Poppies by Jane Weir
The poem in a nutshell…. The poem is about the nature of grief. The speaker is a mother who is speaking directly to her son who has gone off to the war which she struggles to come to terms with. The poem demonstrates the inner emotion of a narrator who is trying to remain calm and composed but is breaking with sadness inside.
Context: Jane Weir, born in 1963, grew up in Italy and Northern England, with an English mother and an Italian father. She has continued to absorb different cultural experiences throughout her life, also living in Northern Ireland during the troubled 1980s. The poem is set in the present day but reaches right back to the beginning of the Poppy Day tradition. Armistice Sunday began as a way of marking the end of the First World War in 1918. It was set up so people could remember the hundreds and thousands of ordinary men who had been killed in the First World War. Today, the event is used to remember soldiers of all wars who have died since then. When Poppies was written, British soldiers were still dying in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a way of trying to understand the suffering that deaths caused, the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy asked a number of writers to compose poems, including Jane Weir.
The poem looks at a mother of a son who has grown up and gone to war. The poem contains many clues that this is a more modern conflict, however the poem ends at the memorial, suggesting the son died at war or has at least not yet returned home and is now missed by the mother who fears the worst.
The poem is based very heavily around the idea of Poppies as memorials and therefore the idea of memory. The poem flashes back to key moments of the life of the mother and son.
The poem also contains a range of emotions. There is genuine sadness but also pride. The poem doesn’t seem to comment heavily on the war itself.
The poem looks partially at conflict because of the nature of the son going to war, however it looks at conflict more from the perspective of those it leaves behind and the emotions of families. It is a behind the scenes view of conflict rather than addressing the conflict itself. There is also a level of conflict in the mother’s emotions, pride, fear, sadness.
Structure: Written as a monologue in 4 stanzas and no rhyme scheme. The stanzas are structured along events in the life of mother and child. 1st the mother looks back at remembrance day and the idea of the poppy which has helped trigger the memory. 2nd the mother talks about helping her son get ready and seeing him off. 3rd the poem explores the emptiness that is left in his absence, finally the mother feels drawn to a war memorial bringing the story back to where it started, yet now with no son around. The suggestion of the dove being that he has died. The poem uses a lot of enjambment and familiar nouns to enhance the idea of natural tone and the mother’s voice.
War and Peace:
There is a huge contrast with some of the imagery of the poem, sometimes linking to violence “blackthorns of your hair”/”Blockade” and the more peaceful homely images “released a song bird”/”play at being Eskimos”. This contrast emphasises the conflicting emotions in the mother.
BY THE END OF THIS YOU SHOULD KNOW:
|HIGHER MARKS||LOWER MARKS|
|-The relationship in the poem provides a deeper level of empathy and the conflict between what was and what now is the relationship.
-The poem uses a range of devices to capture the speakers sad and reflective tone.
-The poems uses contrasting language and ideas to emphasise the conflict and turmoil of the Mother.
|-The poem looks at the relationship of Mother and Son.
-The poem uses very natural monologue style to give it a very easy to understand tone.
-The poem mixes language to do with war along with those that create a sense of home life.
3 Key Quotes
Quote 1: I wanted to graze my nose across the tip of your nose, play at being Eskimos like we did when you were little
Method: Past tense “wanted”
What effect is created? The speaker is longing for her son to be a child again. She wants to nurture him and protect hum like she did when he was a child. However, this is contrasted with harsh reality that he is going off to war and she realises the risks that he may encounter.
Quote 2: After you’d gone I went into your bedroom, released a song bird from its cage
What effect is created? The “song bird” could be a metaphor for the mother’s emotions. When he is out of sight, she can finally express her true feelings and the hurt/worry that she is feeling. It is evident that she is in distress when he leaves to go to war.
Quote 3: I traced the inscriptions on the war memorial, leaned against it like a wishbone.
What effect is created? This quotation serves as a reminder of the risks the speaker’s son faces. The reference to a “wishbone” demonstrates that the mother is vulnerable and fragile.
Aspects of Power or Conflict:
Conflict of the mother’s feelings towards her son growing up.
The grief of those left behind when a loved-one is killed in war.
Motherhood; the impulse to protect a grown son or daughter; to always view them in her mind as a child.
Poems that can be linked: Kamikaze, Exposure