Marks allocation for the literature component:

Poem 5 marks
Novel 15 marks
Total 20 marks

Note that candidates will only be tested on NOVEL and POEMS.

Complete Guide: QWERTYUIOP

Complete Guide: QWERTYUIOP

Here's an extract:

Write about one of the characters that you like in the short story,


Miss Broome

Miss Broome was old Mr Bannister’s secretary for forty-three years. She typed letter by letter and she hated the young girls who touch-type without having to look at the keyboard. According to Harry Darke, the young girls gave Miss Broome “the push”. When her boss retired her after forty three years, she had no place to go, for the office was her home and the job was “all she lived for” (p25). Thus whenever a new girl came to work, her ghost which haunted the typewriter would scare the girl until she was too frightened to continue. Sure, Miss Broome was angry and vicious at first...

Complete Guide : The Curse

Complete Guide : The Curse

A Comprehensive Guide to The Curse

Here is an example from the Guide:


In this chapter we are introduced to Puan Kamsiah and her daughter, Siti. We are also introduced to Datuk Zulkifli and Datin Sharifah, who are Azreen’s foster parents; they are sponsoring Azreen’s studies in London. We also introduced to Puan Normala and Noor, her daughter. Noor and Siti are classmates.

Siti conveys to her mother what Noor has been telling her classmates that Madhuri has been murdered. Puan Kamsiah feels that the ‘wicked woman’(p12) Puan Normala is spreading ‘malicious lies’ (p12) about Madhuri and ‘the poor girl isn’t even properly laid to ground yet!’ (p12) When Siti quotes her mother’s description of Normala as ‘a slimy cobra with a three-forked tongue’ (p12), it gives us a hint of the character of Normala: She is, in fact, a busybody and the village gossip.

Guide to GULP and GASP

Guide to GULP and GASP


Yes, the most comprehensive guide on Ann Fine's Step by Wicked Step to help you prepare for your SPM English 1119 Exam is out. Chapter by chapter analysis with lots of explanatory notes to explain the plot, theme, and characters of this loving & touching story. Page references are given to save you the trouble of having to locate important texts and quotes.

Complete Guide to Poems

Complete Guide to Poems

Sample Question and Answer

What does it mean when the poet says but on their brows there was not a sign of despair?

It means that despite the difficult situation they were in, they did not show any sign of hopelessness.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Marred By Careless Translation: Are You Still Playing Your Flute

As it appeared in The Star, Sunday 21st August 2011
Marred By Careless Transation: Are You Still Playing Your Flute?

 Zurinah Hassan’s Masihkah Kau Bermain Seruling is the kind of poem that’s meant to be read aloud. Written in a conversational style, the poem has a rhythmic and lyrical beauty that’s a joy to read. Unfortunately, the beauty of this well-crafted poem is marred by careless translation. Here’s the poem taken from the Ministry of Education’s   A Collection of Poems, Short Stories and Drama (p.6, 2009 ed):
Are you still playing your flute?
When there is hardly time for our love
I am feeling guilty
To be longing for your song
The melody concealed in the slim hollow of the bamboo
Uncovered by the breath of an artist
Composed by his fingers
Blown by the wind
To the depth of my heart.

Are you still playing your flute?
In the village so quiet and deserted
Amidst the sick rice field
While here it has become a luxury
To spend time watching the rain
Gazing at the evening rays
Collecting dew drops
Or enjoying the fragrance of flowers.
Are you still playing your flute?

The more it disturbs my conscience
to be thinking of you
in the hazard of you                                                                                                                                                               my younger brothers unemployed and desperate
my people disunited by politics
my friend slaughtered mercilessly
this world is too old and bleeding.
We see the persona asking her beloved, the flautist, throughout the poem: Are you still playing your flute? Where the question mark is placed, the question is left hanging, incomplete. Instead, the question should terminate at the end of the second line in the first stanza:

Are you still playing your flute/When there is hardly time for our love?

