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Describe and Explain the Key Contextual Features of the Poem 'Poppies' by Jane Weir

In this worksheet, students will describe the context of the poem 'Poppies' and explain its significance.

'Describe and Explain the Key Contextual Features of 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.

 

Weir describes being surprised by the "overwhelming response" she had from readers across Europe to ‘Poppies’. Many of the readers who contacted her were mothers of soldiers killed in action in recent conflicts. She commented in an interview that, "I wrote the piece from a woman's perspective, which is quite rare, as most poets who write about war have been men. As the mother of two teenage boys, I tried to put across how I might feel if they were fighting in a war zone."

 

In ‘Poppies’ Weir tells the ‘story’ of a mother’s experience of pain and loss as her son leaves home to go to war. 

 

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 context of the poem.

 

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 explore the context of 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?
Being Eskimos
What does the mother recall playing with her son?
Blackthorns
What does she compare his gelled hair with?
The mother
What does she remember pinning to his lapel?
A poppy
What does the speaker release from its cage?
A songbird

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

The poem 'Poppies' is set in the present day but reaches right back to the beginning of the Poppy Day tradition. Armistice Sunday began as a way of marking the end of the First World War in 1918.

 

grave yard with poppies

 

The following quotation is from the poem Poppies. Choose one explanation which you think explains the context of this quote.

 

"Three days before Armistice Sunday
and poppies had already been placed
on individual war graves"

Armistice Sunday represents the start of the First World War

The date of Armistice Sunday is often wrong

People have already placed poppies on war graves in preparation for Armistice Sunday, a day to honour the end of the First World War

The poppies had been put in the wrong place

Although 'Armistice Sunday' was set up to remember the soldiers of the First World War, today the event is also used to remember soldiers of all wars who have died since then.

 

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

 Words associated with conflictWords NOT associated with conflict
Playground
Spasms
War
Play at
Blockade
War memorial
Softening
Flattened

Weir is also a textile artist and this is reflected in her chosen imagery in the poem 'Poppies'.

 

pile of clothes

 

The quotations below are all taken from the poem 'Poppies'. Can you choose one quotation which you think represents the poets textile background?

"Three days before"

"Steeled the softening"

"I was brave"

"Turned into felt"

aeroplanes at war

 

 

The following quotations are all from 'Poppies'. Which would you choose to explain the context 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

 

Jane Weir was asked to write a poem which explored the suffering of families who have lost someone to war. Weir said that "As a mother of two teenage boys, I tried to put across how I would feel if they were fighting in a war zone".

 

Which two quotations from the list below do you think show the mother's love and concern for her son?

"A split second and you were away"

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

"I wanted to graze my nose across the tip of your nose"

"On reaching the top of the hill"

poppies

 

 

The following paragraph explains the contextual background of the poem 'Poppies'. Can you fill in the missing words, using the knowledge you have just learnt in the previous questions?

"A split second and you were away"

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

"I wanted to graze my nose across the tip of your nose"

"On reaching the top of the hill"

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

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

war memorial

 

The poem 'Poppies' has very emotive contextual issues and Weir said that she was surprised by the "overwhelming response" she had from readers across Europe. Many of the readers who contacted her were mothers of soldiers killed in action in recent conflicts.

 

The context and subject matter of the poem means that the 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 explore the context of 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 goe...
Stanza four
Emotional response to her son’s...
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to match them all? The poem is written as a monologue in four stanzas with no rhyme scheme. The stanzas are structured based on events in the life of mother and child: In the FIRST stanza, the mother looks back at remembrance day and the idea of the poppy, which has helped trigger the memory. In the SECOND stanza, the mother talks about helping her son get ready and seeing him off. In the THIRD stanza, the poem explores the emptiness that is left in his absence. In the FOURTH stanza, 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

The poem 'Poppies' is set in the present day but reaches right back to the beginning of the Poppy Day tradition. Armistice Sunday began as a way of marking the end of the First World War in 1918.

 

grave yard with poppies

 

The following quotation is from the poem Poppies. Choose one explanation which you think explains the context of this quote.

 

"Three days before Armistice Sunday
and poppies had already been placed
on individual war graves"

CORRECT ANSWER
People have already placed poppies on war graves in preparation for Armistice Sunday, a day to honour the end of the First World War
EDDIE SAYS
This quotation shows how important Armistice Day is to people who want to pay their respects to the fallen soldiers of the First World War. The word 'already' tells the reader that this day is so important, that the poppies can be found on graves before the Remembrance Day has even taken place.
  • Question 4

Although 'Armistice Sunday' was set up to remember the soldiers of the First World War, today the event is also used to remember soldiers of all wars who have died since then.

 

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

CORRECT ANSWER
 Words associated with conflictWords NOT associated with conflict
Playground
Spasms
War
Play at
Blockade
War memorial
Softening
Flattened
EDDIE SAYS
As the poem has links to both the World War and to more modern conflict, the poem is full of language associated with violence and war. Even when the narrator is describing caring actions, such as pinning a poppy on to her son, words such as 'spasms' remind the reader that this is a poem about conflict.
  • Question 5

Weir is also a textile artist and this is reflected in her chosen imagery in the poem 'Poppies'.

 

pile of clothes

 

The quotations below are all taken from the poem 'Poppies'. Can you choose one quotation which you think represents the poets textile background?

CORRECT ANSWER
"Turned into felt"
EDDIE SAYS
The quotation "turned into felt" is a reference to Jane Weirs textile background, as the word 'felt' is a type of cloth. This quotation describes the way that the narrator's words make no sound, even though she has many things she would like to say to her son.
  • Question 6

aeroplanes at war

 

 

The following quotations are all from 'Poppies'. Which would you choose to explain the context 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

 

Jane Weir was asked to write a poem which explored the suffering of families who have lost someone to war. Weir said that "As a mother of two teenage boys, I tried to put across how I would feel if they were fighting in a war zone".

 

Which two quotations from the list below do you think show the mother's love and concern for her son?

CORRECT ANSWER
"Hoping to hear your playground voice catching on the wind"
"I wanted to graze my nose across the tip of your nose"
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

 

 

The following paragraph explains the contextual background of the poem 'Poppies'. Can you fill in the missing words, using the knowledge you have just learnt in the previous questions?

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
The poem is set in the present day but reaches right back to the beginning of the Poppy Day tradition. Armistice Sunday began as a way of marking the end of the First World War in 1918. It was set up so people could remember the hundreds and thousands of ordinary men who had been killed in the First World War. Today, the event is used to remember soldiers of all wars who have died since then.
  • Question 9

Read the following extract from the poem 'Poppies'. Underline any words which you think are associated with the context 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 poem 'Poppies' has very emotive contextual issues and Weir said that she was surprised by the "overwhelming response" she had from readers across Europe. Many of the readers who contacted her were mothers of soldiers killed in action in recent conflicts.

 

The context and subject matter of the poem means that the 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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