‘Ozymandias’ is a sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The poem explores ideas of fate, history and the ravages of time. Essentially, the poem is a metaphor for the ephemeral (lasting a very short time) nature of political power. Even the greatest men and the empires they forge are impermanent, their legacies destined to decay to oblivion. ‘Ozy’ comes from the Greek ‘ozium’ which means either ‘to breathe’ or ‘air’. ‘Mandias’ comes from the Greek ‘mandate’ which means to rule, suggesting Ramesses II, the inspiration for Shelley’s poem controls all. 1. ‘Half sunk, a shattered visage likes, whose frown and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command…’ – The ‘frown’ and ‘sneer’ etched permanently on the face of the statue could represent the ugliness that power can reveal in people once they possess and wield it. The ‘visage’ is ‘shattered’ because ruling in this way is not sustainable. As a Romantic poet, Shelley is criticising the oppressive nature of power. The Romantic poets would encourage freedom of expression, love and respect for nature and the arts. ‘I met a traveller from an antique land’ – Framing the sonnet as a story told to the speaker by a ‘traveller from an antique land’ enables Shelley to add another level of obscurity to Ozymandias’ position with regard to the reader. We never see the statue with our own eyes. We hear about it from someone who has seen it. Thus, the ancient king is rendered even less commanding. The distance between us and Ozymandias serves to undermine his power. ‘Antique land’ romanticises the traveller. 2. ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley ‘Its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive’ – The traveller praises the sculptor of the statue here, saying they have clearly captured the facial expressions that Ozymandias is renowned for. The inclusion of this compliment is interesting here. Shelley is praising and respectful of the ‘art’ of the statue whilst condemning Ozymandias’ attitude and his lust for power which causes the ‘sneer of cold command’. Although it is Ozymandias’ desire to create a monument that will survive the ages, Shelley is hinting that it is the work of the sculptor that has endured the test of time. 4. ‘The line and level sands stretch far away. ’ – The once great King’s proud boast has been ironically disproved. Everything has been destroyed – his civilisation gone – all turned to dust by the impersonal, indiscriminate, destructive power of history. ‘The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed’ – ‘Hand’ could be a stand in for the sculptor, saying he both belittled and copied the passions of the man. ‘The heart that fed’ is subject to debate. Could it be referring to the heart that ‘fed’ or nourished the passions of the man that the statue represents? 5. ‘Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare’ - Shelley’s use of nouns and adjectives here emphasise the destruction that has fallen upon the statue. Is it too much to say that Shelley is revelling in Ozymandias’ downfall? Ozymandias has nothing to show for his reign except a ‘colossal wreck’. This is reinforced when Shelley conveys a sense of emptiness with ‘boundless and bare’. ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!’ – The hubristic nature of Ozymandias demonstrates his arrogance and perceived superiority. He places himself above all other royalty, saying he is king to all other kings. Perhaps this is why the poem is in iambic pentameter: a strong rhythm for a strong ruler. The fact the words are the only part of the statue to survive demonstrates that art and language long outlast other legacies of power. 9. 8. 7. ‘Nothing beside remains’ – This line is ambiguous. Shelley could simply be referring to the remains of the statue that now lie in the desert sands. However, he could talking about Ozymandias’ power; nothing remains of this once threatening and intimidating figure. His name remains yet his statue does not, once again highlighting the power of language and the fragility of the monuments built out of humanity’s arrogance. 6.
‘London’ is taken from the ‘Songs of Experience’ poetry collection by William Blake, a seminal (influential) figure of the Romantic age (an artistic, literary and musical movement that encouraged freedom of expression, love, respect for nature and the arts). Blake’s major works reflect his anger regarding oppressive institutions like the church and monarchy, or any and all cultural traditions – sexist, racist, or classist – which stifled imagination or passion. 1. ‘I wander through every chartered street’ – Blake immediately begins his poem by criticising the lack of freedom those in London are forced to endure. The adjective ‘chartered’ suggests everything has been mapped. Everything in this space has been ‘chartered’ and must submit to this charter, even the natural river Thames. The repetition of ‘chartered’ reinforces control. Blake’s use of the verb ‘wander’ implies he is misguided in this strict city. ‘Marks of weakness, marks of woe. ’ – Blake creates a melancholy and sad tone here. Sadness and defeat are etched on the faces of Londoners. Would it be possible to say these marks have been mapped on their faces, just like the ‘chartered streets’ and Thames have been mapped? Everything, even sadness as a result of oppression, is controlled. ‘London’ by William Blake 3. ‘The mind forged manacles I hear’ – Blake does not simply blame a set of institutions or a system of enslavement for the city’s woes. He is criticising the very people of London, implying the victims of this harsh existence help to create their own ‘mind forged manacles. ’ They believe they are condemned to misery and so do nothing to help themselves. ‘Manacles’ implies restriction and imprisonment. The people of London are imprisoned by their own lack of belief that they can live differently. The fact they are ‘mind forged’ shows they are more powerful than physical manacles could ever be. ‘In every cry of every man, In every infant’s cry of fear, In every voice, in every ban…’ – Blake’s use of anaphora highlights the prevalence of the horrors the speaker describes. It is thudding and oppressive and reflects the suffocating atmosphere of the city. The repetition of ‘every’ shows no one can escape the cruel and brutal regime of London. Even the youth of the city are forced to suffer a cyclical nature of miserable existence. 4. ‘And blights with plagues the marriage hearse. ’ – Sexual and marital union is a place of possible regeneration and rebirth yet here it is tainted with venereal (sexual) disease. Something that should be so pure is just another reason as to why the cycle of misery continues. A ‘hearse’ is usually a vehicle that carries a dead body. Blake uses the term ‘marriage hearse’, a vehicle in which love and desire combine with death and destruction. 5. ‘How the chimney sweeper’s cry…’ – The cry of the chimney sweep and the sigh of the soldier become the soot on the walls of the church and the blood on the palace walls. Likewise, institutions of power – the clergy and the government are rendered synecdoche by mention of the places in which they reside. 10. 2. 9. 8. ‘The youthful harlot’s curse blasts the new-born infant’s tear’ – Blake’s final quatrain deals with the consequences of the ‘mind forged manacles. ’ The cycle of misery recommences in the form of a new human being beginning their life. Born to a cursing prostitute, the baby is immediately condemned to join a life of misery and oppression. 6. This lack of faith in change is a source of frustration for Blake. He alludes to a possible revolution in London, suggesting that the horrible experience of living there could encourage a rebellion on the streets of the capital. Blake was a huge supporter of the French Revolution (1789), when the French people revolted against the monarchy and aristocracy, using violence and murder to overthrow those in power. Perhaps Blake saw the French Revolution as a model for how ordinary, disadvantaged people could seize power. 7. ‘How the chimney-sweeper’s cry…’ – Interestingly, the third stanza has been formed as an acrostic with the first letter of each line spelling out the word, ‘HEAR’. This could link back to the mind forged manacles’ with oppression so omnipresent (widespread) that it is actually audible. Alternatively, it could be Blake’s attempt at creating a subliminal message, with the acrostic ‘HEAR’ telling the reader to listen out for corruption wherever they are.
