer. In contrast, the rhythms of The Lost Mistress uses the greater length between its rhymes on alternate pentametric lines in order to resemble more the rhythms of natural speech. This makes the final stanza’s statement that the speaker will resign himself to saying “what mere friends say / Or only a thought stronger” and holding his mistress hand “but as long as all may / Or so very little longer” such a tender and moving moment.

There is some debate about the nature of the ride in this poem: traditional interpretations read it simply as a horse ride, suggesting perhaps a rather higher class relationship than in The Lost Mistress. Another interpretation suggests that the ride in question is in fact a sexual ‘ride’ and refers the reader to the sensuousness of the Mistress’ actions as she “leant… and lingered” and lay for a moment “on my breast” and the depiction of the moment as the speaker sees her “bosom heave”. Indeed, the generally iambic rhythms could imitate the rhythm of the sexual act as much as the rhythm of a horseride. However, such an interpretation does neglect the courtesy that both men display towards their lost mistresses. Neither men harangues or berates the woman but both accept her wishes, the lover in The Last Ride Together even going so far as to “bless / Your name in pride and thankfulness”. Both men explicitly seek their lady’s permission to ride with her or to “take your hand in mine” making no assumptions based on their previous relationship. This courtesy would have been expected in the Victorian times in which Browning was writing, an era of strong social and moral expectations. It is only through inference that the reader recognises the bitterness with which the lover in The Last Ride Together repeats the word “Since” in the opening lines on that poem, or the pain behind the lover’s lament that “friends the merest / Keep much that I resign”. Courtesy of the time would also have almost precluded any sexual relations between men and women, making the sexual interpretation of The Last Ride Together unlikely. Indeed, the speaker’s attempts in stanza IX to imagine life with his mistress, had “fate” proposed that he should attain “bliss here”, lead him to “sink back shuddering from the quest”. The use of the word shuddering suggests a horror and fear of that final consummation, as does the rather strange distance between the speaker and the mistress in the poem: the reader is given only the barest description of her brow and “deep dark eyes” and even when he refers to her on the ride she is a distance away as he describes “yonder girl that fords the burn”. In contrast the presence of the mistress in The Lost Mistress is continually reinforced by the repetition of the second person pronoun as the speaker addresses her directly and the tenderness of his taking her hand.

In conclusion, these poems are two very different presentations and two reactions to the same situation. The Last Ride Together is perhaps less accessible to a modern audience in its philosophical and rhetorical tone which can alienate the reader from the sense of hurt and loss throughout it. The Lost Mistress is a beautifully controlled and realistic depiction of the lover’s reaction to being rejected.