Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Anna Gordon Keown - Reported Missing

My thought shall never be that you are dead:

Who laughed so lately in this quiet place.
The dear and deep-eyed humour of that face
Held something ever living, in Death’s stead.
Scornful I hear the flat things they have said
And all their piteous platitudes of pain.
I laugh! I laugh! – For you will come again –
This heart would never beat if you were dead.
The world’s adrowse in twilight hushfulness,
There’s purple lilac in your little room,
And somewhere out beyond the evening gloom
Small boys are culling summer watercress.
Of these familiar things I have no dread
Being so very sure you are not dead.

Key words
      Sonnet – a 14 line poem which follows a specific and rigid structure. The Shakespearian sonnet followed the rhyme scheme abbacddceffegg. A sonnet usually expresses love.

What is the poem about?
Unlike “Perhaps-” and “Spring in War-Time”, the speaker of this poem doesn’t know her loved one is dead, but that he is missing. This could be seen as worse as she cannot grieve for him properly. The poem is essentially an assertion that he is not dead, although you do pick up a slight sense that perhaps she is beginning to see this is an empty hope.

      Work out the rhyme scheme – why has the poet chosen this structure? It’s a sonnet and so expresses love for the missing man
      How do the final 2 lines give some sense of conclusion or closure to the poem? – a rhyming couplet that sum up her emotions – it sounds as though that is her final word on the subject – but you have to wonder whether she is not trying to convince herself as well as the reader.

The opening gives a very clear opinion: “My thought shall never be that you are dead” – she is very certain to begin with, and it is a very personal poem (“My”, “you”). The man’s life and vitality are emphasised – he “laughed so lately” (suggesting he has only just died) and it is unbelievable that he could ever die: “something ever living, in Death’s stead”. His absence in the house is very marked: “this quiet place”.
 People’s words are uninspiring for her: “flat things”. The alliteration of “piteous platitudes of pain” shows her scorn and rejection of these offered words of comfort, as she is so convinced he is alive.
“I laugh! I laugh!” – repetition shows her determination to reject their words – but could it be a case of trying to convince herself?
Her reason for being so sure is shown through the fact that she is sure “This heart would never beat if you were dead” – there is a strong bond between the two. However, you could say there is a sense of desperation here, as we see how she is clinging onto the hope he is alive as him being dead would kill her.
It is unclear whether this man is her lover or her son, although his “little room” and the fact she mentions “Small boys” she can see out of the window suggests that it is in fact her son who has been “Reported Missing”.
Nature goes on – “purple lilac”, “summer watercress” but she isn’t worried as she is “very sure you are not dead”.

The end-stopped line
      A line which is self-contained (i.e. Begins and ends on the same line) can be called an end-stopped line. It’s the opposite to the enjambment.
      This introduces conflict of some kind.
      Sometimes an end-stopped line can be created by using punctuation other than a full stop – such as a colon, semi-colon, or a dash.
      The first line of this poem can be seen to act like an end-stopped line – what is the conflict introduced? – she is convinced he isn’t dead, she is very certain – but clearly there is the chance (almost certainty) that he is dead. So you get a conflict between these two fates, where she is almost trying to convince herself he is alive despite all the evidence otherwise.

Vera Brittain - Perhaps

Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of You.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.

Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to Christmas songs again,
Although You cannot hear.'

But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.

What is the poem about?
This poem is specific in that it is dedicated to Vera Brittain’s fiancé Roland Leighton who died around the time that the poem “The Falling Leaves” was written. In the poem, Brittain talks about how the seasons will pass and that “perhaps” she will begin to get over his death – but she concludes by saying she will never forget him.

