Perfecting poetry and prose

The most successful writers spend time editing and changing their work, carefully selecting the best words and organising their work into the perfect structure. Through the study of original manuscripts from the collection, students will understand the process of writing and the significance of the editing process.
Focus Texts #1: 
Symphony in Yellow: signed manuscript of a poem by Oscar Wilde (late 19th C, undated) 
Focus Texts #2: 
While the Billy Boils, 1892-1896: Angus & Robertson manuscripts by Henry Lawson

Text Type


Learning intention

Students are learning to: 

  • edit their own work 
  • make informed language choices 
  • reflect on their learning  

Success criteria

Students will be successful when they can: 

  • review their own work 
  • produce edited work  
  • compose a short reflection statement  

Background notes for teachers and students

Who was Oscar Wilde?

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was an Irish born writer and poet who lived much of his life in England. Many people know Oscar Wilde for his witty sayings and observations. He is best known as a writer for his plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest and for his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Oscar Wilde also wrote stories for children and published a number of poems.  His poem Symphony in Yellow was first published in Great Britain in the Centennial Magazine in 1889. During Oscar Wilde’s lifetime homosexuality was illegal. He was given a gaol sentence for having a homosexual relationship and died only a few years after being released.  Symphony in Yellow has been set to music by English composer Carey Blyton, who is better known for composing the theme for Bananas in Pyjamas and music for the Dr. Who series. And yes, he was related to Enid Blyton, who was his aunt!

Who was Henry Lawson?

Henry Lawson (1867–1922) was born in a tent in Grenfell, on the New South Wales goldfields, and had a tough childhood, moving around with his family while his father pursued gold, and helping his mother run the family selection in his father’s absence. Shy and partially deaf, Lawson had only three years of formal education and yet, encouraged by his mother, with whom he moved to Sydney following the end of his parents’ marriage, he began writing poetry and short stories.

Lawson’s first poem, A Song of the Republic, was published in Sydney’s influential Bulletin magazine in 1887, followed by his first short story, His Father’s Mate, a year after. Lawson’s first book, Short Stories in Prose & Verse, was published in 1894. Over the following years, Henry Lawson’s literary reputation grew as he contributed to several Australian magazines and newspapers, had successful works published such as While the Billy Boils and Joe Wilson and His Mates, and helped to form a sense of the nation’s identity through his city and country stories, characters and ideals.

What is a manuscript?

A manuscript is a book, document or piece of music written by hand, rather than typed or printed. The State Library of New South Wales has many manuscripts in its collection by writers from all over the world.  The manuscript for Symphony in Yellow is very special because it features the autograph, or signature, of Oscar Wilde. It is written in his own handwriting. There is no date on the manuscript. The manuscript of Symphony in Yellow entered the collection of the State Library of New South Wales in 1903. It was originally part of the collection of David Scott Mitchell, Australia’s greatest book collector. David Scott Mitchell (1836–1907) accumulated the world’s pre-eminent collection of books, manuscripts, maps and pictures relating to Australia and the Pacific. On his death in July 1907, his collection was bequeathed to the Public (now State) Library of New South Wales, together with an endowment of £70,000 to fund additions to his collection.


symphony: a piece of music written for an orchestra, usually in four movements or parts, which can differ in mood or tempo (pace)

omnibus: a bus, a four wheeled vehicle used to provide public transport

passer-by: a person passing or walking by a place

midge:  a type of small fly, an insect

barges: a type of flat-bottomed boat used on rivers and canals

moored: a ship that is moored is tied to a wharf or the shore so it cannot float away

elms:  a type of tree, commonly used for street plantings in Europe

Thames: (pronounced Tems) the river that flows through the city of London

quay: a platform projecting into the water of a sea or river used for unloading ships docked alongside

jade: a green semi-precious stone

Temple elms: the poem describes a group of elm trees planted near the Inner Temple, one of the historic buildings associated with the London law courts. 


Student Activities

Oscar Wilde

Through an examination of Oscar Wilde’s manuscript for ‘Symphony in Yellow,’ students come to an understanding of the editing process. Students then try their hand at editing ‘Symphony in Yellow’ before becoming a poet themselves. 

Number of set tasks: 3

Henry Lawson: A poet’s work is never done

Through an examination of Henry Lawson’s scrapbook, students learn that the editing process doesn’t end for some writers after publication. Students take on the role of editor on a published work of their own choosing. 

Number of set tasks: 2


Students reflect on their learning, and edit their thoughts into a short 140-character reflection statement. 

Number of set tasks: 1

Additional Resources

Patrick White – Manuscript draft of ‘Memoirs of many in one’, 1984 or 1985

This manuscript is a further example of the editing process. Looking at the digitised manuscript it is easy to see the red pen being used to make significant changes throughout the work as a method of preparing it for publication, showing that even Nobel Prize winning authors make spelling mistakes and require major corrections before their writing is ready for publication.


A student: 

  • effectively uses and critically assesses a wide range of processes, skills, strategies and knowledge for responding to and composing a wide range of texts in different media and technologies EN5-2A  
  • selects and uses language forms, features and structures of texts appropriate to a range of purposes, audiences and contexts, describing and explaining their effects on meaning EN5-3B  
  • purposefully reflects on, assesses and adapts their individual and collaborative skills with increasing independence and effectiveness EN5-9E  



Engage personally with texts 

  • evaluate their own processes of composition and response and reflect on ways of developing their strengths, addressing their weaknesses and consolidating and broadening their preferences as composers and responders  
  • value engagement in the creative process of composing texts 

Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features 

  • review, edit and refine students' own and others' texts for control of content, organisation, sentence structure, vocabulary, and/or visual features to achieve particular purposes and effects (ACELY1747, ACELY1757)    



Engage personally with texts 

  • engage with a range of increasingly complex language forms, features and structures of texts in meaningful, contextualised and authentic ways 
  • analyse and explain how text structures, language features and visual features of texts and the context in which texts are experienced may influence audience response (ACELT1641)  

Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features 

  • understand how paragraphs and images can be arranged for different purposes purpose, audiences, perspectives and stylistic effects (ACELA1567) 
  • refine vocabulary choices to discriminate between shades of meaning, with deliberate attention to the effect on audiences (ACELA1571)  



Respond to and compose texts: 

  • examine the ways that the processes of planning, including investigating, interviewing, selecting, and recording and organising ideas, images and information, can and should be modified according to specific purposes, texts and learning contexts 

In each year of Stage 5 students must study examples of:  

  • poetry  
  • media, multimedia and digital texts  


Across the stage, the selection must give student experience of:  

  • texts that are widely regarded as quality literature  
  • a wide range of literary texts from other countries and times including poetry, drama scripts, prose fiction and picture books  

General capabilities  

  • creative and critical thinking  
  • literacy  
  • information and communication capability  
  • personal and social capability