In the second stanza, the poem should terminate at the end of the stanza:

Are you still playing your flute/In the village so quiet and deserted/Amidst the sick rice fields/While here it has become a luxury/To spend time watching the rain/Gazing at the evening rays/Collecting dew drops/Or enjoying the fragrance of flowers?

Likewise, in the third stanza, it should have been an extended question. Reading the translation, I suppose it would be difficult to fit in the question correctly. The stanza could be rewritten to accommodate the question mark:

Are you still playing your flute/When it disturbs my conscience/to think of you/in the hazards of the city/ my younger brothers unemployed and desperate/my people disunited by politics/my friends slaughtered mercilessly?/ this world is too old and bleeding.

Poetry does allow the poet to take creative liberty with grammar rules. Interestingly, in the original poem, the poet has taken the liberty to dispense with the question mark throughout the poem. If I may hazard a guess: the translator, bearing in mind that schools are teaching literature and not Literature, decided to insert appropriate punctuation marks in the teaching of poetry.

The persona asks the flautist, where the flute symbolizes art or the artist, if he is still playing the flute when society is afflicted with social, political and economic problems. Even the village is not spared: it’s deserted/Amidst the sick rice field. Why only one rice field?  The Malay version has sawah sudah uzur, but common sense would tell us that the poet is referring to rice fields, and not one rice field!

Then, the next line in the second stanza has this: While here it has become a luxury. Compare this with the original:
Masihkah kau bermain seruling
ketika kampung semakin sunyi
sawah telah uzur
waktu jadi terlalu mahal
untuk memerhatikan hujan turun
merenung jalur senja
mengutip manik embun
menghidu harum bunga.

The language and tone of the persona has changed from one of love and tenderness to a tone of mild impatience or annoyance. The setting of the second stanza, in my opinion, is in the kampong/village.
However, the English version has the adverb of place, here, in the fourth line. The insertion of here could present a problem to the reader, or the student taking the examination. The persona  appears upset that her beloved can still find time to play his flute when it’s even a luxury watching the rains/Gazing at the evening rays/Collecting dew drops/Or enjoying the fragrance of flowers. Does here refer to the city that’s stated in the third stanza of the original poem? It appears to me that the translator has unwittingly given this stanza a different meaning: the flautist is playing his flute in the village, while here - the persona in the city?-  it’s a luxury to watch the rains, etc. Which is really okey-dokey, if we connect here with the city expressed in this line in the next stanza: di kota yang semakin kusut dan tenat.

But that’s not to be. The translation has these lines in the third stanza: The more it disturbs my conscience to be thinking of you/ in the hazard of you. There’s no hint of the city. Compare this with the original:

Masihkah kau bermain seruling
ketika aku terasa mata bersalah
untuk melayani rasa rindu padamu
di kota yang semakin kusut dan tenat
adik-adikku menganggur dan sakit jiwa
bangsaku dipecahkan oleh politik
saudara diserang bom-bom ganas
dunia sudah terlalu tua dan parah

If there’s one line that stands out like a sore thumb, it’s the translation of di kota yang semakin kusut dan tenat:  in the hazard of you. In the hazard of you!? What in the world does it mean? It doesn’t even bear any resemblance to the original. Robinette, a reader on the poet’s blog, rightfully remarked : “the line in the hazard of you, it's a wonder not more English teachers had risen up in arms!; …. May I suggest, with my limited understanding of BM, to rephrase it as in this peril-filled city/in this city fraught with hazards/perils”. Robinette also correctly pointed out that the noun hazard should be pluralized.

It is certainly easier to translate directly by saying: in the hazards/perils of the city. And why the singular in my friend slaughtered mercilessly, when the poet is referring to saudara diserang bom-bom ganas? It would make more sense that there’s more than one victim in a war. The translator has also taken out the graphic image of war that’s in the original – no violence, I suppose. On her blog, the poet says she’s referring  to the killings in Bosnia and Palestine: Dan di merata dunia spt Bosnia dan Palestin, orang Islam sedang diburu oleh bom-bom ganas .

The last stanza, with the poet’s own translation, has been left out by MOE:

Di sinilah berakhirnya percintaan kita
kerana zaman sedang menuntut para seniman
hidup di luar dirinya.

