•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.
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.
•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”)
•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.
•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.
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.
•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.
•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.
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!’”
He thought how 'Jack', cold-footed, useless swine,
Had panicked down the trench that night the mine
Went up at Wicked Corner; how he'd tried
To get sent home, and how, at last, he died,
Blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care
Except that lonely woman with white hair.
What is a hero? Is it someone who rushes into something without thinking, always brave, always bold, or is it someone who fights despite being terrified?
What is the poem about?
A mother receives news that her son has died, and reads the letter written to her from the Colonel. She is happy that her son died a hero. We are then told that “Jack” was not the courageous man she has been told he was; he panicked and tried to get himself sent home sick. The poem highlights how little the civilians know of the war and how so many lies are told. It also shows the reality of what the men live through, and how little they are appreciated.
3 stanzas of regular length and rhythm. Stanzas 1 and 3 are both composed of rhyming couplets which usually suggest an end to something – perhaps highlighting the end of “Jack”’s life? This structure also helps to tie the two stanzas together: the opening where Jack is a hero and the mother is proud because of the lies told about her son, and the third stanza where the reality of Jack’s cowardice is shown.
Like “Lamentations”, the dead soldier and his mother are quite symbolic of dead soldiers and mothers in general; he is called “Jack”, a very common English name (think “Jack the Lad”), and the mother is referred to only as “the Mother”, capitalised to show her generic (generalised) role in the poem. The poem opens with a conversation to draw the reader in. The mother is shown to be appreciative and drawing comfort from the Colonel’s letter: “The Colonel writes so nicely”. We feel sorry for the mother throughout the poem through the way Sassoon describes her: she has a “tired voice”, she has “weak eyes”, she is a “lonely woman with white hair”. She draws a lot of comfort from what she is told about her “glorious boy”, perhaps suggesting that these sort of lies that are told to those at home have a purpose; they will help to “nourish all her days” now she has lost her son.
“We mothers are so proud/Of our dead soldiers” – again, the mothers are grouped together. The use of “our” suggests a possession of the men now that the country has no more use for them, and the whole statement hints that perhaps the mothers are the only ones who are really proud, which is supported by the final sad lines: “And no one seemed to care/Except that lonely woman with white hair” – these are made extra sad because of the alliteration (woman, white) which slows the whole line down.
The reality of Jack’s cowardice is brought home through the harsh descriptions of him: “cold-footed, useless swine”. “Wicked Corner” gives the poem a specific and realistic element. His death is very violent (in comparison with “Lamentations”) as he is “Blown to small bits” – do you think his mother was told this??
The name of “the Brother Officer” could be seen as ironic as he is not very brotherly towards Jack, describing his mother as “the poor old dear” which is quite patronising.
Who is the real hero?
Is it Jack, who fought despite being terrified?
Is it the Brother Officer who clearly thinks himself much braver and more powerful than Jack, telling “gallant lies”?
Is it the Mother, whose eyes shine with “gentle triumph” and is managing to keep going despite the loss of her son?
•A mother being told the news that her son has died in the war
•An ironic or ambiguous title?
•Poet builds sympathy for the mother and son, whilst criticising the way soldiers like “Jack” were regarded and treated.
•Extended metaphor – a metaphor extended in great depth. If, for instance, a man was described as a lion, he would roar, pounce, hunt, attack etc. throughout the poem or story.
•The Battle of the Somme took place from July to November 1915. Over 400, 000 British soldiers died in that time, with over 350, 000 wounded.
•Analogy - drawing a comparison in order to show a similarity in some respect
What is the poem about?
This is one of the 6 poems about loss and the effect on those left behind. The poem is set in November 1915 – during the Battle of the Somme. The speaker is describing seeing “brown leaves” falling from trees in autumn. The poet uses the analogy of autumn – when nature begins to die, like the men. The “brown leaves” can be seen as representative of the soldiers in their uniforms. This is quite a generalised poem about loss, about all the men who are dying – whereas poems like “Spring in War-Time” and “Perhaps-” are more specific in their grief.
