“Poppies” Analysis Using SMILE: Poetry (English Literature)

POPPIES ANALYSIS Hello and welcome to another tutorial video.
What we’re going to be looking at now is the poem ‘Poppies’. So we start off with
enjambment and that’s really powerful here because it allows us to get into focus on
words. So here we’ve got ‘steeled the softening’ for example. The enjambment there
allows us to really hold on this point, the alliteration here helps but we might come
to that in the language. It allows us to really focus on the fact that she’s trying to hold
this together before we move on and then thinking about her holding it together and then the
kind of face she’s trying to put on is quite important and this associates with the word
‘brave’ that we actually see her use of herself later on. So it’s all part and parcel
and well merged but the enjambment there really focuses on it. And then a little later here
for example with the word ‘traced’, the enjambment there is really powerful as well
because it gets us to hold on this word and look as she’s looking at the memorial. So secondly we’ve got the four stanzas in
the structure which represent stages and reveal of emotions, so the stages you can first of
all see them, are her with her son, her with memories of her son, her letting her emotions
become realised and then her looking at other peoples’ pain, but in terms of the reveal
of her own emotions, here we actually see she’s trying to just go about her day as
she should, doing the right thing for her son. Here we actually see her thoughts and
feelings becoming more evident as she has this memory here with the Eskimos, remembering
when they were little, and then we have her actual emotions coming out in this part here
– ‘went into your bedroom, released a song bird from its cage’ – which just
shows how overwhelmed she was and she’s finally letting out how she actually feels,
or whatever way you can envisage. And then later on she’s got the emotions when she’s
actually looking at other peoples’ loss and sadness and then just sitting there hoping
and praying that her son comes back to her, etc. Some people say that they look at this and
they feel that her son as died as well in this, but I think the actual way it starts
with regards to time, that this is specifically on this day, this has happened, the son leaves
on this day. I don’t think there’s enough time for the son to actually die between there.
But if you feel that reading where this is about her dead son as well, then obviously
if you can justify it, go for it. So the last thing I want to mention for structure
then is the switch from ‘them’ to ‘her’. So in these first two stanzas, we’ve got
this representation of different parts of their relationship both in memory and in actually
what’s going on, the mother just tidying him up and wishing him all the best before
he goes. And then we’ve got the last two sentences just about her and how she actually
feels about it, so there’s a really interesting contrast there going from the almost image,
or the portrayal that we have of this, then going into the psychology of it; how the mother
actually feels. So we move onto meaning then and the first
meaning that we have obviously is dealing with worry, the idea of the family and the
stresses that they are under when this happens and this comes through very clearly to us
when she lets out her emotions here and when she puts her hand on the war memorial, because
looking at these two things shows us the mother and then obviously family suffering for all
the people that are actually on that wall. We also
have the idea of what war brings in terms
of the death and that’s put straight away in the poppies because that’s what we’ve
come to associate with obviously, in the title as well, it’s called ‘Poppies’ and we’ve
got them referenced there, etc., and we’ve got it again as she – again some of the
items already mentioned – when we go to the church, skirting the church walls, we
get this idea of death and also ‘my stomach busy making tucks, darts, pleats’; so all
the physical representation there of her worry in her stomach because she knows that her
son might end up amongst these grave stones that she’s actually looking at at the moment.
So that again ties into the idea of death and it being a worry and a fear for her. So
those two are quite linked but in slightly different ways. The third thing we look at is obviously bravery,
that bravery is important because we’ve got the soldier here with his upturned collar,
pristine and ready to go off into war, so he’s very brave doing that. But then she
actually says of herself ‘I was brave to actually allow you to go and to help you when
I’ve got all these fears and worries in myself and everything upsetting me’, so
the idea of bravery not just of the soldier but of the extension of the family members
who support and encourage, etc. is really, really important. I was actually having a discussion about this
with an American gentleman the other day and we were just discussing some of the wars that
America had been in and he’d said ‘look, a lot of people don’t support the wars but
we sure as hell support the American troops’ and that kind of reminds me of that. The actual
situation itself is secondary to the actual support and the bravery and the love and care
and the just general – I guess I can only call it – raising up of the military personnel,
etc., etc. and to do that you have to put on a brave face because this isn’t something
easy that soldiers go into etc. So that’s really highlighted in the fact that she actually
mentions it to herself there and we have an example of exactly how she did it just there,
especially in contrast to what she wanted to do. And the other meaning, theme or idea that
comes through to us is the sharing in others’ grief and that really comes a little lower
down when we look at the breakdown on this with regards to how she feels after looking
about, especially when she leans against it. And obviously the line of a wishbone, how
she’s actually kind of set herself against it; is that mothering? Is that natural? Is
