moon on the tides - CONFLICT

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Flag - themes and ideas

Themes and Ideas

The poem considers the value of patriotism as symbolised by the flag, and as such explores ideas of national identity which provoke conflict. Beyond this, it considers how the flag is used and exploited – because, as the refrain concedes, the flag is ‘just a piece of cloth’. ‘Flag’ invites the reader to consider why the flag is so powerful, what it represents and, perhaps most importantly, its hold over us. It asks a series of simple questions. In each of the first four stanzas an answer is given which both asserts and challenges the power and value of the flag: it can control countries; it can motivate men; it can change the minds of cowards; it can live forever. In the final stanza the person asks how he can possess such a powerful item, and the answer to the earlier questions is revealed, with the significant caveat that possession of the flag can have terrible consequences. Agard ultimately gives the reader a decision. In the penultimate stanza he addresses the reader directly: ‘the blood you bleed’. He follows this in the final stanza, by revealing what the ‘piece of cloth’ is, but also revealing the consequences of taking the flag − losing your independence, the freedom to make your own decisions and, it is implied, your morality.

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Flag - language, structure, form

Language, Structure and Form

Structure – patterns and repetition. The poem has a very simple form, five short stanzas. Each starts with a question, followed by an answer. In the first four stanzas the answer always begins in the same way, making the reader think again and again about what the ‘piece of cloth’ is and the influence it has. Agard breaks this pattern in the final stanza, giving it great impact. The second line of the first four stanzas is always the same, with the emphasis particularly on ‘just’… the word which survives into the final stanza to suggest the dangerous ease with which the flag can be claimed. The rhyme scheme reinforces the stanza pattern. It changes in the final stanza, from aba to abb, highlighting the significant friend/end final couplet. Question and answer structure − a formal device, but at the end the poet’s voice comes through, addressing the reader directly in ‘you’, and ‘my friend’, implying that he wants to help by giving good advice. Imagery – The flag is given almost magical power: it can control men, and ‘will outlive’ them. The power is alluring, but perhaps also illusory – battles and empires are lost as well as won.

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Out of the blue - themes and ideas

Themes and Ideas

The poem shows how, in the modern world, conflict isn’t confined to a battlefield, and terrorism intrudes on everyone’s life. The longer poem establishes the speaker’s ‘master of the universe’ character, a financier looking down from his office, but he is trapped in the burning building, and the tone of the extract is desperate and pleading. The poem is a dramatic monologue − Armitage imagines a character from the TV footage, and invites the reader, who is already a witness to this event, to also see it from the personal point of view of a victim. The dynamic of the poem, with the persistent address to ‘you’ and its question ‘Are your eyes believing’, implicates the reader in this man’s fate and also the larger situation of how this impinges on all of our lives.

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out of the blue - language, structure, form

Language, Structure and Form

First person and present continuous tense used to give a pressing sense of urgency. The immediacy of the event is heightened by the insistent repetition of the present participles. Use of different types of line for various effects. In the final stanza all lines are end stopped indicating finality, that he has reached the end. In contrast other verses use enjambment, to disorientating effect, suggesting the enormity of the situation – both the dizzying height, the scale of the event and facing up to death. Caesuras are also used to powerful effect: ‘The depth is appalling. Appalling’ highlights the terror of the situation. Use of repetition, of verb forms and particular words and sounds to emphasise ideas and situations, asks the reader to contemplate the speaker’s situation, to look twice, not turn away. Use of questions throughout makes the reader ask why. What has caused this? Why does mankind behave like this? What is our own role and response to this? Has conflict become a media spectacle for entertainment – the intention of the terrorists?

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Mametz wood - themes and ideas

 Themes and Ideas

‘Mametz Wood’ offers a modern perspective on a conflict powerfully chronicled in poetry, reflecting on how this haunts us almost a century later. Sheers makes his view clear in the opening stanza, calling the soldiers ‘the wasted young’, and shows the brutality of war not through the horror of combat, but as the earth gives up the broken bodies. The central images of death are shocking and horrific, in the unnatural angle of their eyeless skulls and their missing jaws, evoking sadness and anger. Sheers develops an idea of the land being wounded and in need of healing, suggesting war is a crime against nature and the earth suffers. Later the earth is personified as a ‘sentinel’ watching and reminding us of what we have done. Although the fighting is briefly alluded to in Stanza 3, the poem then shifts to the present tense, implying the consequences echo down the years. The poem asks us about the meaning of war now − what message are these skeletons, with their missing jaws and ‘absent tongues’ trying to give us? Ultimately, the poem is not just about WW1, but also all the deaths in war since. It seems to ask whether we have learnt anything, and was their sacrifice worthwhile?

