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Identify and Explain the Key Themes in the poem 'Poppies' by Jane Weir

In this worksheet, students will identify the key themes in the poem 'Poppies' and understand their significance.

'Identify and Explain the Key Themes in the poem 'Poppies' by Jane Weir' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 4

GCSE Subjects:   English Literature

GCSE Boards:   AQA, Pearson Edexcel

Curriculum topic:   Poetry, Poetry Anthology Collections

Curriculum subtopic:   Power and Conflict: 'Poppies', Conflict: 'Poppies'

Difficulty level:  

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

For this activity, you will need to turn to the poem 'Poppies' by Jane Weir, which can be found in the Power and Conflict section of your anthology.

 

Although 'Poppies' is set in the present day, the themes and ideas in the poem can be linked right back to the beginning of the Poppy Day tradition. Armistice Sunday began in 1919 as a way of marking the end of the First World War in 1918. It was set up as a way of remembering the many men who lost their lives in the war. Even today the event is used to remember those men and any who have died since then.

 

poppy

 

The main themes running throughout the poem are grief, war, loss, memory, childhood, innocence and adulthood.

In the following questions, you will be asked about the meaning of these themes.

 

You should always refer to your own text when working through these examples. These quotations are for reference only.

cemetery with poppies

 

In order to identify the themes in the poem 'Poppies', we need to understand its meaning. Match the questions to the correct answers below:

Column A

Column B

Who is the speaker in this poem?
The mother
What does the mother recall playing with her son?
Blackthorns
What does she compare his gelled hair with?
Being Eskimos
What does she remember pinning to his lapel?
A songbird
What does the speaker release from its cage?
A poppy

The four stanzas of the poem describe a son leaving home to join the army and the mother's reaction. She feels sad, lonely and scared for his safety. She describes helping him smarten his uniform ready to leave.  After he leaves, she goes to places that remind her of him, desperately trying to find any trace of him.

 

modern day soldiers

 

Match the stanzas to the correct overview below:

Column A

Column B

Stanza one
Mother wants to be strong, but goes to his room an...
Stanza two
Looking after her son and memories
Stanza three
Poppies/Saying goodbye to her son
Stanza four
Emotional response to her son’s death

A main theme running throughout the poem is war and violence, which is why this poem is a great fit for the Power and Conflict cluster!

 

 

soldier with gun

 

The words and phrases below are all taken from the poem 'Poppies'. Can you decide which words/phrases relate to war and violence, and which do not?

 Words associated with war and violencewords NOT associated with war and violence
Bandaged
Dove
Songbird
Blockade
Disrupting
Playground
Spasms
Individual war graves

The main theme running throughout 'Poppies' is childhood innocence, which works well as a contrast to the very violent theme in the last question.

 

children playing

 

 

The words and phrases below are all taken from the poem 'Poppies'. Can you decide which of them are associated with the theme of childhood innocence, and which are not?

 Words associated with childhood innocenceWords NOT associated with childhood innocence
Playground
Spasms
Church yard
Play at
When you were little
War memorial
Softening
Smooth

A main theme of 'Poppies' is death and loss, which is made even more emotive by the loving images of childhood in the last question.

 

 

love heart on tree

 

The words and phrases below are all taken from the poem 'Poppies'. Can you decide which words are associated with death and loss and which are not?

 Words associated with Death and LossWords NOT associated with Death and Loss
After you'd gone
Softening
Church yard
Spasms
Blockade
Inscriptions
War memorial
Poppies

 

aeroplanes at war

 

The following quotations are all from 'Poppies'. Which would you choose to explain the theme of war and violence?

"I wanted to graze my nose across the tip of your nose, play at being Eskimos"

"I pinned one onto your lapel, crimped petals, spasms of paper red"

"A split second and you were away"

"Without a winter coat or reinforcements of scarf"

 

child splashing in puddle

 

The following quotations are all from the poem 'Poppies'. Which would you choose to explain the theme of childhood innocence?

