- W.H. Auden: Ode
- Characters – the young soldier, the old soldier, ‘our’ bishop, ‘their’ ‘scarecrow prophet’, the Deadly Sins personified. What are they like? What are their roles?
- Form The poem is described as an ‘ode’ – a formal poem written traditionally in praise of someone or something. The form has been adapted many times and, in the case of poems such as Keats’ ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ or ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, the formal structure aides the sense of contemplation in the poems. Look again at the notes on ‘destination’ – does the form of the poem help lead us to its conclusion?
- Voices – those of the young soldier and veteran. The mocking voice of the young soldier’s brother remembered. Also, the shouting in the cathedral, the ‘bitter psalm’ of the enemy, the voice of ‘Lust’, the message of the bunting at the end. The ‘We’ of the poem seems to be a soldier.
- Language Words such as ‘rank’, ‘orders’, ‘code-word’ set the scene in stanza1. The poem is full of contrasts and this is emphasised by the language. Look at the words used when the past is described ‘feast-days’, ‘wishing wells’ in gardens, ‘when love came easy’ – they contrast with the military language of the present. Also, the language contrasting ‘us’ and ‘them’ should be noted.
- Time and sequence – We are taken through present military operations and current fears to visions of an idyllic past. There are also the dreams and memories of the young soldier. The sequencing of the stanzas leads us through images of ‘us’ and ‘them’ that contrast until we are left with a feeling if inevitable doom at the end.
- Destination – How are left feeling? How do you respond to the poem? What is the ‘message’ of the poem – if there is one? That a system replicates itself by means of the older generation indoctrinating the younger members? That youth is doomed? Is it a study of social conditioning? That an ‘enemy’ is a creation of our own fears? A poem can have more that one interpretation.
- Point of view – from the point of view of a soldier – one of ‘Us’ (can we trust what we are told?)– although we also get the point of view of the enemy as the shout: ‘We will fight till we lie down beside/ The Lord we have loved.’
- Structure: Look at ‘time and sequence’ notes – then look at the structure of the stanzas. What patterns can you see? Why are some lines shorter? Where do these lines occur? Also look at how one stanza follows on from another –e.g. how the ‘Go to sleep, Sonny!’ which ends S4 leads us into S5, the sleeping recruit, the dream, the jolting awake. Also look at how the structure emphasise the contrasts between past and present and ‘us and ‘them’
- Scenes and places – change in this poem, from the military manoeuvres in stanza 1 and life in the camp in stanza 4, through the mythical world of the past, ‘Our’ cathedral and ‘their’ ‘great rift in the lime stone’, to the train station for the journey to the ‘headlands we’re doomed to attack’.
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