·One long sentence – which could reflect the outpouring of the speaker’s emotions and thoughts.
·Regular rhyme scheme which helps to draw the poem together.
“The Falling Leaves” themselves are the men. They fall in a “still afternoon” – which is strange, as leaves usually fall when it’s windy. This suggests that they are falling for no reason – like the men are dying, as the war does not have a purpose. The number of leaves/men falling is emphasised as they fall “thickly” and “silently” – perhaps suggesting that those at home don’t hear anything about this carnage – no big deal is made out of it.
The simile “like snowflakes” is a strange one, as snow is usually seen as pure and clean and beautiful – which could emphasise the soldiers’ youth and innocence. They are “wiping out the noon” – blocking out the light – perhaps the light of hope?
“Gallant multitude” suggests some pride (gallant suggests someone heroic) whilst multitude highlights the great number who have died. And they are now “withering” – decaying and forgotten.
Their “beauty” suggests they are young, whilst they are “strewed” – suggesting that they have been killed randomly with no purpose. At the end, we again get them compared to “snowflakes” showing their purity, contrasted with the dirty “Flemish clay” – emphasising that they die abroad.
The leaves are the extended metaphor, representing the men. Again, this poem is using the theme of nature and the seasons changing whilst the war rumbles on. Using this metaphor could also be seen as ironic – leaves falling is very natural, whilst the men are dying a very unnatural death.
•A one sentence poem.
•Uses the extended metaphor of autumn for the war, with the fallen men represented by dead leaves.
•Deserter – someone who abandons their duty in the military. In WW1, if a soldier tried to escape from the army, he would be arrested and shot at dawn as punishment. 306 British men were killed in this way.
What is the poem about?
The poem tells the story of a man shot for cowardice – that is, trying to escape from the army. It details how the man goes to his death and asks how we can judge such a person. It highlights the emotions the man goes through and, like “The Hero”, looks at the lack of information about the war back home. The poem is written in the first person and the reader is forced to consider these issues through the use of rhetorical questions (“But who could judge him, you or I?”)
•One long stanza – why? – this makes it almost impossible for you as the reader to stop reading and escape from the inevitable – the man dying. This mimics how his fate is inescapable once he has become “The Deserter”.
•An 8 beat rhythm, which sounds like a nursery rhyme.
•How else has the poet created a sense of a nursery rhyme or fairytale? – look at the opening line: “There was a man” – this makes it sound like the poet is about to tell us a story.
•Why do you think she has done this? – think about who usually reads and listens to nursery rhymes – children. This emphasises the soldier’s youth and innocence.
•Rhyme scheme is based upon repetition of words and phrases – why? Again, this is like a nursery rhyme.
Like “The Hero” and “Lamentations”, this poem’s main character is anonymous: “don’t mind his name” – this soldier is representative of all 306 British soldiers shot for deserting.
The poet makes us feel sympathy for the soldier by emphasising his youth and innocence: “Was scared as any frightened child” – remember, he wouldn’t have been that old himself. The descriptions of him, with his knees “shaking”, breathing “fast”, “wild” eyes, emphasise his fear. The soldier is also set apart and isolated: “Blindfolded...He stood there in a place apart” from the impersonal “They” who are doing this to him.
The repetition of “An English bullet in his heart” (lines 24 and 25) highlight how this man’s death was caused by his own people; this is what we did to men who were too young to cope with the horrors of war. It is clear from earlier in the poem that this is not a snap decision he has made to run away, but that he has lived through quite a lot already: “Fear had dogged by night and day” – personification making Fear sound as though it is hunting him down all the time (and later his eyes are compared to a hare’s – a hunted animal).
Like “The Hero”, the mother back at home is told her son died nobly in the war and is proud – perhaps a positive effect of the lies told? The final rhyme of the poem (“gave”/”grave”) suggests that these men have been willingly sent to their deaths.
•A story about a man being shot for desertion
•Speaker expresses sympathy for his fate
•Relies heavily on repetition
•In what ways could you link this poem to “The Hero”?