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Read and Analyse Poetry: 'Night Mail'

In this worksheet, students read the poem 'Night Mail' by W.H. Auden and consider the techniques the poet has used in creating the poem.

'Read and Analyse Poetry: 'Night Mail'' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 2

Curriculum topic:  Reading: Comprehension

Curriculum subtopic:  Explore Meaning

Difficulty level:  

down

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

This poem by W.H. Auden was written for a documentary film made in 1936. The film was about a London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) train that ran from London to Scotland, carrying letters and other items of mail to be delivered.

 

 

The rhythm and pace of the poem are crucial to its impact, so read the poem aloud. The film clip featuring the poem can be watched and listened to on the internet.

 

 

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

 

Night Mail

 

This is the night mail crossing the Border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,


Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door.


Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient's against her, but she's on time.


Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,


Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.


Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from bushes at her blank-faced coaches.


Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
They slumber on with paws across.


In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in a bedroom gently shakes.


Dawn freshens, Her climb is done.
Down towards Glasgow she descends,
Towards the steam tugs yelping down a glade of cranes
Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
All Scotland waits for her:
In dark glens, beside pale-green lochs
Men long for news.


Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or to visit relations,
And applications for situations,
And timid lovers' declarations,
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled on the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,
The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

Thousands are still asleep,
Dreaming of terrifying monsters
Or of friendly tea beside the band in Cranston's or Crawford's:

Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,
But shall wake soon and hope for letters,
And none will hear the postman's knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

 

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

The rhythm and pace of this poem are very important as they conjure up an image of the speed at which the train is travelling and the 'clackety-clack' sound it makes on the tracks.

 

The rhythm and pace of the poem change in each section. What do you notice about the final section?

The pace becomes faster because the train is nearly at its final destination.

The pace is the same as the pace of the first section.

The pace is slowing down as the train itself slows down towards its final destination.

W.H. Auden used a variety of poetic devices in the poem. Most of it is written in rhyming couplets (pairs of consecutive lines that rhyme with each other), but what other poetic device is used in these lines?

 

Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,

Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.

simile

personification

metaphor

What poetic device is used in these lines?

 

Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.

alliteration

simile

metaphor

The following section repeats the word 'letters' several times to emphasise the many different types of letters being carried by the train. How many times does the word 'letters' appear?

 

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or to visit relations,
And applications for situations,
And timid lovers' declarations,
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled on the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,
The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

5

6

7

8

The poem features several examples of internal rhyme, where words rhyme within each line rather than just at the end. Read the following section again and copy out the line that features internal rhyme.

 

Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,
The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

What poetic device has Auden used in the following section to emphasise that people are asleep all over Scotland?

 

Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,

personification

repetition

onomatopoeia

  • Question 1

The rhythm and pace of this poem are very important as they conjure up an image of the speed at which the train is travelling and the 'clackety-clack' sound it makes on the tracks.

 

The rhythm and pace of the poem change in each section. What do you notice about the final section?

CORRECT ANSWER
The pace is slowing down as the train itself slows down towards its final destination.
EDDIE SAYS
The pace of the poem builds up from the beginning as the train travels faster. The verse beginning 'Letters of thanks...' needs to be read especially quickly. After that the pace slows down to represent the train itself slowing down as it reaches its destination.
  • Question 2

W.H. Auden used a variety of poetic devices in the poem. Most of it is written in rhyming couplets (pairs of consecutive lines that rhyme with each other), but what other poetic device is used in these lines?

 

Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,

Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.

CORRECT ANSWER
personification
EDDIE SAYS
It used to be traditional to refer to trains, boats and cars as 'she', so this in itself is not personification, but the description of the train shovelling steam and snorting makes it sound like a person rather than an inanimate object.
  • Question 3

What poetic device is used in these lines?

 

Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.

CORRECT ANSWER
simile
EDDIE SAYS
The furnaces (factory chimneys) are compared to chessmen using the word 'like', so this is a simile.
  • Question 4

The following section repeats the word 'letters' several times to emphasise the many different types of letters being carried by the train. How many times does the word 'letters' appear?

 

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or to visit relations,
And applications for situations,
And timid lovers' declarations,
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled on the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,
The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

CORRECT ANSWER
8
EDDIE SAYS
Did you spot the second 'letters' on the first line?
The development of email and other forms of electronic communication mean that not as many letters are sent these days.
  • Question 5

The poem features several examples of internal rhyme, where words rhyme within each line rather than just at the end. Read the following section again and copy out the line that features internal rhyme.

 

Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,
The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

CORRECT ANSWER
The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring
The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,
  • Question 6

What poetic device has Auden used in the following section to emphasise that people are asleep all over Scotland?

 

Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,

CORRECT ANSWER
repetition
EDDIE SAYS
Auden repeats the word 'asleep' followed by the names of three contrasting Scottish cities to emphasise the fact that people are asleep right across Scotland as the train approaches.
---- OR ----

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