 

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Mametz wood - language structure, form

Language, Structure and Form

Imagery - The fragility of the archaeological metaphors used to describe the bones of the soldiers implies the frailty of these same men in battle. The ‘relic’ of a finger perhaps hints at a kind of sainthood. Other images hint at the innocence of the men – ‘where they were told to walk, not run’ is more reminiscent of school than the army, and the ‘nesting’ machine guns have cruelly usurped the birds that ought to be in the wood. Change of tense is used to bring the poem into the present, forcing the reader to consider what the discovery of these bodies means today. The repetition of ‘now’ continues this and asks what the relevance of these deaths is to us. Their ‘absent tongues’ seem to be asking why we are still fighting. Image of skeletons and juxtaposition of images of life against those of death (‘linked arm in arm’, the ‘socketed heads tilted back at an angle’) simultaneously evoke ideas of laughter, camaraderie and violent death; ‘sung’, ‘absent tongues’ and ‘dance-macabre’ heighten the sense of energy and life, the tragedy of loss and the waste of life.

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Yellow palm - themes and ideas

Themes and Ideas

The ballad form, with its simple language and frequently tragic theme, is well suited to presenting a view of the city, and its people, crumbling under almost constant conflict. The simplicity of the form, with its repeated refrain at the start of each stanza (frequent in ballads), has a quietly powerful impact. There are six vignettes of life in the city which accumulate to show the slow destruction of the city, made more poignant by the glimpses of beauty and peace that appear throughout: in Stanza 1, women with beautiful lilacs mourn the death of a man; in other stanzas the peace of prayer and cultural heritage of the ‘golden mosque’ are despoiled with blood, the blind beggars are ghosts of war and a Cruise missile entrances a child. All this in a city where the sense of assault is so pervasive that even the ‘barbarian sun’ seems to be attacking them. The rich imagery of the final stanza is undermined by the ambiguity of the final lines: is the child reaching for the dates or the Cruise missile, and does the child receive the ‘fruit’ of the tree or the ‘fruit’ of the weapon? Minhinnick leaves that decision to the reader, but the innocence symbolised by the child appears to be being destroyed through conflict.

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Yellow palm - language, structure, form

Language, Structure and Form (AO2)

Structure The poem is a loosely-formed ballad of six-line stanzas rather than four, alternating longer and shorter iambic lines, and an abcbdb rhyme scheme. The choice of this simple and traditional form is reassuring, helps to make the content accessible, perhaps even make a foreign city and culture familiar, and allows time to reflect on the disturbing content and imagery. Sensual imagery – look carefully at the verbs showing what the poet does. This suggests a place full of colour, life and movement, and a tangible tension with the destruction and devastation which is also there. Ambiguity Minhinnick presents the reader with many contradictory details. In Stanza 4, the smell of the Tigris ‘lifts’ the air, then ‘down … fell the barbarian sun’. In Stanza 3, the act of giving is rewarded with a military salute. Is the city rising or falling, or is its future perhaps in the balance?

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The right word - themes and ideas

Themes and Ideas

Dharker’s poem explores the meaning and value of the labels we conveniently give to things, and reflects on the nature of writing and communication. The irony of the title is that there is no ‘right word’ and the poem considers the power of language to represent and even cause conflict by defining people and positions by our terms rather than understanding their views. As such it is about ideological conflict as much as physical conflict, with competing parties holding different interpretations of the same event. Beginning with the word ‘terrorist’, a very loaded term in today’s world – and the word she wishes to analyse – Dharker offers a number of alternatives to undermine glib assumptions that this might be ‘the right word’, or indeed the only word available. The title, initially a confident statement, becomes tentative and questioning, and by the end of the poem Dharker offers a different way of seeing the world. The terrorist is introduced ‘Outside the door, / lurking in the shadows’, a concrete and an ambiguous place which suggests the threat of terrorism that hangs over society today. Dharker challenges that description, and offers various others (‘freedomfighter’, ‘guerrilla warrior’, ‘martyr’) which encourage the reader to reflect on the use of terms that label and stereotype people and can deny more thoughtful attempts at understanding. Towards the end of the poem Dharker offers more personal, but also indisputable, names for the person ‘Outside the door’ – ‘child’, ‘boy’ and ‘son’. These are inclusive rather than divisive terms, which stress relationships and connections rather than fear and threat. She ends the poem on a positive note, inviting the person outside the door into the house where, treated with respect, he behaves with respect, taking off his shoes. Dharker is making a plea for us to be inclusive, to be understanding –in many ways it is the word ‘outside’ which is the problem.

 

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The right word - language, form, structure

Key Points about Language, Structure and Form (AO2)

Structure The poem has an underlying structure of three-line stanzas, established in the opening stanza, which shows Dharker is focusing on a single idea. She breaks the pattern to emphasise her point – how hard it is to find a word to describe someone that all parties will find acceptable. Repetition and contrast of ideas allows words to accrue meaning. ‘Outside’, repeated insistently at the start of a number of lines and sentences, becomes threatening, and is contrasted with repetition of ‘in’ at the end of the poem, signifying a shift from problem to solution, from political to personal. Second person (‘for you’, ‘your son’) involves the reader in this debate. It is of relevance to us all and we all have a responsibility and potential to resolve problems rather than perpetuate them.

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