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Opening Lines Poetry Anthology Section H 1914 18 War ii Queensbury Upper School English Department 1 This revision guide is intended to support the work you have been doing


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									 Opening Lines
Poetry Anthology

 Section H
1914-18 War

   Queensbury Upper School English Department   1
This revision guide is intended to support the work you have
been doing in class on the following poems:
Recruiting                                                 E.A. Mackintosh
Joining the Colours                                        Katherine Tynan Hinkson
The Target                                                 Ivor Gurney
The Send-Off                                               Wilfred Owen
Spring Offensive                                           Wilfred Owen
The Bohemians                                              Ivor Gurney
Lamentations                                               Siegfried Sassoon
The Deserter                                               Winifred M. Letts
The Hero                                                   Siegfried Sassoon
Falling Leaves                                             Margaret Postgate Cole
In Flander’s Fields                                        John McCray
The Seed-Merchant’s Son                                    Agnes Grozier Herbertson
The Parable of the Old Man and the Young                   Wilfred Owen
Spring in War-Time                                         Edith Nesbit
Perhaps-                                                   Vera Brittain
Reported Missing                                           Anna Gordon Keown

                      Queensbury Upper School English Department                      2
Historical Context – The 1914-1918 War

The 1914 -1918 War was also known as the Great War, and is infamous for the
millions of young men millions of young men who died, using old-fashioned battle
tactics against the first modern weapons, such as machine guns. Young men
volunteered to go and fight believing they were on a heroic mission.

The horror they faced when they got to the trenches is the subject of much of
their poetry. The soldiers felt betrayed by those who had persuaded them to go
and fight, and were desperate to show the reality of war.

                 Queensbury Upper School English Department                      3
                             “Recruiting” E.A. Mackintosh

“Recruiting” shows that the reality of war is different to the propaganda recruitment,
the poem contains bitter criticism of the politicians who sent the soldiers off to war
and the journalists who write about it. The poem comments on the recruitment drive
in Britain; taking issue in particular with posters encouraging young men to sign
up to the army. Mackintosh focuses on the discrepancy between the image of war as
presented by the advertising campaign of the “fat civilians” and the reality of war as
experienced by the young “lads” called up to fight.

Constructed of 11 verses, each made up of 4 lines (quatrains) with a regular rhyme
scheme abcb defe ghih …The structure of the poem is rhythmic this reflects the way
they were cajoled into going to war without giving it proper consideration.

The poem is an obvious attack written from a soldier‟s perspective who has had
experienced the reality of war and realised the falsity of their advertising campaigns.

1. How does the poet use the following techniques to get the point across
     The four line verse (quatrain)
     Colloquial language
     Rhyme
     Alliteration

2. The poem uses accessible, straightforward language. What does this suggest about
the purpose and audience it was written for?

                   Queensbury Upper School English Department                             4
                   “Joining the Colours” Katherine Tynan Hinkson

The poem tells of a regiment of soldiers leaving Dublin to fight in France; written
from a female perspective the poem juxtaposes (directly contrasts) images of the
innocent naivety of the young soldiers with images of death. The poet speaks of the
sad realization that the love felt for these men by the women left at home “cannot save”
the soldiers from their uncertain futures and likely deaths.

1. Compare this poem to “The Send-Off” which is also about men going off to die.
Look at:
    Settings
    Verse forms
    Standpoint of both poets
    Each poet‟s feelings
    Patterns of imagery
    Your own response to the poems
    Use of contrast

                                   “The Target” Ivor Gurney
“The Target” is told from the perspective of a soldier who agonises over a man he has
killed. The soldier says that his mother lives in fear of his death, the speaker suggests
that it might be better for his mother if he died so that she might at least find some
peace in not having to worry about him anymore. The soldier then goes on to
contemplate the situation of the soldier that he shot, and remembers that the man he
shot is another mother‟s son. The soldier feels that God gives no guidance and does
not seem to care. The speaker wonders who “felt the bullet worst” – he questions
whether it is better to be the soldier shot than the soldier who did the shooting and has
to live with the guilt of taking another‟s life. The poem ends in disillusionment
calling the war a “bloody mess indeed”.

