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Read and Understand Poetry: 'I Saw Three Witches'

In this worksheet, students read the poem 'I saw three witches' by Walter de la Mare and answer questions about it.

'Read and Understand Poetry: 'I Saw Three Witches'' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 2

Curriculum topic:  Reading: Comprehension

Curriculum subtopic:  Explore Meaning

Difficulty level:  

down

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

Poems written a long time ago can seem hard to understand at first, as they often contain old-fashioned words that we no longer use. However, older poetry can be just as rewarding as modern poems if we take the time to try and understand it.

 

In this worksheet you can read a poem by Walter de la Mare, who was born in 1873. There may be words that you don't understand, but see if you can work out their meaning from the context (the other words around them).

 

**********************

I Saw Three Witches

 

 

I saw three witches

That bowed down like barley,

And took to their brooms 'neath a louring sky,

And, mounting a storm-cloud,

Aloft on its margin,

Stood black in the silver as up they did fly.

 

I saw three witches

That mocked the poor sparrows

They carried in cages of wicker along,

Till a hawk from his eyrie

Swooped down like an arrow,

And smote on the cages, and ended their song.

 

I saw three witches

That sailed in a shallop,

All turning their heads with a truculent smile,

Till a bank of green osiers

Concealed their grim faces,

Though I heard them lamenting for many a mile.

 

I saw three witches

Asleep in a valley,

Their heads in a row, like stones in a flood,

Till the moon, creeping upward,

Looked white through the valley,

And turned them to bushes in bright scarlet bud.

 

**********************

 

 

Remember that you can look at the poem again by clicking on the Help button.

The poem is written in stanzas (verses) of six lines. What rhyming pattern does it use?

None of the lines rhyme.

The third and sixth lines of each stanza rhyme.

The second and fourth lines of each stanza rhyme.

Look again at the first stanza.

 

****************

I saw three witches

That bowed down like barley,

And took to their brooms 'neath a louring sky,

And, mounting a storm-cloud,

Aloft on its margin,

Stood black in the silver as up they did fly

****************

 

What do you think the word louring means in the third line?

sunny and warm

bright and cheerful

dark and threatening

Which sentence best sums up the meaning of the first stanza?

 

****************

I saw three witches

That bowed down like barley,

And took to their brooms 'neath a louring sky,

And, mounting a storm-cloud,

Aloft on its margin,

Stood black in the silver as up they did fly.

****************

The witches are riding their broomsticks in the sky.

The witches climb onto their broomsticks, take off and ride along the edge of a storm cloud.

The witches fly into the sunset on their broomsticks.

Now look again at the second stanza.

 

****************

I saw three witches

That mocked the poor sparrows

They carried in cages of wicker along,

Till a hawk from his eyrie

Swooped down like an arrow,

And smote on the cages, and ended their song

****************

 

Which line contains a simile?

I saw three witches

They carried in cages of wicker along

Swooped down like an arrow

Which word in this stanza do you think is an old-fashioned word for hit? Write it in the answer box.

 

****************

I saw three witches

That mocked the poor sparrows

They carried in cages of wicker along,

Till a hawk from his eyrie

Swooped down like an arrow,

And smote on the cages, and ended their song.

****************

Now look at the third stanza.

 

****************

I saw three witches

That sailed in a shallop,

All turning their heads with a truculent smile,

Till a bank of green osiers

Concealed their grim faces,

Though I heard them lamenting for many a mile.

****************

 

It contains quite a lot of old-fashioned words. See if you can work out their meanings.

Column A

Column B

shallop
a type of willow tree
truculent
ready to argue or fight
osier
complaining
lamenting
a small sailing boat

Which word means the same thing as hid? Write it in the answer box.

 

****************

I saw three witches

That sailed in a shallop,

All turning their heads with a truculent smile,

Till a bank of green osiers

Concealed their grim faces,

Though I heard them lamenting for many a mile.

****************

Now look at the final stanza.

 

****************

I saw three witches

Asleep in a valley,

Their heads in a row, like stones in a flood,

Till the moon, creeping upward,

Looked white through the valley,

And turned them to bushes in bright scarlet bud.

****************

 

What do you think the last line means?