that making a link? Is that making a connection? Is that protective? Is that something that
can be broken really easily? The word ‘wishbone’ there can really be analysed quite full on
if you wished. But the physical effects are noted here as well in how it actually affects
her stomach. So moving onto images, we’ve got the image
of the graveyard and we’ve got the image of the mother in it; I think that’s really
powerful just looking at her hand there, tracing the images. We’ve also got the image of
the mother and son mature, you know when she’s actually dressing him here, pinning him to
the lapel, making sure he looks the part of this proud soldier and then this little childish
connection that they had and she wanted to actually treat him that way and obviously
that’s a reference in some way to protection or the love that she wants to show, but maybe
she can’t do it because first of all there’s the seriousness of the situation that he’s
going to go off into war, but second of all because it just would be a stark contrast
to how he wants to be treated as a grown soldier. But who knows? Maybe the son here actually
feels the same thing. Maybe he does just want his mum to treat him like a kid again and
it’s about the unsaid things as well and I think it’s a really powerful image. We’ve got the dove that comes through a
couple of times here and here and I think that is quite representative of peace and
maybe peace with oneself. So here when we see it in this part, it’s to do with she
can be at peace in herself in being honest, she doesn’t want to put on airs or graces
or anything, she’s just let herself be free and just feel what she’s feeling and go
and analyse one of her darkest fears and what she’s thinking of. And then down here when
the dove pulls against the sky and she’s watching it, that gives her maybe a little
bit of hope, a little bit of an idea of something good could actually happen and that’s why
she hopes to hear the playground voice again, just letting that memory go into something
better, letting it go into something warm. Then we’ve got the image of the poppies
obviously. The poppies and what they represent in terms of commemorating the fallen, etc.
That one’s quite obvious and you can take it from the name of the poem as well. So looking at language then; well a specific
word I want to focus on is ‘spasms’, I think it’s a brilliant word here because
spasm can obviously refer to a little pain that you might feel but it’s also kind of
a little explosion of, in a positive sense, so you get these little explosions of red
paper around it and the idea of the explosions, just little kind of bursts of something, they
can remind us of the sporadic explosions or something that just kind of bursts. And the
idea of tying it to the red there, the red of blood, could also be tied into that, with
death, and this is obviously what’s on her mind, at the back of her mind. And looking
at the paper there, with that description, which I think it’s just great, especially
with the word ‘spasms’ which can also be taken in terms of the way she’s trying
to hold herself, but we imagine when she’s doing this maybe she can’t do it flawlessly,
there have been little spasmodic momentary lapses where she maybe has to hold back a
tear or kind of bite her lip or something that just shows her true emotion and feeling
in that. We’ve also got the language of the word
‘brave’ when used to refer to herself and I think that’s really important because
though he goes out and is considered brave, she psychologically has to be brave first
and foremost. So the interesting way of seeing bravery being internalised, rather than externalised,
is definitely worth analysing. We’ve also got – even though I haven’t
mentioned it there – we’ve got the alliteration mentioned here – ‘steeled the softening’
– which really emphasises how hard she was actually trying to hold it together. And we’ve got another two words I wanted
to analyse. We’ve got the bedroom and the cage, ‘after you’d gone I went into your
bedroom, released a song bird from its cage’. I thought there was an interesting contradiction
in this because some people when their children die, they leave their bedrooms as some kind
as testimony to them, they leave it in exactly the same way it was and that’s how they
kind of live and have things. So in saying that ‘after you’d gone I went into your
bedroom, released a song bird from its cage’, ‘I let all my emotions out’, etc., on
another level in another way had gone into the bedroom here which might one day become
a cage, a cage of emotions, a cage of feelings, a cage for her; she can’t actually let herself
out of it if the worst happens to her son. And I just thought even though that’s an
extension, you have to make a couple of connections to get there, even though it’s an extension
it’s worth highlighting because of the idea of what’s being held back and what’s being
let go throughout the poem, and the idea that going into the bedroom here for some kind
of solace to let something out, whereas later on it might be something that traps her and
holds her back, is really interesting. So the effects on the reader then? It gets
us thinking about sacrifice, maybe the mothers and fathers who sacrifice their children.
The soldiers who sacrifice themselves, etc. It gets us thinking about the links of family
and how hard it must be to let go of someone like that and to let them go off and do what
obviously needs to be done and what they want to do in many cases. And we’ve got to look
at how much that would play on emotions and make people sad, etc. And lastly we’ve got
the hidden emotions and the fronts people put up, like the mother is actually trying
to put on here and maybe the soldier is putting on as well. And then what happens when they
actually come down and I think that’s really relevant, not just to people who go off to
war but that’s everyday life, the fronts people are putting on and the hidden emotions,
how they’re really feeling. It’s an excellent poem.

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