                   Queensbury Upper School English Department                           5
                             “The Send-off” Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen‟s poem, “The Send-Off” was written at Ripon where there was a huge
army camp. The troops in the poem have just come from a sending-off ceremony of
cheering crowds, bells, drums, and flowers given by strangers; the troops are now
being packed into trains for an unknown destination. From the beginning of the
poem the atmosphere is sinister, the lanes are “darkening” and claustrophobic, the
crowds have gone and the troops are watched only by the “dull” and uninspiring faces
of a porter and lowly tramp. The flowers pinned on the chests of the soldiers in
celebration become for the speaker of the poem the funeral flowers garlanding the
soldiers for the slaughter that awaits them in war. The departure of the soldiers for
war is secret, it is “like wrongs hushed up”, the cheering celebration of the hours before
becomes a smoke screen for the harsh solemnity of war.


   1. Owen‟s choice of words adds to the effect of the imagery. What is the effect of
      the oxymoron “grimly gay”?
   2. Why does he use a rhetorical question in stanza 7?
   3. Owen uses quite an unusual structure in the poem. Three-line stanzas are
      followed by two-line stanzas and the rhymes connect the stanzas. He also
      uses a combination of long and short lines. Look closely at the structure.
      What kind of mood and feeling does it give to the poem?

                   Queensbury Upper School English Department                            6
                             “Spring Offensive” Wilfred Owen

In a letter dated 25th April 1917, Wilfred Owen recalls a day in which “we were rushed
up into line. Twice in one day we went over the top, gaining both our objectives. Our “
“A” company led the attack and of course lost a certain number of men. I had some
extraordinary escapes from shells and bullets”. Owen‟s poem “Spring Offensive” is an
account of the action, its prologue and aftermath and the men involved in it. The poem
is composed of six stanzas; each describes a different phase of the attack – the scene,
the pause before the attack, the tension, the attack, the casualties, and the survivors.


Image                          Type of image      Effect
“Like and injected drug”       simile             Emphasises the dramatic healing
                                                  effect of the sun.
“sky burned / With fury”       personification    Suggests the intensity of the
                                                  bombardment – as if they were being
                                                  attacked by a vengeful god.
“like sorrowing arms”          simile             Perhaps relating to Christ‟s crown of
                                                  thorns, the brambles create an image
                                                  of sacrifice
“like trees unstirred”         simile             Emphasises how silently the men
                                                  breathe, creates a sense of man in
                                                  communion with nature
“like a cold gust”             simile             The May breeze becomes a cold gust,
                                                  emphasizes the manner in which the
                                                  men stiffen and brace themselves in
                                                  preparation for battle.
“earth set sudden cups /In     metaphor           The cups are metaphors for the craters
thousands for their blood”                        left by shells, filling with the blood as
                                                  the men die. A graphic image of the
                                                  blood shed and lives lost.
“surf of bullets”              metaphor           Creates an image of bullets being
                                                  fired in waves.
“hell‟s upsurge”               Personification    Suggests that the war has created hell
                                                  on earth.

The poem‟s structure reflects the different stages of the offensive – 1-sets the scene, 2-
pause before the attack, 3 –tension, 4-attack, 5-casulaties, 6-survivors.

                     Queensbury Upper School English Department                              7
The majority of the lines are composed of 10 syllables, the rhythm of the poem is
broken by irregularities in the number of syllables in some of the lines and by the
irregular rhymes. Owen uses rhyming couplets to create and emphasise tension.

Trace what actually happens to the soldiers by rearranging the following sentences
into the right order.
 a. As they attack they are exposed on an open stretch of ground.
 b. The soldiers who survive cannot speak of those who died.
 c. The soldiers have a chance to rest
 d. The enemy opens fire
 e. A “Little word” sends them into battle
 f. But many soldiers just stare at the place they will attack
 g. Many of the soldiers are shot or blown up.

                  Queensbury Upper School English Department                          8
                              “The Bohemians” Ivor Gurney

A bohemian is someone who is unconventional, rebellious and does not conform.