It is easy to dismiss ‘Extract from ‘The Prelude’’ as a poem that only describes how a man in a boat is scared of a mountain and so rows away. In actual fact, William Wordsworth’s poem is so much more than that. Wordsworth aims to make us consider our place in the natural world. The poem discusses the power of nature yet also highlights an inner conflict within the speaker, highlighting Wordsworth as a Romantic poet who promoted respect for nature and the arts. 1. ‘Small circles glittering idly in the moon, until they melted all into one track of sparkling light. ’ – Nature is presented here a beautiful. Wordsworth creates a spectacle, perhaps demonstrating how the speaker is lulled into a false sense of security; nature could never be a threat. ‘Glittering’ and ‘sparkling’ seems to bathe speaker in a light which could be described as celestial. It is a heavenly vision, one that the speaker is comfortable with and one that fuels his arrogance. Extract from ‘The Prelude’ by William Wordsworth 3. ‘She was an elfin pinnace; lustily I dipped my oars into the silent lake’ – Epic poetry usually presents the heroic adventures of warriors from myth; in this case, the speaker transforms his small, simple rowing boat into an ‘elfin pinnace’. A pinnace is a small boat with several sails that is part of a warship, with ‘elfin’ giving this image an enchanting twist. Could it be argued that the speaker is imagining himself in a new, unexplored, mystical world? The subtle reference to war here could demonstrate the speaker’s intention to conquer this image of beauty, flaunting man’s power over nature. ‘When, from behind that craggy steep… a huge peak, black and huge’ – Wordsworth’s use of the adjective ‘craggy’ shatters the image of delicacy established earlier in the poem. The poem’s Volta, which lingers in the word ‘when’, reveals the dramatic change in the speaker’s thoughts and emotions. Something quite significant has shifted. It is interesting that Wordsworth uses simple adjectives to describe the mountain he sees. ‘Huge’ and ‘peak’ contrast significantly to ‘glittering’ and ‘sparkling’. They are blunt, monosyllabic words that seem out of place, just like the mountain the speaker sees. Perhaps this represents the speaker’s confusion and bewilderment. ‘Upreared its head’ makes the mountain sound monstrous and animalistic, almost as if nature has been disturbed by man’s intervention with it and is now defending itself. 4. ‘…were a trouble to my dreams’ – The dreamlike imagery of the opening is replaced with a nightmarish view of nature. Wordsworth creates this unsettling image, perhaps to demonstrate how nature has scolded the speaker for thinking he could ever conquer it. There is disillusionment and disempowerment at the end. Perhaps now the speaker has experienced the untameable power of nature, he is better suited to consider his place in the world. 2. ‘One summer evening (led by her)…’ – The speaker reveals that it was nature, perhaps personified as a goddess or maternal force that led him to the boat. Either way, it is clear that something (perhaps divine, perhaps not) has intervened so the speaker finds the boat. At this point, the boat becomes personified and the speaker imagines himself as chivalric, liberating what he has found from ‘her chain’. He is confident, forceful, perhaps arrogant in his ability to take control. 5. ‘But huge and mighty forms, that do not live like living men’ – The noun ‘forms’ is somewhat vague, but the speaker cannot comprehend what he has seen or compare it to anything tangible. Man’s vulnerability is highlighted here. While the speaker initially saw himself as confident, his beliefs have now been shattered and nature is described as a powerful, conscious being that can and will influence our lives. 9. 8. ‘Towered up between me and the stars’ – The mountain is something else entirely that the speaker is beyond all comprehension as to what it could be. Whereas the boat and nature were personified using ‘she’, the mountain is referred to only as an ‘it’. Suddenly, the speaker’s confidence and arrogance has gone; this is a part of nature that man cannot control, a fact that terrifies him. The stars, celestial and beautiful, are blocked out. Stars are also used for navigation, yet the mountain cuts them off; there is no chance of nature and man co-existing in this place. 7. ‘Through the silent water stole my way back to the covert of the willow tree’ – The speaker returns to what he knows, fearful of the power that nature has had over him. The ‘covert’ or cove, could initially symbolise safety and security, yet it has been tainted by the man’s actions and what he has seen. The man is afraid and guilty and wants to hide from what he has seen. 6.
‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning is a dramatic monologue, written in iambic pentameter. The poem is preceded by "Ferrara: ", indicating that the speaker is most likely Alfonso II d'Este, the fifth Duke of Ferrara (1533– 1598), who, at the age of 25, married Lucrezia di Cosimo de' Medici, the 14 -year-old daughter of Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Eleonora di Toledo. Lucrezia was not well educated, and the Medicis could be considered "nouveau riche" in comparison to the venerable and distinguished Este family (Alfonso II d'Este's remark regarding his gift of a "nine-hundred-years-old name" clearly indicates that he considered his bride beneath him socially). She came with a sizeable dowry, and the couple married in 1558. He then abandoned her for two years before she died on 21 April 1561, at age 17. There was a strong suspicion of poisoning. 1. 2. ‘That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, looking as if she were alive’ – Browning introduces a central theme of his poem here: appearance vs reality. The Duchess appears to be alive because the portrait of her is so well observed, painted by the renowned, Fra Pandolf. The Duke appears to be highly refined, a connoisseur of fine art and a polite, aristocratic gentleman. In reality, he is a monster, consumed by the worse traits of humanity including pathological jealousy and arrogance. He is obsessed by control and possession, evident through his use of ‘my’. ‘Since none puts by the curtain I have drawn for you, but I’ – Even though she is dead, the Duke treats the Duchess as an item, her painting revealed only to a select few. Perhaps the Duke only deems certain people worthy of seeing the painting, yet it would seem more pertinent to argue that the Duke draws the curtain as a boast, a physical representation of the power he possesses. He can control who the Duchess now ‘sees’, something he could not do when she was alive. ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning 3. ‘She had a heart – how shall I say? – too soon made glad’ – The Duke describes the Duchess in a negative light. He says she was too free spirited, yet we have to be wary of the Duke’s description of her. Once again, appearance vs reality comes into play here. The Duchess no longer has a voice and so the Duke can spin any lie he wants to about her. Was the Duchess really as flirtatious as the Duke makes her out to be? ‘Her looks went everywhere’ – The Duchess is a victim of a male desire to inscribe and fix female sexuality, perhaps mirroring the efforts of Victorian society to mould the behaviour – sexual and otherwise – of individuals. This impulse, this need for control, may come naturally, particularly to individuals confronted and confused by an increasingly complex and anonymous modern world: to have control would allow for conservation and stabilisation. The Duke, and others like him, want to keep everything in its place and under tight restriction. The actions of his Duchess are far too modern for his own liking. 4. ‘My Last Duchess’ is a poem about a woman succumbing to a man’s power. It could be argued, however, that the Duke does not have the complete control he believes he has. Even though she is dead, thoughts of the Duchess still consume him. Even if he believes he has control of her now, would it be too much to argue that she also controls him? The Duke is clearly still obsessed with what happened in his past. He can’t stop thinking of her and so while the Duke is warning the person he is speaking to of what could happen if he does not get what he wants, it could be argued that sub-consciously, memories of the Duchess’ behaviour control how he now acts. 5. ‘I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. ’ – The Duke’s dangerous potential is fully realised. There is ambiguity surrounding the death of the Duchess yet it seems the Duke had a hand in her death. The use of caesura after ‘together’ signifies the end of life. The Duke has put a complete stop to life altogether; his image of a tyrannical, power hungry, controlling man is complete. 10. 9. 8. ‘Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse’ – The Duke goes back to showing his guest more art from his collection. He resumes his boast, showing his power and wealth through what he possess. Notice the interesting use of ‘taming’. Neptune, the Roman God of the sea is taming a creature that lives in his domain, much like the Duke has tamed the Duchess in death. It should not escape us for a second that the Duke, surreptitiously, sees himself as God-like here. ‘As if she ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name with anybody’s gift. ’ – The Duke seems bitter here that his family name was not enough for his Duchess. We know the Duke holds power because of his wealth and position in society, but let’s consider the power of a name. The Duke believes his family name should be enough to keep his Duchess happy (perhaps he feels she should be afraid of it) but it is not. This could be an indication as to how loveless their marriage was. The Duke expects the Duchess to conform to the traditional role of women and obey and love him purely because of the family he is a part of. As a result, the flirtatious actions of the Duchess could be part of something more tragic; she is lonely, trapped in a marriage with someone she despises and so does anything to make herself feel wanted. 7. ‘Who’d stoop to blame this sort of trifling? ’ - The Duke asks a rhetorical question which he himself will eventually answer as he has control all of the time. ‘Stoop’ means to lower; the Duke insists he would never criticise the Duchess and lower himself in that way, yet this isn’t, strictly speaking, true. The Duke has the verbal skills (even though he denies this) to fully criticise the Duchess in the manipulative way he does. 6.
‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson was written after the Light Cavalry Brigade suffered great casualties in the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. Tennyson wrote the poem based on two articles published in The Times: the first, published in November 1854, provided the phrase "Someone has blunder'd" and thus the meter of the poem. The poem was written in a few minutes on December 2 of the same year, based on a recollection of that account. 1. ‘Someone had blundered’ – Tennyson’s use of ‘blundered’ is pertinent as it mirrors an editorial that appeared in the Times on 13 th November 1854. Tennyson makes it clear that he is appalled at the loss of the life as a result of human error and subtly makes it known he is unimpressed with the higher authority that made the decision to make these soldiers charge to their death. Interestingly, Tennyson avoids fixing direct blame on one person. He anonymises the person who made this blunder with a vague ‘he said’. 2. ‘Half a league onward, all in the valley of death’ – Tennyson begins with a biblical allusion, referencing Psalm 23. ‘Valley of death’ suggests horror and segregation from God yet if we look closer at the complete verse, this could also be a reference to the stoical bravery of the soldiers: ‘though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. ’ The men, knowing they will die, do not fear death, but do their patriotic duty The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord ‘Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell’ – Tennyson develops his biblical ‘Flashed… sabring…charging…plunged’ – Tennyson’s use of verbs in the fourth stanza Tennyson allusion at this point. ‘Jaws’ and ‘mouth’ suggest these soldiers are completely is interesting. There is a sense of heroism evident within these verbs, suggesting the 3. consumed by the hellish realities of war. They make hell sound monstrous, uncontrollable and wicked. As the poem progresses, the fate of the soldiers and the fact their deaths are inevitable become strikingly clear. Both ‘jaws’ and a ‘mouth’ can close; this blunder is closing around these soldiers which means they cannot and will not escape it. soldiers do not hesitate and let their bravery and patriotism guide their actions. ‘Flashed’ suggests a sense of speed, their sabres glinting as they charge. ‘Sabring’ and ‘charging’ are both actions that require force and effort. Perhaps Tennyson wants to draw attention to the force they bring as one. 5. 4. ‘Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!’ – Tennyson’s use of imperatives makes it clear how highly he thinks of these soldiers. He never differentiates between those who survived and those who did not. Whether alive or death, they are united in their patriotism and duty, something Tennyson believes should be respected and acknowledged. ‘When can their glory fade? ’ – A rhetorical question here, rhetorical because there is no answer to it. Tennyson is saying their glory cannot fade because of the immense sacrifice made. The use of ‘glory’ contrasts with the hellish imagery that pervades the earlier stanzas in the poem. Tennyson repeats ‘all the world wondered’, causing readers from all generations to understand the intensity of the danger they faced. 9. 8. ‘Cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them’ – The anaphora here, once again emphasises the impossible odds that these men are fighting against. Consider for a moment the devastating impact of a cannon and its destructive potential. The fact these weapons are behind them as well as to the left and right shows how the men are being herded by the enemy. They are in a catastrophic situation because they are likely to die wherever they go. 7. ‘All that was left of them’ – A tragic image here, one that portrays this unified force as broken and fragile. This is juxtaposed with the dactylic metre that shows the unwavering and resolute manner in which the men completed their orders. Even though many have died, Tennyson shows how their spirit is as unshakeable as ever, a poignant tribute to those who had no choice but to ride to their deaths. 6.
‘Exposure’ by Wilfred Owen is a brutal exploration of the horrific conditions experienced by soldiers in World War One. Soldiers would have been exposed to various hardships through their environment. Poor sanitation, disease and the physical enemy all posed huge threats to soldiers like Owen, however, pays a significant amount of attention to the unforgiving force of weather and nature in his poem. A significant question is asked in ‘Exposure’: Are natural elements a greater threat than the opposition? Owen presents us with a hugely different perspective on nature compared to the Romantic poets like Blake and Shelley. Nature is something to be feared here. 1. ‘…’ – Owen’s consistent use of ellipsis is interesting. Whilst it could be used to create a sense of foreboding, it could also be argued that it symbolises a sense of urgency felt within the soldiers. They are trained for war and so the silence, the waiting, frightens them. They desperately want something to happen. Perhaps they are frustrated; the cold is not a physical enemy they can fight back against. They have no choice but to sit and endure the harsh environment they find themselves in as they wait. ‘Our brains ache in the merciless iced east winds that knive us…’ – Owen opens with an image of utmost brutality. ‘Knive’ has connotations of stabbing and extreme pain, inflicted by the winds on a literal level and the enemies in the east on a more metaphorical level. Interestingly, Owen places ‘us’ on a new line. The word, like the soldiers, is exposed, highlighting the vulnerability of the soldiers themselves. They are open to attack, sitting, waiting for something, anything to happen. 2. ‘Exposure’ by Wilfred Owen 3. ‘But nothing happens’ – W. B Yeats said that ‘passive suffering is not a theme for poetry’, yet this is exactly the type of suffering Owen tackles, criticising the ‘stiff upper lip’ British values that were so prevalent at this time. He reinforces that ‘nothing happens’, highlighting that nothing is actually being achieved by being there. In this sense then, Owen is exposing the realities of war, meaning the title is ambiguous in its meaning. There is no honour in death. Instead, soldiers experience a slow, excruciating death, inflicted upon them by the power of nature. 4. ‘clouds sag stormy… attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of grey. ’ – Owen presents a bleak, desolate environment, emphasising the monotony and futility of war. The soldiers, as ‘shivering ranks of grey’, are reduced to nothing but a colour. There is no individuality in war. Together, their sole purpose is to survive. In describing them in this way, Owen strips the soldiers of their humanity. 5. 6. ‘All their eyes are ice, but nothing happens’ – Owen has spent his poem chronicling the unimaginable suffering that soldiers have been expected to endure. ‘Eyes are ice’ shows that their lives have been snatched from them and so Owen’s final ‘but nothing happens’ takes on a clever twist. Although it could represent a cyclical nature to war (the constant waiting and wondering) it could also be an attack aimed at those who make the decisions in war, those who have manoeuvred the soldiers into this situation in the first place. The soldiers are dying and yet ‘nothing happens’ as a result. They are not saved. They are not rescued from their suffering. They are simply left to follow the orders of those who are deemed superior. ‘For love of God seems dying’ – War shatters the faith of the men. The young soldiers who went to war so proudly have mentally and physically changed. In the horrors they have seen, there is an absence of goodness. Owen uses the final stanza to describe how the cold is aging them; they are not even recognisable to themselves. ‘Pale flakes with lingering stealth come feeling for our faces’ - The personification of the snow makes nature even more powerful. Owen hints that nature itself can target the soldiers and do so with such ‘stealth’ that they don’t even realise the extent to which the cold is killing them. The alliteration of the fricative ‘f’ in ‘feeling for our faces’ is jarring. It is forceful and draws attention to the excruciating pain that the flakes, something that usually connotes delicacy and fragility, can cause. 9. 8. . 7. ‘Slowly our ghosts drag home’ – Another tragic image. Once again, Owen has stripped the soldiers of their humanity but to such an extent that he portrays them as dead men walking. The adverb ‘slowly’ and the verb ‘drag’ add to the same slow, drawn out, unchanging pattern created by the form of the poem. Eight stanzas that follow the same pattern create a sense of stasis. The soldiers are not going anywhere, not because they don’t want to, but because they can’t.