      5 stanzas of regular length and regular rhyme scheme – why is this so rigid and monotonous? – it mimics time rolling on, as time does – it won’t stop just because her fiancé has died. It also suggests that all the beautiful things she describes happening in the coming seasons will not be as beautiful because he has died.
      The stanzas are split with 3 lines on one topic and the last line on another – how are they split? – the first three lines discuss the seasons and what will happen in them, offering a positive picture of what might be beautiful, whilst the last line reflects back on how her fiancé has died and has a negative feel.
      The poem is structured around the four seasons – why? What does this suggest about nature and time? – nature and time continue on despite the war and all the loss.

Very strong images are given of the seasons: “golden meadows”, “sunny hours”, “white May blossoms” of Spring, suggesting new life and a freshness. In summer, there will be “crimson roses” (perhaps referring to blood?) and the “autumn harvest fields” will give a “rich delight”.
Winter is described particularly painfully, referring to New Year and Christmas – family-orientated times – and a year on from when the poem is written, an anniversary. New Year is often seen as a sad time as it is particularly symbolic of time passing – another year has gone by without him.
In the opening stanza, we get a feeling that the speaker is very depressed – the sun is not shining for her and she sees little point to her life, she is living “in vain”.
“You” is capitalised – perhaps to highlight the importance of the man she has lost, glorifying him. You could also see it as quite generalised – despite the dedication at the start, there is no name given throughout the poem.

The poem is called “Perhaps-” with a very specific dash after the word – why? The word itself suggests that she doesn’t believe it will happen – like when you ask if you can do something and you’re told “perhaps” – you know it means no!
The last stanza answers the almost-question of “Perhaps” – with quite a firm reply that her heart has been broken and so it seems she won’t get over his death.

In summary
      A poem which highlights how nature and time are ongoing and will continue despite the loss of a loved one.
      Focuses on positive aspects of nature, but tinged with sadness.
      Is both personal (dedicated to her fiance) and general (no name given, only “You”)

Wilfred Owen - The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an Angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him, thy son.
Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,
A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Key words
      Parable – a short story which illustrates a moral or religious lesson

What is the poem about?
Owen takes directly from the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac in this poem (see the document marked “Abraham” to see which bits he’s borrowed directly). The poem talks about the sacrifice Abraham offers God and how an angel saved his son at the last minute. However, in the poem, the man goes ahead and sacrifices his son anyway. It is an attack on those in charge of the war.

      The poem roughly follows the story as set out in Genesis 22 until the stanza break – why does the poet break the stanza here? – it is a changed ending and therefore provides a twist. A dramatic pause.
      A shift occurs after line 6 – from the traditional Bible story to WW1
      Is there a rhyme scheme? What is the effect? – no real rhyme scheme (though you could say the final two lines almost form a rhyming couplet: one/son) – which makes the poem quite disjointed and loose – reflecting how destructive the war is and how things are falling apart.

The poet uses Biblical language like “clave” (cut) and “sojourned” (rested) to mimic the original story and give the poem authority.
When the poem shifts to WW1 (line 6 onwards), “the youth” suddenly becomes all the young men of Europe – like “the Young” of the title. They are bound with “belts and straps” (soldiers’ uniform) and “parapets and trenches” are built (obviously a reference to the structures in the war). At the last minute, the “youth” are saved by an angel – God provides an alternative: “the Ram of Pride”. Pride is, Owen suggests, the reason for the war (perhaps patriotism, a desperation not to be seen as cowardly) – and God suggests that is killed instead of the youth.
We then get a pause: “But the old man would not” – the old man is representative of those in charge of the war, sacrificing “his son” – all the men who have gone to their deaths who are, of course, somebody’s son. The scale of the deaths is emphasised through the phrase “half the seed of Europe” – with seed representing both their own youth and the children they would have had – their lost futures, Europe’s lost generations. “one by one” suggests that the death and the war just goes on and on with no end.

By mimicking a parable from the Bible, Owen suggests that the war is going against the teachings of God as the old man in the parable goes directly against what God advises.