The poem discusses the different people who join up to the army satirizing the
punishments the soldiers received for not wearing the correct uniform. The
individuality of the soldiers is erased. The soldiers who “burnished brasses, earned
promotions” - the soldiers who conformed to the army rules were promoted. However as
the poem progresses the speaker suggests that the soldiers no longer need to worry
about conforming or not conforming as they eventually “died off one by one”: “In
Artois or Picardy they lie – free of useless fashions” – ultimately conforming proved

Image                      Type of image       Effect
“Barely escaping hanging, Alliteration         The poet satirizes the punishments for
indeed hardly able”        exaggeration        not wearing the correct uniform
“others burnished brasses, Alliteration        Emphasises the action of polishing
earned promotions”                             brass as an act that “earned
“While others argued of        Alliteration    The use of alliteration reinforces the
army ways, and wrenched                        message of these lines – that
/ What little soul they had                    conforming to army ways was soul
still further from shape”                      destroying.

“The Bohemians” is written in only two sentences, the first encompassing 14 out of
the 15 lines of the poem. The rhythm of the poem is broken up mid line, creating a
sense of the poem as an accumulative list and producing a casual tone.


   1. Why is the conversational and casual tone of the poem deceptive?
   2. What kind of individuality is stamped on the bohemians?

                  Queensbury Upper School English Department                         9
                            Lamentations Siegfried Sassoon
Sassoon‟s poem, “Lamentations”, is a funeral song. The speaker of the poem describes
the pain and anguish of a young soldier, who after having been told of the death of his
brother, had to be removed to the guard room. The speaker hearing the pain of the
grieved man entered into the guard room where the young soldier had broken down. A
sergeant looks on puzzled and patiently at the man half-naked kneeling on the floor.
The guard appears to lack compassion and understanding for the situation of the
grieving man.

The poem establishes a contrast between the reality of war as experienced by the
grieving soldier and the sergeant who has experienced no personal cost for the war. It is
ambiguous as to whether the poem‟s title refers to the pain of the young soldier or
laments the lack of pity and understanding of the unfeeling guard. For the speaker
of the poem, men like the sergeant have lost all “patriotic feeling” since they can no
longer empathise with the pain and suffering of the grieving relatives. The soldier who
has lost his brother is in such despair he would not be interested in fighting for a
country which has effectively killed his brother.


This poem relies on montage. It is a single scene in the guard room and one which
depicts the violence of grief. This is displayed in the verbs „moaned‟, „shouted‟, ‟sobbed‟,
„choked‟, „howled‟ and „beat‟. The use of a list is employed to show the situation rising
in violence and despair. All the language is familiar and universal to the reader and
this helps Sassoon to establish his perspective. The scene is also reminiscent of a
childs‟ tantrum and this helps to display the futility of war.

The structure of the poem aids the impression it gives of being an eye-witness account,
creating a sense of intimacy with the reader as the speaker imparts what he has seen.
The use of enjambment in the poem aids flow between lines and sentences reinforcing
the idea that this is a story being recalled from memory.

   1. What are the similarities between “Lamentations” and Sassoon‟s “The Hero”?

                    Queensbury Upper School English Department                            10
                            “The Deserter” Winifred M. Letts
In the First World War many soldiers suffered from shell shock which was not
generally recognized as a condition at the time. They ran off from the guns and were
shot as deserters.
        The speaker of Winifred M. Letts‟s poem tells of the fate of a deserter, the
deserter is not named – it could be any soldier. The story of the deserter is told
sympathetically, imagining the fear felt by the soldier who ran off only to be caught
and shot by his own army. The speaker tells of the deserter‟s mother who thinks her
son died a hero, serving his country in battle. The speaker suggests that it is best for
the mother not to know that her son “lies in a deserter‟s grave”.

Image                     Type of image            Effect
“Fear had dogged by night personification          Emphasises the strong feelings of fear
and day”                                           felt by the soldier. Suggests that Fear
                                                   has its own will separate to the will of
                                                   the person who experiences it.
“who can judge him, you or     Rhetoric            The speaker suggests that it is not the
I?”                                                place of the others to judge the
                                                   deserter‟s guilt
“was scared as any             simile              Suggests the vulnerability of the
frightened child”                                  soldier, provokes sympathy from the
“throbbing heart and           Internal rhyme      The repetition of sound mimics the
sobbing breathe”                                   repetitious pounding of the deserter‟s
                                                   heart. It emphasizing the physical
                                                   experience of fear as something that
                                                   takes over the body.
“I‟ve seen a hare with eyes    Simile              The comparison to a hare emphasizes
as wild”                                           again the fragility of the soldier but
                                                   also suggests the erratic and
                                                   unpredictable manner in which the
                                                   deserter ran off
“An English bullet in his      repetition          Suggests the disbelief of the speaker
heart!”                                            that such killings should occur
Beginning the poem with “There was a man” gives the poem a story like structure, the
man remains nameless suggesting that this could be the fate of any man.
The rhyme scheme of the poem is based on repetition of whole words and phrases –
“turned and ran away”, “to die”, “wild”, “death”, “when the dawn was grey”, “An
English bullet in his heart”, “strife”, all of the repeated phrases serve to emphasises the
speaker‟s sympathy for the deserter.

