Today, as I rode by,
I saw the brown leaves dropping from their tree
In a still afternoon,
When no wind whirled them whistling to the sky,
But thickly, silently,
They fell, like snowflakes wiping out the noon;
And wandered slowly thence
For thinking of a gallant multitude
Which now all withering lay,
Slain by no wind of age or pestilence,
But in their beauty strewed
Like snowflakes falling on the Flemish clay.
• 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.