In summary
      A reworking of Genesis 22, the story of Abraham and Isaac.
      A symbolic poem which attacks the “old men” in charge of the war who are sacrificing the youth, needlessly.
      A suggestion that the war is going against God’s teachings.

Edith Nesbit - Spring in War-Time

Now the sprinkled blackthorn snow
Lies along the lovers’ lane
Where last year we used to go—
Where we shall not go again.

In the hedge the buds are new,
By our wood the violets peer—
Just like last year’s violets, too,
But they have no scent this year.

Every bird has heart to sing
Of its nest, warmed by its breast;
We had heart to sing last spring,
But we never built our nest.

Presently red roses blown
Will make all the garden gay . . .
Not yet have the daisies grown
On your clay.

What is the poem about?
Like “Perhaps-”, the poem is about losing a lover and how nature will go on despite this loss, but things will never quite be the same.

·        Regular rhyme and rhythm – like “Perhaps-”, reflecting the passing seasons and how time never stops.
·        Again, the stanzas are divided into two – the first 2 lines describe the beauty in nature and are positive and the last 2 reflect back on the lost man and are more negative.

Spring is obviously a time of new life and growth, and so the setting of the poem is quite ironic – as war brings death and the end of things.
“blackthorn snow” refers to the blossom on blackthorn hedges – the “snow” suggests purity and something being cleansed, but also perhaps how cold the speaker feels now her lover has died – new life and joy will not come for her with spring, winter will live on. The alliteration in the next line (“Lies along the lovers’ lane”) slows the line down and makes it even more sad – the name “lovers’ lane” highlights how it is somewhere she has no place now, as her lover is dead. The repetition of “Where” shows us how things have changed for her – what she had last year and how that will not happen again: “Where we shall not go again” – the loss of the future she had expected.
The “newness” of spring is shown in stanza 2 (“the buds are new”). There is a sense of a shared past with the dead man (“our wood”) and the cyclical nature of nature (“Just like last year’s violets”) – but it is not the same without him – they “have no scent last year”. The speaker’s life has been made much worse from the loss of the man.
The third stanza refers to families, with the birds in their “nest”. The internal rhyme (rhyme within a line) of “nest” and “breast” highlights this focus on the family, as does the use of the word “warmed” – this family life is nicer than the cold image we got at the beginning of the poem. Again, we hear what life was like last spring, and again, that sense of a lost future, the family they planned, comes in the last line of that stanza.
The 4th stanza mentions “red roses” which could refer to blood and love. This is the movement from spring to summer as this is when roses blossom. Perhaps the ellipsis (...) is her chance to reflect as she then moves to think about his “clay” (i.e. where he is buried in France) – perhaps wondering how time can have moved on when he is dead? Notice also that that it is now “your” clay – as opposed to “our wood” from earlier – she is making it very clear that he has gone where she cannot follow.
“Not yet have the daisies grown” – think of the phrase “pushing up the daisies” meaning dead. “clay” sounds unpleasant and emphasises the hideous death.

John McCrae - In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Key words
      Flanders – An area of Belgium where some of the worst fighting took place.
      The poppy is famously a symbol of war. Poppy seeds will lie for years in the ground if undisturbed – the war in France churned the ground up enough to make these flowers grow in abundance.
      Imperatives – these are orders or commands e.g. “Eat this cake”, “Be quiet, Josh.”
      Archaic language – this is old-fashioned language which seems very out of date to us now

What is the poem about?
This poem is one of six we are studying which looks at loss. The speakers are dead soldiers, talking about their final resting place “In Flanders Fields” and expressing their bitterness at having lost their life. At the same time, they urge us to “Take up our quarrel with the foe” and continue the war effort so that they have not died in vain.

·        Divided into 3 stanzas. Stanza 1 describes Flanders Fields, stanza 2 expresses “the Dead”’s feelings and stanza 3 is an urge to fight on in their name
·        Look at line 6: “We are the Dead”. The poet uses a caesura there to make you stop, drawing attention to that very strange comment (how are dead people speaking??) and creating a real dramatic impact.