The moon turned the witches into bushes.

The moonlight made it look like the witches had been turned into bushes.

It is not clear whether the witches have really been turned into bushes or whether it just looks like that in the moonlight.

Now look at the whole poem again by clicking on the Help button.

Which line is repeated in every stanza? Write it in the answer box.

  • Question 1

The poem is written in stanzas (verses) of six lines. What rhyming pattern does it use?

CORRECT ANSWER
The third and sixth lines of each stanza rhyme.
EDDIE SAYS
In each stanza it is the third and sixth lines that rhyme.
  • Question 2

Look again at the first stanza.

 

****************

I saw three witches

That bowed down like barley,

And took to their brooms 'neath a louring sky,

And, mounting a storm-cloud,

Aloft on its margin,

Stood black in the silver as up they did fly

****************

 

What do you think the word louring means in the third line?

CORRECT ANSWER
dark and threatening
EDDIE SAYS
The stanza mentions storm clouds, so the sky is likely to be dark. A dark sky also fits the mood of the poem.
  • Question 3

Which sentence best sums up the meaning of the first stanza?

 

****************

I saw three witches

That bowed down like barley,

And took to their brooms 'neath a louring sky,

And, mounting a storm-cloud,

Aloft on its margin,

Stood black in the silver as up they did fly.

****************

CORRECT ANSWER
The witches climb onto their broomsticks, take off and ride along the edge of a storm cloud.
EDDIE SAYS
The second sentence is the best because the stanza describes the witches taking off as well as flying.
  • Question 4

Now look again at the second stanza.

 

****************

I saw three witches

That mocked the poor sparrows

They carried in cages of wicker along,

Till a hawk from his eyrie

Swooped down like an arrow,

And smote on the cages, and ended their song

****************

 

Which line contains a simile?

CORRECT ANSWER
Swooped down like an arrow
EDDIE SAYS
The way the hawk flies is being compared to the flight of an arrow, suggesting that the hawk flies quickly and straight.
  • Question 5

Which word in this stanza do you think is an old-fashioned word for hit? Write it in the answer box.

 

****************

I saw three witches

That mocked the poor sparrows

They carried in cages of wicker along,

Till a hawk from his eyrie

Swooped down like an arrow,

And smote on the cages, and ended their song.

****************

CORRECT ANSWER
smote
EDDIE SAYS
The word 'smote' is the past tense of 'to smite' which means to hit something hard. The poem suggests that the hawk kills the sparrows.
  • Question 6

Now look at the third stanza.

 

****************

I saw three witches

That sailed in a shallop,

All turning their heads with a truculent smile,

Till a bank of green osiers

Concealed their grim faces,

Though I heard them lamenting for many a mile.

****************

 

It contains quite a lot of old-fashioned words. See if you can work out their meanings.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

shallop
a small sailing boat
truculent
ready to argue or fight
osier
a type of willow tree
lamenting
complaining
EDDIE SAYS
There are clues in the poem to help you. The shallop must be the boat because the witches sailed in it.
  • Question 7

Which word means the same thing as hid? Write it in the answer box.

 

****************

I saw three witches

That sailed in a shallop,

All turning their heads with a truculent smile,

Till a bank of green osiers

Concealed their grim faces,

Though I heard them lamenting for many a mile.

****************

CORRECT ANSWER
concealed
EDDIE SAYS
The witches' faces are hidden behind the bank of willow trees.
  • Question 8

Now look at the final stanza.

 

****************

I saw three witches

Asleep in a valley,

Their heads in a row, like stones in a flood,

Till the moon, creeping upward,

Looked white through the valley,

And turned them to bushes in bright scarlet bud.

****************

 

What do you think the last line means?

CORRECT ANSWER
It is not clear whether the witches have really been turned into bushes or whether it just looks like that in the moonlight.
EDDIE SAYS
Walter de la Mare was known for writing mysterious poems. It is likely that he deliberately left the meaning of the final line unclear.
  • Question 9

Now look at the whole poem again by clicking on the Help button.

Which line is repeated in every stanza? Write it in the answer box.

CORRECT ANSWER
I saw three witches
EDDIE SAYS
The repetition gives structure to the poem.
---- OR ----

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