Written by Seamus Heaney, ‘Storm on the Island’, on a literal level, can be read as just that; a description of a storm that hits an island, scaring those who live on it. However, it can also be read as a political comment, perhaps exploring the constant attempts by the British to erode the cultural identity of the Irish, metaphorically referencing The Troubles and the removal of power from Stormont (the name of the building which used to house the Parliament of Northern Island) to Westminster. 1. ‘This wizened earth has never troubled us’ – Heaney enjoys teasing his reader here. On first glance, this line suggests complacency. Nature has never troubled them before which may explain the confidence/arrogance of the first line. However, as we read on, Heaney explains they have never been troubled ‘with hay’ meaning the island has never provided them with any bounty, presenting the location as bleak and empty. Yet this in itself is now a blessing: the storm cannot take away anything they rely on to survive. ‘We are prepared…’ – Heaney’s opening line conveys safety, security and confidence in one sense, arrogance in another. As a community, the islanders believe themselves to be ready for the oncoming storm, unaware that their defences are no match for the power of nature. There is anticipation here and although the speaker uses ‘we’ throughout, there is a sense of loneliness, of one man pitted against the elements and man pitted against political strife. ‘Storm on the Island’ by Seamus Heaney 3. ‘Nor are there trees which might prove company when it blows full’ – This is where Heaney begins to introduce elements of vulnerability. Although they are a community, they are isolated, segregated from the rest of humanity and forced to face the storm head on. The speaker says that trees would ‘prove company’ if there were any. It is interesting that trees suggest security to the speaker, being a part of the natural world themselves. As the speaker contemplates just how isolated and exposed they are, it is clear panic is beginning to take hold. ‘Blast’ – The storm arrives, placed on a new line by Heaney to show quickly it can hit. The effect of the plosive intensifies because it begins the line. This, in a way, could show that the residents of the island aren’t as ready as they arrogantly claim to be at the beginning. The storm is fierce and unpredictable which means it could never have been properly prepared for. 4. ‘Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear’ – ‘Huge nothing’ acts a paradox here. ‘Nothing’ has no size at all yet Heaney’s use of the adjective ‘huge’ emphasises the powerlessness of humanity against the natural world. Although humans like control, there is nothing to be done in this situation because nature cannot be manipulated. Could it be argued that we are not only scared of nature because of its power but because we don’t understand it? 2. 5. ‘leaves and branches can raise a tragic chorus in a gale’ – Heaney dedicates seven lines out of the poem’s nineteen to trees. The auditory imagery here is haunting yet the speaker implies this sound would provide some sort of relief, as if the noise of the wind through the trees would either remind them that they aren’t alone or make their fear tangible and as such, easier to deal with. The fact the chorus is ‘tragic’ only adds to the bleak tone created by Heaney. ‘Space is a salvo’ – The speaker’s house continues to hold against the forceful winds yet in their state of vulnerability, the speaker realises the enemy does not have to be physical to wield such destructive power. The confidence or arrogance displayed at the beginning of the poem has disappeared. The fact the speaker describes his ‘fear’ as ‘strange’ may imply a new found respect for nature with a lesson learned that it should not be underestimated. 9. 8. 7. ‘You might think that the sea is company’ – In desperation, the speaker turns to something else natural for comfort yet finds there is none to be found. The oxymoron of ‘exploding comfortably’ could suggest the residents of the island have become accustomed to the noises and actions of the sea as they protect themselves in their ‘squat’ houses yet this ‘explosion’ is dangerous. It is eroding the ‘cliffs’, destroying the island slowly but surely. The enemy (in this case nature) can appear tame yet easily turns ‘savage’. Nature is animalistic, unpredictable and incredibly brutal. 6.
‘Bayonet Charge’ is a poem by Ted Hughes writes about the elements and aspects of the natural world in much of his poetry. The poet Simon Armitage said that for Hughes, poetry was ‘a connecting rod between nature and humanity’. ‘Bayonet Charge’ seems to be heavily influenced by the fact that Hughes’ father was a veteran of the First World War (having survived his regiment’s massacre at Gallipoli), as well as by the poetry of Wilfred Owen. Ted Hughes served in the RAF, but he did not see combat. 1. ‘Stumbling across a field of clods towards a green hedge’ - This long, breathless sentence continues and the running man notices a ‘green hedge’, something which seems strangely out of place on a battlefield. ‘Green’ suggests life, a contrast to the death one would usually find as a result of conflict, yet it is ‘dazzled with rifle fire’, meaning it will not stay untainted and pure for long. The enemy remains unseen in the hedge, dehumanised, making them unpredictable. Bayonet Charge by Ted Hughes 3. ‘The patriotic tear that had brimmed in his eye’ – The contrast between patriotic ideals and reality is seen through a powerful image – the reason he went to war. The soldier’s overriding emotion and motivation is fear, which has replaced the more patriotic ideals that he held before the violence began. Indeed, this patriotism now seems irrational to the soldier in the midst of death and destruction. ‘Tear’ suggests sadness and regret, perhaps at the realisation that the patriotism so keenly felt before is not enough to save him from the brutal effects of conflict. ‘In what cold clockwork of the stars and the nations was he the hand pointing that second? ’ Hughes cleverly plays with ideas of fate and destiny here through his use of celestial imagery. He makes it known that soldiers have no control over their fate. The ‘stars and nations’ are huge, impersonal forces that decide his fate and the alliteration of ‘cold clockwork’ draws attention to the fact they work mechanically and unemotionally, issuing commands that only result in further conflict and death. The soldier is merely a hand on a clock, a cog in the machine, a soldier, like all others, exploited by those deemed superior. 4. ‘His terror’s touchy dynamite’ – This could mean the soldier’s fear is ignited by the ‘blue crackling air’ or that the terror itself is ‘touchy dynamite’. Either reading is valid and creates a sense that fear can transform men into weapons. Furthermore, it could be argued that this line references the effects of war on man such as shell shock. Their experiences left them metaphorically ready to explode and a danger to those around them. 2. ‘Suddenly he awoke and was running – raw in raw seamed hot khaki’ – The poem opens in medias res, meaning the soldier is startled by whatever is happening. Hughes creates a sense of urgency and immediacy by beginning his poem in this way. The soldier is never given a name, meaning the poem acts as a microcosm for all soldiers’ experiences. Already, Hughes creates a sense of discomfort and pain. The soldier is described as ‘raw’ connoting images of something being sore, sensitive and tender. 5. ‘Then the shot-slashed furrows threw up a yellow hare that rolled like a flame’ – The significance of the hare is not entirely clear. It is interesting that the hare is the only other life the soldier sees; perhaps it is a physical representation of the effects of war on nature. It could be an image of nature in pain, suffering at the sight of man destroying one another. According to some folklore, the hare is a symbol of an imminent tempest, inspired foreboding and trepidation, meaning it could be associated with disaster. Whatever, the case, the hare is suffering, just like the soldier. 8. 7. ‘King, honour, human dignity etcetera, dropped like luxuries in a yelling alarm’ – The rhetoric of war is completely dismissed, almost ridiculed, at this point. ‘King, honour, human dignity’ means absolutely nothing when faced with a choice between life and death and are deemed unimportant with the use of the highlight dismissive ‘etcetera’. Indeed, describing them as ‘luxuries’ implies these ideas are selfindulgent and irrelevant and must be discarded if one has a hope of surviving. In this case, Hughes is saying that reasons to go to war are hollow and meaningless, lies. These ideals are grand, but you can only believe in them if you have not experienced the reality of conflict. 6.