The poet juxtaposes (contrasts) the poppies and the crosses: “the poppies blow/Between the crosses” – mixing new life and death together, suggesting that things will carry on as the Dead urge us to carry the fight on. The repetition of “row on row” emphasises the great scale of death (like it emphasised the great amount of men in “Joining the Colours”)
The larks are “still bravely singing” – nature will continue despite men trying to destroy everything with “the guns below”.
The second stanza emphasises how cheap life is – one day you have everything and the next you are dead: “Short days ago”. The men have lost an awful lot and this adds weight to their orders in stanza 3.
The imperative “Take up our quarrel with the foe” tells the reader to do something. The poet also uses archaic language (“If ye break faith with us who die”) which makes it sound more serious (like the Bible) or possibly like a curse, as we are told they “will not sleep” if we betray them – maybe they will haunt us.

In summary
      A speaker from the grave urges people to carry on the fight in their names.
      Relies heavily on the natural imagery of the poppies
      Emphasises the nature of death at war – one minute you’re alive and the next you could be dead.

Agnes Grozier Herbertson - The Seed-Merchant’s Son

The Seed-Merchant has lost his son,
His dear, his loved, his only one.

So young he was, Even now it seems
He was a child with a child’s dreams.

He would race over the meadow-bed
With his bright, bright eyes and his cheeks all red.

Fair and healthy and long of limb;
It made one young just to look at him.

His school books, unto the cupboard thrust,
Have scarcely had time to gather dust.

Died in the war….And it seems his eyes
Must have looked at death with a child’s surprise.

The Seed-Merchant goes on his way:
I saw him out on his land today;

Old to have fathered so young a son,
And now the last glint of his youth is gone.

What could one say to him in his need?
Little there seemed to say indeed.

So still he was that the birds flew round
The grey of his head without a sound,

Careless and tranquil in the air,
As if naught human were standing there.

On, never a soul could understand
Why he looked at the earth, and the seed in his hand,

As he had never before seen seed or sod:
I heard him murmur: ‘Thank God, thank God!’

What is the poem about?
The poem is about the death of (surprisingly!) the seed-merchant’s son (someone who sells seeds). At the end, there is a sense of puzzlement as the seed-merchant has found some comfort in nature. Like “Spring in War-Time” and “Perhaps-”, nature continues on.

·        Rhyming couplets of 8 beat lines – very simplistic, like a nursery rhyme, reflecting what we are told about the seed-merchant’s son.
·        The ellipsis (...) in line 11 and after line 22 gives us a chance to digest what we are being told.

The choice of the seed-merchant hints at the theme of life continuing – seeds are obviously a symbol of new life.
“His dear, his loved, his only one” – the pronoun (his) and the pattern of 3 highlights the strong bond between the two.
The son is shown to be very young, naive and innocent (linked to the nursery rhyme structure) – “So young”, “a child with child’s dreams”, “race”, “bright, bright eyes”, “cheeks all red” – he sounds very alive and healthy: “Fair and healthy and long of limb”. Youth again: “His school books.../Have scarcely had time to gather dust.”
“Died in the war...” a pause to emphasise how despite his youth and health, his life is now over. The surprise of such a death is shown: “looked at death with a child’s surprise”.
Life goes on: “The Seed-Merchant goes on his way”.
In contrast to his son’s youth, the man is “Old” and “grey” and won’t get a second chance at life and to have another son – indeed, it is implied that his son kept him young and now “the last glint of his youth is gone”.
The question in line 17 is engaging, asking what you might say, but also highlighting that whatever you say to someone who has lost a child will never seem enough. He is frozen by grief (“So still he was that the birds flew round”) – but nature goes on regardless.
The poem ends on a positive note – nature is continuing, life is renewing (symbolised by “the seed in his hand”) and the man has seen some hope: “’Thank God, thank God!’”