"Three days before Armistice Sunday"

"I rounded up as many white cat hairs as I could"

"A split second and you were away, intoxicated"

"I wanted to graze my nose across the tip of your nose, play at being Eskimos like we did when you were little"

poppies

Read the following quotation from 'Poppies'. This quotation supports one of the themes that we have looked at during this activity. Can you choose two themes from the list below?

 

"I listened, hoping to hear
your playground voice catching on the wind"

Childhood

War

Death and loss

Violence

aeroplanes at war

 

Read the following extract from the poem 'Poppies'. Underline any words which you think are associated with the theme of war.

"My stomach busy making tucks, darts, pleats, hat-less, without a winter coat or reinforcements of scarf, gloves"

war memorial

 

The main tone used throughout the poem 'Poppies' is sad and mournful. Choose three quotations from the list below, which you think helps to create this tone.

"A split second and you were away"

"Steeled the softening of my face"

"I was brave as I walked with you"

"Leaned against it like a wishbone"

"Hoping to hear your playground voice catching on the wind"

  • Question 1

cemetery with poppies

 

In order to identify the themes in the poem 'Poppies', we need to understand its meaning. Match the questions to the correct answers below:

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Who is the speaker in this poem?
The mother
What does the mother recall playi...
Being Eskimos
What does she compare his gelled ...
Blackthorns
What does she remember pinning to...
A poppy
What does the speaker release fro...
A songbird
EDDIE SAYS
The poem is about the nature of grief. The mother is speaking directly to her son, but a son who shifts in time. There is: The son leaving home for school on his own for the first time. The son who has just been killed. Beneath the surface the son dying violently in a field hospital in Afghanistan.
  • Question 2

The four stanzas of the poem describe a son leaving home to join the army and the mother's reaction. She feels sad, lonely and scared for his safety. She describes helping him smarten his uniform ready to leave.  After he leaves, she goes to places that remind her of him, desperately trying to find any trace of him.

 

modern day soldiers

 

Match the stanzas to the correct overview below:

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Stanza one
Poppies/Saying goodbye to her son
Stanza two
Looking after her son and memorie...
Stanza three
Mother wants to be strong, but go...
Stanza four
Emotional response to her son’s...
EDDIE SAYS
The poem is written as a monologue in four stanzas and no rhyme scheme. The stanzas are structured based on events in the life of mother and child: First - the mother looks back at remembrance day and the idea of the poppy, which has helped trigger the memory. Second - the mother talks about helping her son get ready and seeing him off. Third - the poem explores the emptiness that is left in his absence. Fourth - finally, the mother feels drawn to a war memorial, bringing the story back to where it started, yet now with no son around. The suggestion of the dove being that he has died. The poem uses a lot of enjambment and familiar nouns to enhance the idea of natural tone and the mother's voice.
  • Question 3

A main theme running throughout the poem is war and violence, which is why this poem is a great fit for the Power and Conflict cluster!

 

 

soldier with gun

 

The words and phrases below are all taken from the poem 'Poppies'. Can you decide which words/phrases relate to war and violence, and which do not?

CORRECT ANSWER
 Words associated with war and violencewords NOT associated with war and violence
Bandaged
Dove
Songbird
Blockade
Disrupting
Playground
Spasms
Individual war graves
EDDIE SAYS
Even though the poem is told from the perspective of someone who has never been to war, the poem is full of images of violence and uses military language. The point the poet is trying to make is that war has an effect on everyone, even the families left at home. The mother cannot help but think of all the violence that awaits her son.
  • Question 4

The main theme running throughout 'Poppies' is childhood innocence, which works well as a contrast to the very violent theme in the last question.

 

children playing

 

 

The words and phrases below are all taken from the poem 'Poppies'. Can you decide which of them are associated with the theme of childhood innocence, and which are not?