‘Remains’ by Simon Armitage is taken from his anthology ‘The Not Dead’. The title is ambiguous. On a literal level, Armitage could be referencing the physical remains of soldiers that are left once they die. On a metaphorical level, the title could be seen as referring to the remains of the soldiers’ mental state; they are so destroyed by what they have seen and experienced that nothing remains of their former selves. It could even be argued that ‘remains’ connotes pieces and scraps of leftover material; these soldiers have served their purpose and now been left to deal with the memories of their experience. In that sense, ‘The Not Dead’ could be seen as a criticism of the treatment of soldiers. They are ‘not dead’. They are here and alive yet many of us are ignorant to their plight. 1. 2. ‘On another occasion, we get sent out’ – Like many of the other war poems in the anthology, the soldiers in the poem are controlled by an unseen superior. They do not question their commands but do what is asked of them. It is unclear who is sending these soldiers out; those who issue the orders remain faceless throughout the poem. Could this be another criticism aimed at those who treat the soldiers as pawns in their game of war? The poem begins ‘in medias res’. This ‘occasion’ has obviously stuck in the speaker’s mind, meaning the event they are about to describe is significant. ‘Well myself and somebody else’ - The use of ‘well’ makes this poem anecdotal; it could easily be part of a conversation between the speaker and someone else. In that sense, the context of the conversation is up for debate. The poem could be part of a confession or counselling session. Armitage strips the soldiers of their humanity. ‘Somebody else and somebody else’ renders the soldiers as unimportant; they have no defining features that make them stand out as individuals. ‘Remains’ by Simon Armitage 3. ‘tosses his guts back into his body’ – The verb ‘tosses’ is nonchalant; there are no real ramifications to death, not immediately anyway. Although it is easy to focus on this image as grotesque, it is also incredibly sad. These men have become so desensitised by war that they have no qualms when it comes to throwing the insides of humans back into their obliterated bodies. It is completed as a casual action but there is no mistake that these men are not the same people they used to be. ‘I see every round as it rips through his life’ – Here, Armitage explores the true horrors of war. We are presented with a gruesome image of bullets destroying a life. ‘Every round’ implies the shooting is incessant and ‘rips’ highlights the violence that comes with conflict. On another level, however, it could imply how the fragile a life is and as a result, how easy it is to take a life away. To rip something requires very little effort but the effect of this action is always the same: destruction. 4. ‘His bloody life in my bloody hands’ – This line is ambiguous, perhaps referencing the confusion felt by the speaker. He could be swearing, reflecting the frustration he feels at the situation he finds himself in. Alternatively, the speaker could be taking about actual blood. What is certain though is that the speaker feels huge amounts of guilt; he has been left to survive whilst the others have been left in death. 5. ‘And the drink and the drugs won’t flush him out’ – The speaker is so haunted by what he has experienced that he is desperate to ‘cleanse’ himself, ironically using substances that will physically harm him in order to do it. Furthermore, there is a subtle hint that the speaker is surprised that the drink and drugs are not working. He wants to make his life better, yet is slowly killing himself in order to do it. In essence, the speaker is lost. 9. 8. ‘…and he bursts through the doors of the bank’ - A sense of urgency is created by the alliteration of ‘bursts’ and ‘bank’. The plosive ‘b’ connotes a sense of aggression and anger, posing a threat to the speaker and the other nameless soldiers who have been sent to deal with the situation. The verb ‘bursts’ could also link to the speaker’s PTSD later in the poem. There is no warning to the anxiety he feels; it is quick and sudden which makes it all the more crippling. 7. ‘End of story except not really’ – Does the experience of war end once the soldiers return? Armitage makes it clear this is not the case. The speaker is psychologically tormented by what he has experienced. Could it be argued that Armitage is giving the soldiers who feel they can’t speak out about their suffering a voice? After all, the very notion of PTSD contrasts the stereotypical image of a soldier. As seen in the poem, once these men return home, they are left fighting a very different battle, but one that still devastates and destroys. 6.