                    Queensbury Upper School English Department                            11
In the closing lines of the poem the poet rhymes “gave” with “grave” linking the image
of the mother giving her son to war with an image of death.

   1. Winifred Letts feels a sense of outrage and injustice at the treatment of the
      deserter. What are the main ways she communicates these feelings?
   2. Why do you think the army lied to the families of deserters about the way in
      which they died? Do you think it was right or wrong?

                               “The Hero” Siegfried Sassoon
The speaker of the poem tells of the fate of a young soldier named Jack and the
moment that his mother received a letter from the colonel informing her of her son‟s
death. The mother reacts to the eloquent words of the letter with both pride and grief;
the letter was ironic as the speaker continues by revealing Jack as a coward who in
reality wanted nothing more than to return home. He is referred to as “cold-footed”
(nervous), a “useless swine” about whose death no one cared. The poem builds
sympathy for both the mother and Jack; it also criticizes Jack‟s comrades and the
manner in which nervous soldiers were condemned. The speaker‟s tone suggests the
disgust he feels for way in which the soldier was treated and thought of. Like the
mother in “The Deserter”, Jack‟s mother will never no the truth and pain (both physical
and psychological) of her son‟s death.

   1. Is Sassoon on the side of the Brother Officer or is he critcising him?

                   Queensbury Upper School English Department                         12
                     “The Falling Leavcs” Margaret Postgate Cole

The actual falling leaves in this poem symbolise the falling solidiers who are dying
in the battlefield. The poet uses what we call in poetry an extended metaphor. The leaves
are the soldiers. The persona is riding a horse in the autumn time. She observes the
leaves turning brown and falling from the trees and her mind is cast to the young
men fighting and literally falling to their deaths at war.

The poem is written in one sentence as one long stanza consisting of twelve lines.
This is because it is a single thought which has consumed her there and then.

Usually when leaves die in nature they are swept away by the wind, but these leaves
are falling like snowflakes from the trees on a „still afternoon‟ and the speaker finds
it odd. This prompts her to consider how the soldiers die „slain by no wind or age or

Thence- and then, for that reason
Gallant- brave, chivalrous, stately (representative of the country)
Pestilence- fatal epidemic disease

                           “In Flanders Fields” John McCraye

Sickened by what he had seen during the Boer War, John McCrae nevertheless signed
up in August 1914, and headed for France with his horse, Bonfire, in tow. He would
have found few opportunities for riding in that hell on earth. Knee deep in mud and
freezing water, men's feet rotted where they stood, waiting for the next attack of gas to
insinuate its way down the trenches, or the signal to go "over the top", often into direct
machine gun fire.

McCrae wrote "In Flanders Fields" the day after presiding at the funeral of a friend
and former student. McCrae was to number among the 9,000,000 fatalities that the
war would claim.

Poppy seed will lie in the ground for years if the soil is undisturbed. That churned up
cemetery known as the Western Front provided the ideal medium for masses of poppies
to blanket the graves. By the 1920s, Legion Branches were selling the paper flowers to:
provide assistance to needy ex-servicemen and their families, to build housing for
seniors, and support programmes like meals-on-wheels, drop-in centres, etc. Buy and
wear a poppy. It is simple, painless way to recognize contributions and sacrifices
barely imaginable to us.

Like „The Falling Leaves‟, the poem relies heavily on visual imagery.

