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Explore Context in 'Winter Swans'

In this worksheet, students will learn to explore the context in 'Winter Swans' and understand Sheers' own background.

'Explore Context in 'Winter Swans'' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 4

GCSE Subjects:   English Literature

GCSE Boards:   AQA

Curriculum topic:   Poetry

Curriculum subtopic:   Love and Relationships: 'Winter Swans'

Difficulty level:  

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

Always wanted to practise your understanding of context in 'Winter Swans'?

 

Thought bubble

 

Well, you've come to the right place! 

 

 

This activity is quite simple. We're going to be looking at the background of the poem, the themes of Sheers' other poems and the meaning behind his anthology 'Skirrid Hill' (which was what 'Winter Swans' was published under)

 

 

As you complete this activity, jot down some important facts that you notice along the way. It'll be really helpful for your exam revision.

 

 

 

 

Just a reminder: context is the background, environment and setting of a poem. 

 

Owen Sheers is a celebrated writer, who specialises in places/nature/landscape.

 

 

Check one quote from the poem which you think illustrates this contextual factor.

 

"I noticed our hands..."

''...porcelain over the stilling water"

"...as if rolling weights"

Sheers' speciality is in nature, relationships and identity.

 

How does Sheers depict the nature of the relationship in the poem?

 

Pick one out of the three options below.

 

Don't worry about using quotation marks in your answer (normally, we encourage you to use quotation marks, but on this occasion we'd rather focus on your understanding of context in the poem).

 

"They mate for life, you said..."

"Until the swans came and stopped us"

"The clouds had given their all"

"I noticed our hands..."

''...porcelain over the stilling water"

"...as if rolling weights"

What can we infer about the overall meaning of the poem?

 

Tick the three answers that you think are the most logical.

We can infer that the poem is about love

We can infer that the poem is about sex

We can infer that the poem is about a swan

We can infer that the poem is about nature's impact on humanity

We can infer that the poem is a reminder about the positive and calming impact of nature

Why is it important for us to know that 'Winter Swans' is from a collection of Sheers' poems, named 'Skirrid Hill', which heavily features themes such as divorce and separation?

 

Pick one number out of the options below: 

 

1. Because the poem features divorce

2. Because a motif in the poem is separation

3. Because a motif in the poem is overcoming distance and separation

4. Because a theme of the poem is the separation of love and nature

'Skirrid Hill' is the name of the poetry anthology under which 'Winter Swans' was published (2005). 

 

Why is it interesting that Skirrid derives from the Welsh word meaning divorce?

 

Tick one from the options below.

 

Because the poem is about potential divorce

Divorce implies separation in a relationship, which the poem deals with

The poem is about a divorce

What one quote do you think illustrates Sheers' positive attitude towards nature?

 

 

"The clouds had given their all"

"Slow-stepping in the lake's shingle and sand"

"Icebergs of white feather [...] like boats righting in rough weather"

Match each contextual idea with a quote from the poem.

Column A

Column B

The positive influence of nature
"They mate for life"
Commitment
"...with a show of tipping in unison"
Unity
"...our hands [...] like a pair of wings settling....

Once more! Match each contextual idea with a quote from the poem.

Column A

Column B

Nature as a stabilising force
"...our hands, that had, somehow, swum the distanc...
Separation
"...silent and apart"
Nature reflecting destiny
"Like boats righting in rough weather"

Tick one theme that's not in the poem.

 

Separation

Love

Desire

What idea from the options below seems to be the most important one in the poem?

 

 

The way nature reflects love

The way nature and love are intertwined

The way nature influences and reflects human relationships

The way nature pushes human beings together

The overall beauty and positive impact of nature

  • Question 1

Owen Sheers is a celebrated writer, who specialises in places/nature/landscape.

 

 

Check one quote from the poem which you think illustrates this contextual factor.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
''...porcelain over the stilling water"
EDDIE SAYS
Sheers specialises in natural imagery and 'Winter Swans' has a recurring motif of nature throughout, and places emphasis on what the natural world represents for the main couple.
  • Question 2

Sheers' speciality is in nature, relationships and identity.

 

How does Sheers depict the nature of the relationship in the poem?

 

Pick one out of the three options below.

 

Don't worry about using quotation marks in your answer (normally, we encourage you to use quotation marks, but on this occasion we'd rather focus on your understanding of context in the poem).

 

"They mate for life, you said..."

"Until the swans came and stopped us"

"The clouds had given their all"

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
The long-lasting nature of the relationship is illustrated in the direct speech. Think about the way the couple's relationship is influenced/reflected by the natural world around them. Do you think 'Winter Swans' is about nature, relationships, identity or a mixture of all three?
  • Question 3

What can we infer about the overall meaning of the poem?