‘Poppies’ is a poem by Jane Weir. It is a modern poem but draws upon the idea of the poppy flower that has become synonymous with remembrance. The poem is set in the present day but flashes back to the origins of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance at the end of World War One – Armistice Sunday. Jane Weir also runs her own textile business and often ‘weaves’ some of those ideas into her own writing. Armistice Sunday is still used to remember and honour any soldiers who have died in the line of duty. 1. 2. ‘Three days before Armistice Sunday and poppies have already been placed on individual war graves. ’ – Weir immediately foregrounds themes of war, death and personal loss. The enjambment of the first two lines allows the idea to be cut short via the caesura in line 3, just like the lives of the soldiers in the ‘individual war graves. ’ Perhaps this reflects the understandable concerns and fears of the speaker as she sends her son to war. ‘Spasms of paper red, disrupting a blockade of yellow bias binding around your blazer’ – The imagery of a poppy, the typical symbol of remembrance, is unusually violent. ‘Spasm’ has connotations of an ill or dying soldier and contrasts sharply with the domestic and gentle and touching gesture of a mother pinning a poppy onto her son’s lapel. This is further emphasised by the poet’s use of ‘blockade’, an example of war terminology, perhaps hinting that the speaker’s relationship with her son is put on hold by the presence of war. The use of ‘blazer’, an item of school uniform, makes the son sound younger and more vulnerable. Poppies by Jane Weir 3. ‘Sellotape bandaged around my hand’ – Once again, the poet alludes to the brutal consequences of war. ‘Bandaged’ suggests injury and the fact the speaker is tending to her son with a hand which is ‘bandaged’ shows her maternal duty to take care of him. ‘Bandaged’ is juxtaposed with an everyday item like ‘sellotape’ shows the writer contrasting domestic images with those of war to highlight the different paths that mother and son will tread. The son is obviously old enough to go to war, yet he is never old enough to be taken care of. This is her life’s purpose. ‘Steeled the softening of my face… I wanted to graze my nose across the tip of your nose’ – ‘Steeled’ has connotations of coldness which goes against the speaker’s maternal instincts. She must be strong as she willingly lets her son go. This image is tender, affectionate and vulnerable. It is a very quiet moment, one the mother yearns for against the looming threat of war. This in itself is tragic; the mother is stripped of her maternal duties now the son is off to war. Not only can she show the affection she wants to but she is no longer able to protect him from the evils of the world. 5. 4. ‘…hoping to hear your playground voice catching on the wind’ – A sombre and nostalgic line. ‘Playground’ hints at a bustling, noisy atmosphere, something which is completely at odds with the melancholic tone of the poem. This contrast highlights and emphasises the speaker’s great loss and the silence which presses on her. Weir uses her final sentence to evoke intense feelings of loss and pity as her speaker desperately wishes to hear her son’s voice again. It is unclear whether the speaker’s son is actually dead, yet if Weir’s use of foreshadowing is to be taken as fact, it is likely that the speaker will never hear her son’s voice again. ‘a single dove flew from a pear tree’ – A dove, usually associated with peace, flies away, perhaps suggesting there will be no more peace where the speaker’s son is going. The speaker says her stomach is busy ‘making tucks, darts, pleats…’ Once again, Weir references domestic language and sewing. This would usually highlight the mother’s role to nurture and look after her son. Here, it is used to demonstrate anxiety. 8. 9. 8. ‘the gelled blackthorns of your hair’ – Weir includes yet another image to highlight the son’s young age. The speaker is familiar with the spikey, gelled hair of a young boy yet alludes to the ‘crown of thorns’ worn by Jesus when he was put to death. Perhaps Weir is foreshadowing the potential sacrifice of life the narrator’s sound could be forced to make; if this is the case, Weir could also be presenting the speaker’s son as some sort of saviour. He, and others like him, die in war so that others may live in freedom. 7. ‘the front door, threw it open, the world overflowing like a treasure chest’ – ‘Treasure chest’ has connotations of adventure and exotic locations, emphasising the speaker’s son’s naivety. It implies the son lacks life experience as he has always been protected by his mother. Suddenly, he has the opportunity to explore. Could the ‘treasure chest’ also be seen as an allusion to the mythology of Pandora ’s Box? In Greek mythology, Pandora, out of curiosity, opens a box she is told not to open, releasing sickness, death and other unspecified evils. In this case, the speaker’s house is the box, safe and secure. Once opened, nothing can stop her son from facing danger and evil. 6.
‘War Photographer’ is by Carol Ann Duffy, who uses the perspective of the eponymous photographer to explore the reality of conflict. Interestingly, it could be argued that the role of a poet is similar to the job of a photographer of war as suggested by war photographer, James Nachtwey: ‘I’m a witness and I want my testimony to be honest and uncensored. I also want it to be powerful and eloquent and to do as much justice as possible to the experience of the people I’m photographing. ’ This poem describes a war photographer who reflects upon his time spent in conflict by developing his photographs, taken in an effort to give those suffering under the cruel grip of war a voice. 1. ‘Spools of suffering set out in ordered rows’ – Duffy’s use of sibilance suggests the suffering shown in the photos is so widespread that it is almost audible. It is interesting Duffy juxtaposes the chaos of war with ‘ordered rows’. The image could be symbolic of lines of soldiers or war graves yet it is clear the photographer is attempting to make some sort of sense out of what he has seen. The action of being ‘set out’ connotes control, something there is usually a lack of in war. 2. ‘In his darkroom he is finally alone’ – We may be forgiven for thinking that this is a poem that will be set during a conflict, yet Duffy begins her poem by emphasising the silence and solitude experienced by the photographer. He is distant from war. The adverb ‘finally’ suggests this is something the photographer has longed for after experiencing the chaos and pain of war. Although the ‘dark room’ is a photographer’s place of work, the setting could have a deeper, symbolic meaning. The photographer has shut off the light out of necessity, yet it could be a physical manifestation of the darkest recesses of his mind; his photographs will force him to revisit the trauma he has experienced. War Photographer by Carol Ann Duffy 3. ‘Solutions slop in trays beneath his hands which did not tremble then though seem to now’ – There is a hint here that the photographer is suffering from PTSD. His trembling hands contrast the idea of the ‘ordered rows’. ‘Solutions’ is ambiguous; on a literal level, Duffy is discussing the solutions used to help develop the photographs. On a metaphorical level, the photographs themselves could be the solution, the solution needed to end the war. They bring war and conflict to those who have never experienced it before. In this case, people need to be aware in order to help with the change that could end the conflict. ‘All flesh is grass’ – Duffy makes it clear that human life is transitory, meaning that life is not permanent. Perhaps Duffy is highlighting the fragility of life, especially in the context of war. If this is the case, Duffy may be suggesting that the photographs offer some sense of permanence. This snapshot, this moment in time, is preserved for everyone to see. 4. ‘From the aeroplane he stares impassively at where he earns his living and they do not care’ – The photographer returns to scenes of conflict; as long as there is conflict, he will be needed. The adverb ‘impassively’ shows how he is used to the fact people don’t care, yet he will continue to try and find a solution to this, even though it becomes increasingly apparent that ultimately, there are no real solutions to war. 5. ‘A hundred agonies in black and white’ – Duffy describes the ‘agonies’ this way yet they are anything but ‘black and white’. The emotions behind each photo are complex and painful, full of powerlessness and hopelessness. Next comes a harsh criticism of the media. The editor will pick ‘five or six’, connoting a sense of carelessness that contrasts the meticulous care of the photographer in his dark room. Where before the photographer was giving the victims of war a voice, it seems the majority of those voices will be silenced because not all are chosen for publication. The idea of the editor picking the pictures is also troubling. On what basis does the editor pick the photographs? Are those that aren’t picked not emotional enough? Does that render them any less important? 9. 8. 6. ‘Running children in a nightmare heat’ – An iconic photograph is mentioned here. The use of the present participle ‘running’ implies that this is still happening in the photographer’s mind, suggesting that these memories will haunt him forever. It also shows that even though the photographer is now in the safety of his own country, somewhere in the world, there are others who continue to live in fear. The use of ‘children’ shows the death of innocence and naivety. 7. ‘A stranger’s features faintly start to twist before his eyes, a half formed ghost’ – The images in the photographer’s mind transform into literal, photographic images. The verb ‘twist’ suggests excruciating pain. The fact the image is ‘moving’ implies it is beyond his control, just like the context in which he took the picture. The stereotypical connotations of conflict are blood and death yet this is an image which focuses solely on the emotion felt by those affected by war. This snapshot of anguish, pain, loss and fear shows the collateral damage of war. It’s not just about those who die but those who are also left behind to pick up the pieces.
