The Estelle Prize for English

Our Schools' Competition programme provides academic competitions for school pupils. Prizes are awarded both to the student and their school.

Queens' College Estelle Prize for English

Competition Guidelines and Questions 2019

Queens' College invites submissions for the Estelle English Prize 2019, which will be awarded to the best essay submitted by a Year 12 (Lower Sixth Form) student. Entries should answer one of the following three questions, should be no longer than 2,500 words (including footnotes,references, illustration captions, and any other text), and should reach the College's Tutorial Office no later than Friday 12 April 2019. The main focus should not be on something that has been or is currently being studied in the classroom or offered as A-level coursework. The winner will receive a £500 prize; depending on the strength of the field of submissions, honourable mentions may also be made.


Prescribed essay topics for the 2019 competition (please choose one)


1. The following two poems, (a) 'To Autumn' by John Keats, and (b) 'Halcyon Days' by Walt Whitman, might be said to create for their readers an experience as well as an understanding of time. Making reference to the distinctive temporality of one or both poems, write about the experience of time in any other poem or poems you like.

(a) John Keats, 'To Autumn'

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

(b) Walt Whitman, 'Halcyon Days', from Leaves of Grass

Not from successful love alone,
Nor wealth, nor honor'd middle age, nor victories of politics or war;
But as life wanes, and all the turbulent passions calm,
As gorgeous, vapory, silent hues cover the evening sky,
As softness, fulness, rest, suffuse the frame, like freshier, balmier air,
As the days take on a mellower light, and the apple at last hangs really finish'd and
indolent-ripe on the tree,
Then for the teeming quietest, happiest days of all!
The brooding and blissful halcyon days!


2. 'To recognize that we touch one another in language seems particularly difficult in a society that would have us believe that there is no dignity in the experience of passion, that to feel deeply is to be inferior, for within the dualism of Western metaphysical thought, ideas are always more important than language. To heal the splitting of the mind and body, we marginalized and oppressed people attempt to recover ourselves and our experiences in language. We seek to make a place for intimacy. Unable to find such a place in standard English, we create the ruptured, broken, unruly speech of the vernacular. When I need to say words that do more than simply mirror or address the dominant reality, I speak black vernacular. There, in that location, we make English do what we want it to do. We take the oppressor's language and turn it against itself. We make our words a counter-hegemonic speech, liberating ourselves in language.' (bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom)

Explore bell hooks' claims about intimacy, liberation, and language in any writing that interests you.

3. With reference to the following poem by American writer, environmentalist, and cultural critic Wendell Berry, write about the representation and/or exploitation of nature in any poetry that interests you.

The sorrel filly

The songs of small birds fade away
into the bushes after sundown,
the air dry, sweet with goldenrod.
Beside the path, suddenly, bright asters
flare in the dusk. The aged voices
of a few crickets thread the silence.
It is a quiet I love, though my life
too often drives me through it deaf.
Busy with costs and losses, I waste
the time I have to be here – a time
blessed beyond my deserts, as I know,
if only I would keep aware. The leaves
rest in the air, perfectly still.
I would like them to rest in my mind
as still, as simply spaced. As I approach,
the sorrel filly looks up from her grazing,
poised there, light on the slope
as a young apple tree. A week ago
I took her away to sell, and failed
to get my price, and brought her home
again. Now in the quiet I stand
and look at her a long time, glad
to have recovered what is lost
in the exchange of something for money.


Each entry should be accompanied by a completed cover sheet, and submitted no later than 5 p.m. on Friday 12 April 2019 to the Tutorial Administrator, Tutorial Office, Queens' College, Cambridge CB3 9ET; essays and cover sheets may instead be scanned and submitted (as a single PDF file) by email to tutorial.secretary@queens.cam.ac.uk . Entries received after 5 p.m. on 12 April 2019 will not be considered. Entries that are over the prescribed maximum length will not be considered. Entries submitted without a cover sheet will not be considered. Please note that entries will not be returned and entrants may therefore wish to keep their own copy of the submitted essay. Receipt of entries will be confirmed by email. The winner and any honourable mention(s) will be notified by letter in May 2019 and will be invited to attend the Queens' College Open Day in July 2019. The College does not enter into correspondence about any aspect of the competition or the results thereof. Feedback on the essays submitted is not provided.

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