Is this the end of our love
time is forcing us, as artists                                                                                                                                                   not to be ourselves

What is MOE’s reason for leaving this stanza out?

Perhaps MOE does not want the students to read this because it sums up the theme of the poem? But that’s not fair to students taking the examination. What if students paraphrase the excised stanza as the theme? What if they quote the poet with reference to the friends slaughtered mercilessly as referring to the victims in Bosnia and Palestine? Even this correct answer can be dismissed because there’s no hint of war in the English translation. Anyway, the translation only has this: my friend slaughtered mercilessly. Maybe the persona’s close friend was slaughtered by twenty rampaging Mat Rempits with swinging helmets high on ganja? Any answer is possible.

In this article, I have attempted to look at only certain aspects of language in the translation. I’ve hesitated to delve deeper into the quality of translation as I can’t claim to have a strong command of Malay. I believe poetry lovers and English teachers who are more conversant in Malay will have more to say about the accuracy of the translation. It’s obvious the English translation has not done  justice to Zurinah Hassan’s poem.

Wake up MOE! It’s time for a revision.

(Note: The words in bold are my editing. The )
1.       A Collection of Poems, Short Stories and Drama (Ministry of  Education, p.6, 2009 ed)
2.     Zurinah Hassan’s blog: http://zurinahhassan.blogspot.com/2010/05/masihkah-kau-bermain-serulingare-you.html

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sun, Earth, Moon...When Do We Capitalise?

A reader wrote in to Mind Our English (Star2, Thursday 21st July) about when to capitalise sun, moon and earth. Fadzillah Amin, MOE's language adviser answered: There are no hard and fast rules about when to capitalise the first letters of these words and when not to.

There is indeed a grammar rule which states that proper nouns are capitalised. Examples of proper nouns are Karim, Malaysia, Mumbai, Sungai Pahang, etc. So, the names of the planets, stars and constellations are spelt with capital letters: Earth,Sun, Venus, Mercury, Leo, the Milky Way, etc. However, we say the earth, the moon, and the sun unless of course when they are personified. Remember, personification? When you personify an idea or an inanimate object, it means you are investing it with human qualities. Thus, in HD Carberry's poem, Nature, the four seasons are personified: Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn.

Therefore, when we apply the rule of capitalizing proper nouns, we'll have to disagree with the example that Fadzillah Amin quoted from a NASA website: The strategic placement  permits constant observation of spacecraft as the Earth rotates on its own axis. Here, the Earth should be spelled in lower case as the earth. She's right when she said: The case of the moon is different. Earth has only one moon, and in ordinary writing, we call it the moon... So it's more common to use the moon, and we don't ever call it Moon without the before it, as we call earth without the.

Again, when she quoted NASA to justify her explanation, we should disagree with her: NASA, however, uses initial capitals for all three space objects, i.e. the Sun, the Moon and the Earth...Is it OK in scientific writing to break grammar rules? I don't think so.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

He Had Such Quiet Eyes - -by Bibsy Soenharjo

The poem He Had Such Quiet Eyes is about the naivety of a young woman who fell in love too hastily. The poet describes the man’s quiet eyes as two pools of lies/Layered with thinnest ice. One immediately sees the vivid image of a cool, young man... 

Nature - by Hugh Doston Carberry


This poem can be taken quite literally. The poet tells us that Jamaica does not have the four seasons of winter, spring, summer and autumn. Nature records the poet’s observations of the amazing beauty of nature in his homeland. Even though it doesn’t have the four seasons...

 Critical Analysis- What it really means

This lovely poem by Hugh Doston Carberry is a celebration of the beauty of nature. The first four lines spell out the difference between the Jamaican climate and the climate in temperate countries: Jamaica, like Malaysia, doesn’t have the four seasons; instead it is a tropical country with sunshine and seasonal rains. The four seasons are capitalized....

To read the analyses of all the four poems, please refer to Complete Guide to SPM English 1119 Literature for 2011 exam. Only RM2.99!