‘Tissue’ by Imtiaz Dharker reveals the power of paper and how one can use it for different things. It is about the fragility and insignificance of humanity. The main themes of Dharker's poetry include home, freedom, journeys, geographical and cultural displacement, communal conflict and gender politics. 1. ‘… the back of the Koran’ – Dharker introduces one of the main themes of her poem here: the power of paper. The reference to the Koran is an anecdote for the power of paper and the written word in recording a religion, culture, identity and history. In this case, ‘Tissue’ is about the fact that humans think they are significant and important but in actual fact, they are insignificant. Paper, even old paper that has been handed down through generations, will outlast us. We, like the others in the back of the Koran, will simply become a name in a book. The book, made of paper, outlasts human life. Tissue by Imtiaz Dharker 3. ‘Pages smoothed and stroked and turned’ – This suggests that by frequent use, the paper is worn thin, just as our lives may be examined and rethought. The pages have ‘turned transparent with attention’, suggesting that we learn more, can see more deeply, the more we examine our lives and grow mature. Humanity places too much importance on paper; paper, in essence, controls how we live when we are alive and outlasts us when we die. ‘Transparent’ could also suggest that although we focus on life, eventually our lives will become ‘transparent’ and non-existent as we fade away: life is insignificant. ‘If buildings were paper I might feel their drift’ – Dharker continues to emphasise insignificance of human life. Humanity constantly strives to better itself, demonstrating our supposed strength and power through what we create: buildings and monuments. Yet this line highlights our mortality and the fact that human power is ephemeral (short lasting). Our structures, creations that we think will last, will not. Dharker is suggesting that humanity would understand this fact easily if buildings were made of paper. We would see that they are, in fact, vulnerable. 4. ‘Trace a grand design with living tissue, raise a structure never meant to last’ – At this point, we are given a final chance to contemplate human fragility. Here, Dharker uses the adverb ‘never’ to embrace our impermanence: paper has power to preserve our history whilst we live a brief existence. 2. ‘Paper that lets the light shine through, this is what could alter things’ – The poem opens with an image of beauty and positivity, the idea that as long as we have light, there is potential for change for the better. Light is usually associated with positive ideals; in this case, Dharker draws particular attention to the religious connotations of light. Belief in God suggests redemption and purity. Regardless of how the beginning of the poem is read, it is clear that Dharker intends to open her poem positively here. 5. ‘The sun shines through their borderlines’ – Dharker again highlights humanity’s insignificance and lack of control over life and society. Humans impose their own borderlines in society. Here, Dharker could be talking about the power of nature. The ‘sun shines through [these] borderlines’ suggesting nature pays no attention to man-made borders; in actual fact, it disregards them. Borderlines established by political posturing, conflict, treaties and history are rendered insignificant by nature. Nature can do what it wants. Humans, regardless of what they think, cannot. 8. 7. ‘Fine slips… might fly our lives like paper kites’ – Dharker continues to discuss the importance that humans place on paper. The simile shows how humanity values freedom but remains controlled, just as kites fly freely but people control their movement. Receipts and money dictate how we live our lives yet feel so insignificant. Perhaps Dharker includes this image to show preoccupied we have become with material goods. This in itself could provide the reason as to why humanity is rendered insignificant: we place too much emphasis on unimportant things instead of spending time working towards a greater good. 6.
‘The Emigree’ is a poem by Carol Rumens. Emigrée in the feminine form of the word emigrate; the idea that a person goes and settles in another country. The poet bases many of the ideas on modern examples of emigration from countries like Russia or the Middle East where people are fleeing corruption and tyranny. The messages and themes are very much rooted in a modern issues such as the Syrian Crisis. 1. ‘There once was a country…’ – The poem begins with a fairy-tale cliché although the parallel ends there. The ellipsis may suggest this country no longer exists in the form she remembers or imply that the speaker is remembering where she used to come from. However, it may signify that the speaker, although desperate to always portray this country in a positive light, just can’t keep up pretences. Her view of the country may be positive, but she cannot deny the fact that something has tainted and ruined it. ‘I left it as a child but my memory of it is sunlight clear’ – It is interesting that the speaker labels their memory as ‘sunlight clear’. Memories are prone to distortion and often with that comes deception. Perhaps the speaker’s naivety and innocence has stayed with them, leading them to believe in this ‘sunlight clear’ memory. Interestingly, her country is never given a name. The speaker refers to the country as ‘it’, perhaps to link this event to others in a similar situation. Perhaps it is because the country has no identity anymore. It has changed so much it is no longer recognisable. The Emigrée by Carol Rumens 3. ‘I am branded by an impression of sunlight’ – The motif of sunlight to represent a positive memory continues. ‘Sunlight’ is used twice in the first stanza and ‘bright’ once. ‘Sunlight’ has connotations of warmth; it gives and sustains life. However, this positivity is juxtaposed by the violent verb ‘branded’, something which could be deemed as quite a brutal action. Could it be argued there is an element of patriotism here? A brand is a sign of ownership, something which is heated and burned into an animal’s skin. It is violent, but a violence of which the speaker is proud of; she cannot and will not shake her ‘original view’. ‘The white streets of that city… glow even clearer as time rolls its tanks and the frontiers rise between us. ’ – The speaker describes the streets as ‘white’, suggesting innocence and purity. White, however, is also the colour of surrender. The city has been conquered but it is also innocent. It could be argued here that the speaker knows their memory is a falsification of what is actually happening. As the country becomes ‘sicker’, her memory seems to strengthen, perhaps because she cannot comprehend, or doesn’t want to understand what is going on. It is not difficult to understand why the speaker behaves in this way. This city is part of their identity, something they don’t want to let go of and so the past is idealised. 5. 4. ‘They mutter death and my shadow falls as evidence of sunlight’ – An image of oppression and evil and hatred. There is a darkness to the speaker’s city that they do not want to remember, perhaps because they desperately want to maintain the utopian image they have forged in their mind. This utopian idea ends the poem. It is significant that each stanza ends with ‘sunlight’. The country and the city may be viewed negatively, but one person’s shadow acts as evidence that no matter how powerful the tyrants become, there is always hope in some shape or form. 6. ‘Soon I shall have every coloured molecule of it’ – The speaker turns her attention to language here. Perhaps the speaker is suggesting that her former home was a totalitarian state and freedom of speech curtailed. The words and opinions she was forbidden to speak about are still within her; they are part of her identity, yet she argues that maybe she will have that language back in full again soon. 8. 7. ‘My city takes me dancing through the city of walls’ – The final stanza is full of ambiguity. Here, the city the speaker is referring to is treated as two separate entities. Her city, as in her memory of the city, allows her to metaphorically dance through the city as it is now, a ‘city of walls’. Ideas of freedom and restriction are juxtaposed here. The verb ‘dancing’ could be significant. Its connotations of freedom make it likely that such an action would be banned under tyrannical rule. Would it be too much to say, then, that there is an element of defiance within the speaker? Even though this is all in her mind, is this her own way of rebelling against the tyrants that have changed her city? 2.