 

Tick the three answers that you think are the most logical.

CORRECT ANSWER
We can infer that the poem is about love
We can infer that the poem is about nature's impact on humanity
We can infer that the poem is a reminder about the positive and calming impact of nature
EDDIE SAYS
Sheers definitely views nature as a positive force, with a pleasant impact on the couple's relationship. If you don't know already, Owen Sheers is from Wales, with its greenery (and rain)! Wales is quite beautiful and nature-heavy. So maybe Sheers' upbringing allows him to view nature as a positive influence. Growing up around greenery and fresh rain sounds like it would make anyone want to write poetry about nature (although not too much rain).
  • Question 4

Why is it important for us to know that 'Winter Swans' is from a collection of Sheers' poems, named 'Skirrid Hill', which heavily features themes such as divorce and separation?

 

Pick one number out of the options below: 

 

1. Because the poem features divorce

2. Because a motif in the poem is separation

3. Because a motif in the poem is overcoming distance and separation

4. Because a theme of the poem is the separation of love and nature

CORRECT ANSWER
3
EDDIE SAYS
A dominant motif within the poem is overcoming separation. How? Through the use of natural imagery and the impact it has on unifying the couple. Before this, we witness the couple as "silent and apart" so, the force that really unites the couple is witnessing the swans and remembering that they "mate for life". The positive reminder about love, commitment and longevity which nature provides, instinctively unifies the couple and makes them closer to each other. Think about other ways that Sheers uses the motif of separation as a theme in the poem. There's overcoming the separation between the couple, and, perhaps, a deeper role of overcoming the separation between the natural world and humans.
  • Question 5

'Skirrid Hill' is the name of the poetry anthology under which 'Winter Swans' was published (2005). 

 

Why is it interesting that Skirrid derives from the Welsh word meaning divorce?

 

Tick one from the options below.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Divorce implies separation in a relationship, which the poem deals with
EDDIE SAYS
The poem deals with the idea of separation in a romantic relationship. It symbolically looks at a problem, and then the fixing of that problem. In this case, through the influence of the natural world, which brings the couple together. It's interesting to understand Sheers' favourite themes because it allows us to look at the poem through a different lens. Maybe the poem is about a symbolic divorce and reconciliation? Perhaps Sheers is commenting on the unnaturalness of separation? Perhaps he is even, symbolically, referring to divorce as unnatural? Think about it this way: if the swans can be together for life, why can't humans? At least this is one interpretation of what Sheers might be trying to say!
  • Question 6

What one quote do you think illustrates Sheers' positive attitude towards nature?

 

 

CORRECT ANSWER
"Icebergs of white feather [...] like boats righting in rough weather"
EDDIE SAYS
The third quote, where the swans are likened to boats "righting", even during "rough" times, highlights the swan's commitment and the stability that they represent towards each other, reinforcing this motif of longevity.
  • Question 7

Match each contextual idea with a quote from the poem.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

The positive influence of nature
"...our hands [...] like a pair o...
Commitment
"They mate for life"
Unity
"...with a show of tipping in uni...
EDDIE SAYS
Think about the overall meaning behind the poem and what tone you think it intends to convey about nature/love/commitment. Do you think the poet takes a direct role by expressing his approval towards nature? What quotes can you pick out from the poem which really show this positive impact of nature on human relationships?
  • Question 8

Once more! Match each contextual idea with a quote from the poem.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Nature as a stabilising force
"Like boats righting in rough wea...
Separation
"...silent and apart"
Nature reflecting destiny
"...our hands, that had, somehow,...
EDDIE SAYS
This idea of linking meaning to quote really enhances our understanding of contextual ideas. Take destiny, for example. Do you think there are any other quotes in the poem which reflect the involuntary, almost fate-like nature of the couple's relationship? Have a look through and jot down any that you see! Linking quotes to ideas and themes is an effective way to organise your revision.
  • Question 9

Tick one theme that's not in the poem.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Desire
EDDIE SAYS
Sheers focuses on more abstract themes: love, separation, the impact of nature and the psychology of the couple are inferred, rather than explicitly addressed.
  • Question 10

What idea from the options below seems to be the most important one in the poem?

 

 

CORRECT ANSWER
The way nature influences and reflects human relationships
EDDIE SAYS
The way that nature influences and mirrors human relationships is one central theme within the poem. The shift in the way that nature is described, alongside the shifting relationship status, really illustrates this. You might disagree, though, and that's totally okay. If you do, jot down your own ideas about what YOU believe Sheers is implying - implicitly or explicitly - and get some quotes down to back up why you think this. Whatever you believe the poem is really about, think about this: how does knowing Sheers writes about nature as an influential force on human identity develop your understanding of 'Winter Swans'?
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