                   Queensbury Upper School English Department                          13
                “The Seed-Merchant‟s Son” Agnes Grozier Herbertson

The poet chose to make the subject of her poem the son of someone who grows and sells
seeds. Herbertson probably chose this occupation because seeds signify new life and
the possibility of growth and renewal. The poem gives many facts about the young
soldier who died, this emphasizes the youthfulness of the boy – his “bright, bright
eyes” and “cheeks all red”; he is “fair and healthy and long of limb”. The seed
merchant is described as being old to have such a young son. The poet sympathises
with the man and the fact that his family line will now and with him and unlike the
seeds will not be renewed. The speaker questions what we can say to a man in his
situation. The answer to her question comes from her observations of the seed-
merchant himself as she observes him looking at the seeds in his hand and the
realization that life will go on. The seed-merchant manages to keep his faith in God
as he thanks God – he thought that life was over but realizes it is not when he looks at
the seed.

   1. How does the structure of the poem reflect the themes of youth and age?
   2. Why do you think the poet chose a two line stanza in rhyming couplets?

                   Queensbury Upper School English Department                         14
“The Parable of the Old Man and the Young” Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen chooses to base his poem on the biblical story of Abraham and his son
Isaac. In the bible when Abraham has demonstrated his obedience, God sends a ram
for Abraham to sacrifice rather than his son. The bible story is meant to emphasise the
mercy of God. Abraham is considered the father of the Jewish people and also is
important in Islam. The story parallels God‟s later sacrifice of his own son Jesus
Christ, to redeem the sins of the world.

Owen reworks the traditional parable setting his story in the trenches of World War
One rather than in the Holy Land. Owen‟s poem is a sinister reworking of the parable
in which Abraham becomes representative of the British government and instead of
sacrificing the Ram of Pride chooses to slay his son and “half the seed of Europe”. The
failure of the Angel to persuade Abraham to slay the Ram suggests that the war could
have been prevented had proper negotiations taken place. The speaker of the poem feels
that the government have gone against the teachings of God.


   1.Why do you think Owen chose this particular parable of Abraham and Isaac to
                              parody in his poem?

                  Queensbury Upper School English Department                         15
                         “Spring in War-Time” Edith Nesbitt

The female speaker of the poem addresses a lost lover, she laments the passing of the
seasons and the fact that she shall no longer walks down “lover‟s lane” with her beau.
Spring, which holds connotations of new life, only serves to remind the speaker of the
poem of what she has lost and will not experience. She remembers the previous spring
when she and her lover were, like the birds, ready to build a nest (home). The
comparison of the lovers to the nesting birds emphasizes the lost opportunities of the
women left behind. “Lover‟s lane” named so because it was often frequented by lovers
is evocative of the marital tradition of showering newly weds in confetti as the
blossoming flowers scatter their petals on the road.

1. Nesbit has chosen a ballad form for the poem. Why is this appropriate?

                               “Perhaps –“ Vera Brittain

Written in five quatrains the speaker reflects on the beauty of nature around her
which she can no longer appreciate. The speaker uses nature to demonstrate the
passing of time and her feelings of grief for her lost lover.

The speaker questions whether she will ever be able to appreciate the beauty of nature
again after experiencing such loss. The poem is both personal and universal in its
address, the capitalization of “Yon” is both the speaker‟s named lover and the name of
any loved one lost in the war.

The ending is poignant and optimistic at the same time and reflects the British
fashion of resilience common during the period. Time is a healer and life does go on.
Nature aids the process of grief as it a constant phenomenon and continues to live on
and provide familiar structure for those coping with loss.

Five quatrains are used with a rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef ghgh ijij. This reflects
the monotony of the seasons and the steady rhythm of change.

The poem would have been appreciated by many young women at the time since such
a vast number of men died during the war, and as a consequence the birth rate
dropped significantly and many women lived their lives as spinsters or widows.

                  Queensbury Upper School English Department                         16
                      „Reported Missing‟ by Anna Gordon Keown

This is a Shakespearian sonnet since it has the structure of abba cddc effe gg.
Sonnets were traditionally about love. It is ambiguous as to whether the speaker in
this poem is the soldier‟s mother or lover. It is moving because the speaker is in denial
and will soon have to accept the death of the missing soldier. The poem can be divided
into two sections – the first 12 lines express anger at the manner in which others so
readily assume that the soldier is dead, the final rhyming lines express her certainty
that he will he is not dead and will come again. The final lines are poignant as the
reader realizes that one day the speaker will have to accept that the soldier is not
returning to her.

   Good Luck!
                   Queensbury Upper School English Department                          17
Queensbury Upper School English Department   18

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