John Agard was born in Guyana, a Caribbean country in South America, but he moved to Britain in 1977. His poetry often examines cultures and identities. This poem (published in 2007) looks at our understanding of identity through history, through the poet's voice and experiences. He emphasises how we celebrate our national/cultural history without looking at those we were in conflict with. 1. 2. ‘Dem tell me… Bandage up me eye with me own history. ’ – There is an overwhelming sense that the speaker sees white history as some sort of propaganda for superiority. The speaker feels manipulated by the content being fed to him by the white education system. Famous figures and events are picked and chosen to present a sense of power, leaving those like the speaker feeling powerless, insignificant and ignored. The use of ‘bandage’ is ironic. Bandages are usually used to heal and fix yet in this sense, it is used to blind. Perhaps Agard does this to show damage and pain on behalf of the speaker; racial divisions are kept in place by what is deemed ‘suitable education’. ‘Dem tell me about 1066 and all dat’ – There is a sense of bitterness on behalf of the speaker here. 1066, the year of the Battle of Hastings, a monumental event in British history, is ridiculed with the dismissive use of ‘all dat’ as if it is not worth the speaker’s time. In fact, pairing ‘ 1066’ with ‘Dick Whittington’ makes the white education system almost laughable. Could the speaker be suggesting that the Battle of Hastings is nothing but a pantomime like ‘Dick Whittington’? A pantomime of British culture and history? Yet behind this sarcasm is a cry for help. The speaker is terrified of losing all links with their own culture. Checking Out Me History by John Agard 3. ‘Toussaint, a slave, with vision…’ – The speaker mentions Toussaint, ‘de beacon of de Haitian Revolution’. Agard structures his poem in such a way that more space is dedicated to the black historical figures he decides to include, perhaps to represent their importance and significance. Whilst British events are dismissed in the poem, Agard uses his poem to educate. We learn who these figures are through their inclusion in the text. Each figure is also included as a subtle criticism of white superiority; all have rebelled against British or French rule in some way, achieving great things in the process. ‘Toussaint de thorn to de French, Toussaint de beacon of de Haitian Revolution’ – Agard introduces an extended metaphor of light here. A ‘beacon’ has connotations of hope and salvation. Agard does not just include these historical figures because he believes they are just as important as famous white figures; he places them on a pedestal for all those who may be feeling oppressed themselves. All of these figures have fought for what they believe in. Toussaint, for example, is not just a beacon of the revolution, but a beacon for all who feel ignored, oppressed and persecuted. 4. ‘But now I checking out me own history. I carving out me identity. ’ – ‘Carving’ is in the present tense, indicating the speaker is in the process of re -educating himself. ‘Carving’ suggests a sense of permanence and once he has finished, he will be left with something new and beautiful: an identity he can call his own and one that cannot be ignored and dismissed. 5. ‘Dem tell me bout de man who discover de balloon… dem tell me bout Columbus and 1492 but what happen to de Caribs and de Arawaks too’ – Once Agard finishes trivializing British history with nursery rhymes, he turns his attention to something darker. Columbus is hailed as the man who ‘discovered’ America, yet Agard is more concerned with those who were already there. Agard asks what happened to those Columbus encountered once his conquest began. This ‘white washing’ of history troubles Agard immensely. Again, this idea of manipulation is brought to the fore. An event in which the white ‘conquerors’ should be presented negatively has been twisted to portray the opposite. 8. 7. ‘A healing star among the wounded, a yellow sunrise’ – The ‘yellow sunrise’ is the final reference in the ‘light’ related extended metaphor. Agard, once again, is symbolically shining light on his own heroes of different ethnicities. Even his reference to a ‘star’ suggests some sort of celestial guidance. These figures are important to people to follow, their stories serving to ‘un-blind’ him from the limitations of English education. Not only have these figures guided others in the past but they guide the speaker; he perceives their achievements as enlightening and warming. 6.
‘Kamikaze’ by Beatrice Garland is a poem set around a Kamikaze pilot flying to war and then turning back. It was considered an honour in Japan to die for your country. Whilst the poem recounts a historical event, the poet’s message is rooted in and relevant to modern society in which cultural expectation lead many to extreme actions in the name of honour. 1. ‘A shaven head full of powerful incantations’ – The pilot could be praying here for a successful mission. The use of the adjective ‘powerful’ shows us that these ‘incantations’, whatever they may be, are the driving force behind the pilot’s actions. Garland could be emphasising these incantations as ridiculous, almost superstitious. Like so many other poems in the anthology, it may be emphasising the lack of control a soldier of war has. Whilst many are told to go to war, this pilot has been brainwashed with propaganda, saying it is his duty to die for the Emperor and the good of Japan. Either way, an ‘incantation’ is a spell, which would suggest the pilot doesn’t necessarily believe in what he is doing, regardless of whether he knows it or not. ‘Her father embarked at sunrise with a flask of water, a samurai sword…’ – Garland creates a contrast between suffering and peace through the sounds of the poem. There is assonance present with the repeated ‘a’ sounds in this line, creating a noise of pain or lament. This, however, is juxtaposed with Garland’s use of sibilance, which could be treated as sinister or peaceful. ‘Sunrise’ holds connotations of peace yet ‘samurai sword’ would connote violence. Perhaps this is designed to mimic what is happening in the poem. The pilot is at peace as he travels over the sea, yet he is on his way to cause extreme violence and death. ‘Kamikaze’ by Beatrice Garland 3. ‘…arcing in swathes like a huge flag waved first one way then the other in a figure of eight. ’ – One may think on an initial reading that the reference to a flag is a reference to patriotism but it could also be alluding to surrender. Waving a flag back and forth on the battlefield is a sign of surrender, something the pilot is most likely thinking of at this point in the poem. The ‘figure of eight’ is a clear reference to infinity or the idea of eternal life, an ironic reminder that this is the exact thing the pilot will be sacrificing should he complete his mission. Perhaps he is looking down and subtly being told that it is more important to live. ‘A one-way journey into history’ – So many poems in the anthology deal with a human need to be remembered. The use of ‘history’ suggests this is the way the pilots have been persuaded to sacrifice themselves. They will be revered as heroes for the rest of time and their names will live forever. There is a hint of sadness here, as obviously this is not the case. The incantations mentioned previously are based on lies. 5. 4. ‘He must have wondered which had been the better way to die. ’ – An interesting question is posed here. What is an honorable way to die? If a samurai was facing defeat, an honorable way to die would be via suicide. Could it be argued then, that the pilot has taken his own life in order to end the shame that has been forced upon him? Samurais who killed themselves in this way were ordered to by their masters if they felt let down. That means that if the pilot does kill himself, then it may be he feels he has been ordered to by his own family. We can infer this from earlier in the poem where the family treat the man ‘as if he no longer existed’. They are already treating him like he should be dead. 2. ‘with cloud-marked mackerel, black crabs, feathery prawns’ – Garland provides further links between sea and sky here. ‘Cloudmarked’ in particular, brings us back to the sky and the situation of the pilot. The pilot could be asking himself whether this is a natural way to die. You don’t expect mackerel, commonly found in the sea, to be touched by cloud. It is unnatural. Prawns are described as ‘feathery’, another reference to flight, just like the pilot’s flight. It sounds wrong, just like the pilot’s situation. ‘Only we children still chattered and laughed’ – Garland comments here on the power of tradition and societal expectations. Despite his instinct to cling to the world, the pilot’s life will not be worth living. The judgemental characteristics of adulthood are juxtaposed with youthful naivety. The narrator tells this section from her own perspective as it is the only part she knows from experienced. As children, they would be completely unaware of societal expectation, only learning this with age and experience. 9. 8. 7. ‘a tuna, the dark prince, muscular, dangerous’ – Garland continues to list marine life, perhaps offering parallels with fish caught in nets and the trappings of war. ‘Dark prince’, however, conjures images of something much more sinister and preparing us for the disappointment of the next section of the poem. The ‘prince’ could be an allusion to the Emperor, someone who has commanded the pilots to sacrifice themselves. This nobility is linked to darkness. This order, which will result in suicide, is not only corrupt but a betrayal as well. It is not a pure way of dying. 6.