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Read Poetry to Analyse Meaning: 'The Song of the Old Mother'

In this worksheet, students read the poem 'The Song of the Old Mother' by William Yeats. Then they use their analytical skills to show how the author has shaped meaning.

'Read Poetry to Analyse Meaning: 'The Song of the Old Mother'' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 3

Curriculum topic:  Reading

Curriculum subtopic:  Use Inference and Evidence

Difficulty level:  

down

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

First, read the following poem by William Yeats.

 

 

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

The Song Of The Old Mother

 

 

I rise in the dawn, and I kneel and blow
Till the seed of the fire flicker and glow;
And then I must scrub and bake and sweep
Till stars are beginning to blink and peep;
And the young lie long and dream in their bed
Of the matching of ribbons for bosom and head,
And their day goes over in idleness,
And they sigh if the wind but lift a tress:
While I must work because I am old,
And the seed of the fire gets feeble and cold.

 

– William Butler Yeats

 

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

 

 

Now we will answer some questions on the poem. If you need to read the poem again, you can click on the Help button.

The old lady in the poem has many tasks to do in the day. Which of the following verbs are jobs she has to do? Tick FOUR boxes.

blow

flicker

scrub

glow

blink

peep

bake

sweep

dream

While the old lady is working, what are the young people doing?

dreaming in bed

blinking and peeping

baking and sweeping

What reason does the lady give for why she has to work?

 

Because I am .........

The structure of the poem follows the same pattern all the way through - it is repetative. Why do you think the author may have chosen to do this?

 

Which of the following answers will earn you the most marks in an assessment?

It is repetitive to make it flow.

The structure is designed to send you to sleep.

The structure reflects the woman's repetative life.

The author choose to use the modal verb "must": "I must scrub and bake and sweep".

 

What effect is this word intended to have on the reader? Tick THREE boxes.

It makes us angry towards the young people.

It makes the reader sympathetic towards her.

It annoys us that she is always complaining.

It is boring because he repeats it.

Her life seems unjust.

At the end of the poem, the author writes: "the seed of the fire gets feeble and cold."

 

The writer is talking about two things; the physical fire in the cottage going out, and the old lady's life getting weaker and weaker until she dies.

 

What do we call the technique of using one thing to describe another?

Match up the old fashioned language from the text with the modern-day versions.

Column A

Column B

tress
get up
feeble
weak
rise
lock of hair
bosom
laziness
idleness
chest

Read this student's work and choose the best quotation to use:

 

Many people think that in the 'good old days' young people looked after old people more and they had more respect and compassion for them. This poem shows that this isn't true. The old woman in the poem says she "_________" do all of these jobs because she is "old". This seems unfair and unjust to the reader.

must

cannot

rise

Read this student's work and write the best quotation:

 

While the old woman is working so hard, the young people lie in bed with no worries apart from which "________" to wear.

Read this stduent's work and choose the best explanation:

 

The old woman has too many jobs to complete every single day: "scrub and bake and sweep". This shows that .....

she is a workaholic.

she is a perfectionist.

she is being treated unfairly.

  • Question 1

The old lady in the poem has many tasks to do in the day. Which of the following verbs are jobs she has to do? Tick FOUR boxes.

CORRECT ANSWER
blow
scrub
bake
sweep
  • Question 2

While the old lady is working, what are the young people doing?

CORRECT ANSWER
dreaming in bed
EDDIE SAYS
While the old mother is working, 'the young lie long and dream in their bed', leaving her to get on with the scrubbing and baking and sweeping.
  • Question 3

What reason does the lady give for why she has to work?

 

Because I am .........

CORRECT ANSWER
old
EDDIE SAYS
She says "While I must work because I am old", which suggests that it is her duty to do these jobs because no one else will.
  • Question 4

The structure of the poem follows the same pattern all the way through - it is repetative. Why do you think the author may have chosen to do this?

 

Which of the following answers will earn you the most marks in an assessment?

CORRECT ANSWER
The structure reflects the woman's repetative life.
EDDIE SAYS
The repetitive structure of the poem reflects the repetitive nature of the old mother's life - rising at dawn and working all day. This answer would earn you the most marks in an assessment because it picks up on the central message of the poem.
  • Question 5

The author choose to use the modal verb "must": "I must scrub and bake and sweep".

 

What effect is this word intended to have on the reader? Tick THREE boxes.

CORRECT ANSWER
It makes us angry towards the young people.
It makes the reader sympathetic towards her.
Her life seems unjust.
EDDIE SAYS
The use of the verb 'must' causes the reader to feel sorry for the old woman, as she clearly feels that she needs to do these chores every day. The reader is lead to think that the young should be helping her, instead of lying in bed while she is working.
  • Question 6

At the end of the poem, the author writes: "the seed of the fire gets feeble and cold."

 

The writer is talking about two things; the physical fire in the cottage going out, and the old lady's life getting weaker and weaker until she dies.

 

What do we call the technique of using one thing to describe another?

CORRECT ANSWER
metaphor
EDDIE SAYS
This is a metaphor, as Yeats describes the old woman's life as a fire that is becoming more and more feeble and cold and is, effectively, dying.
  • Question 7

Match up the old fashioned language from the text with the modern-day versions.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

tress
lock of hair
feeble
weak
rise
get up
bosom
chest
idleness
laziness
  • Question 8

Read this student's work and choose the best quotation to use:

 

Many people think that in the 'good old days' young people looked after old people more and they had more respect and compassion for them. This poem shows that this isn't true. The old woman in the poem says she "_________" do all of these jobs because she is "old". This seems unfair and unjust to the reader.

CORRECT ANSWER
must
EDDIE SAYS
Again, the use of the word 'must' suggests that the woman has to do the jobs or else they will not get done, and this seems unfair and causes the reader to sympathise with her.
  • Question 9

Read this student's work and write the best quotation:

 

While the old woman is working so hard, the young people lie in bed with no worries apart from which "________" to wear.

CORRECT ANSWER
ribbons
ribbon
  • Question 10

Read this stduent's work and choose the best explanation:

 

The old woman has too many jobs to complete every single day: "scrub and bake and sweep". This shows that .....

CORRECT ANSWER
she is being treated unfairly.
---- OR ----

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