CORRECT ANSWER
 Words associated with childhood innocenceWords NOT associated with childhood innocence
Playground
Spasms
Church yard
Play at
When you were little
War memorial
Softening
Smooth
EDDIE SAYS
A major focus of the poem is the mother's memories of her son as a child. She feels that she has two reasons to be sad, as not only is her son growing up and leaving home, but he is also leaving to risk his life at war. As she prepares to send him to war she thinks back to a time when he was a child and she was able to keep him safe at home. Her memories of 'playing Eskimo' show that he had a happy and peaceful childhood which she misses.
  • Question 5

A main theme of 'Poppies' is death and loss, which is made even more emotive by the loving images of childhood in the last question.

 

 

love heart on tree

 

The words and phrases below are all taken from the poem 'Poppies'. Can you decide which words are associated with death and loss and which are not?

CORRECT ANSWER
 Words associated with Death and LossWords NOT associated with Death and Loss
After you'd gone
Softening
Church yard
Spasms
Blockade
Inscriptions
War memorial
Poppies
EDDIE SAYS
Jane Weir is quoted as saying that "As the mother of two teenage boys, I tried to put across how I might feel if they were fighting in a war zone". This could be why we feel such a sense of sadness for the mother at the end of the poem when we realise that her much loved son has not returned from war. Her sense of loss is so great that she cannot overcome the grief she feels.
  • Question 6

 

aeroplanes at war

 

The following quotations are all from 'Poppies'. Which would you choose to explain the theme of war and violence?

CORRECT ANSWER
"I pinned one onto your lapel, crimped petals, spasms of paper red"
EDDIE SAYS
The quotation "I pinned one onto your lapel, crimped petals, spasms of paper red" contains a list of verbs which are all associated with the violence of war. Words such as "pinned", "crimped" and "spasms" suggest that, whilst the mother is making her son look smart, she cannot help but think of the danger that awaits him.
  • Question 7

 

child splashing in puddle

 

The following quotations are all from the poem 'Poppies'. Which would you choose to explain the theme of childhood innocence?

CORRECT ANSWER
"I wanted to graze my nose across the tip of your nose, play at being Eskimos like we did when you were little"
EDDIE SAYS
The quotation "I wanted to graze my nose across the tip of your nose, play at being Eskimos like we did when you were little" shows how the boy has had a loving childhood, where he was kept safe and loved by his mother. We are given the impression that the mother wishes that she could turn back the time to when her son was innocent and carefree.
  • Question 8

poppies

Read the following quotation from 'Poppies'. This quotation supports one of the themes that we have looked at during this activity. Can you choose two themes from the list below?

 

"I listened, hoping to hear
your playground voice catching on the wind"

CORRECT ANSWER
Childhood
Death and loss
EDDIE SAYS
The quotation "I listened, hoping to hear your playground voice catching on the wind" tells us two things. Firstly, that her son hasn't come back from the war, which is why she can only wish to hear his voice. Secondly, that she misses her son's childhood and wished she could go back to a time before the war.
  • Question 9

aeroplanes at war

 

Read the following extract from the poem 'Poppies'. Underline any words which you think are associated with the theme of war.

CORRECT ANSWER
"My stomach busy
making tucks, darts, pleats, hat-less, without
a winter coat or reinforcements of scarf, gloves"
EDDIE SAYS
This quotation has a double meaning. On one hand, the mother is describing how her stomach was feeling on the day her son left, doing 'somersaults', much like yours might on the morning of an exam! These verbs though can also be a reference to the actions that a warplane would make in the sky during the fighting.
  • Question 10

war memorial

 

The main tone used throughout the poem 'Poppies' is sad and mournful. Choose three quotations from the list below, which you think helps to create this tone.

CORRECT ANSWER
"Steeled the softening of my face"
"Leaned against it like a wishbone"
"Hoping to hear your playground voice catching on the wind"
EDDIE SAYS
These quotations all create a sad and mournful tone and link to the main theme of loss. They tell the reader of how the mother is sad that her son is leaving and also how she is devastated by grief when he does not return. We are given the impression by the end of the poem that the mother is so overcome with grief that she does not even remember to take her coat out with her on a cold day.
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