Sunday, 2 December 2018

Poppies Analysis by Jane Weir

In this article, we are going to analyzing the poem Poppies by Jane Weir. This poem is interesting for literature students partly because of its interesting narrative perspective.

The poet herself wrote, "I wrote this piece from a woman's perspective which is quite rare as most poets who write about war have been men".

About the Poppies Poem

This poem is written in four stanzas from the point of view of a mother whose son has gone off to war. And the memory of the last time she saw him is triggered off by poppies being placed on war graves in preparation for Remembrance Day.

Poppies Analysis

First Part:
Three days before Armistice Sunday
and poppies had already been placed
on individual war graves. Before you left,
I pinned one onto your lapel, crimped petals,
spasms of paper red, disrupting a blockade
of yellow bias binding around your blazer.

Now the poet is quite specific to identify at the start of this poem. The individual or graves and quite often we can get overwhelmed by the scale of death as a result of World War One and World War Two.

But in a similar way to the poem "Bayonet Charge". Jane Weir here is interested in the personal experience of those affected by conflict. In this great case the very close family of those that are left behind.

The poem is written in the first person. We have 'I' specifying the narrator here and that combined with the fact that Jane Weir is imagining what the experience of losing a son would be like rather than a from actual personal experience makes this poem a dramatic monologue.


The first three lines of this poem established the theme of remembrance 'three days before Armistice Sunday and poppies had already been placed on individual war graves'.

And 'graves. Before' the full stop or caesura here indicates the point where the mother is going to start sharing the memory of her son leaving. Almost like she needs to take a breath to get her emotions under control first. We're told how the mother pinned poppies to the lapel of her son's uniform but the words used to create some useful images in helping to understand the deeper meaning of the poem.

Firstly we have the spasms of paper red which could describe someone's injuries. And this is followed by the military reference to disrupting a blockade. And one way of reading these lines is that the mother is hinting at the events which led to her son's death an event which perhaps is too painful to stay outright.

Another thought is that the blockade refers to the emotions of the mother which are being blocked from coming to the surface. And so thematically the poem could be about the grieving process itself and learning how to cope with the intense feelings of sadness.

The word blockade here is the first of a series of hard B's sounds of this first followed by bias binding and blazer. All of which create quite a bitter tone at the start of this poem.

This stanza also contains the first of several images of clothing or tailoring that will find in this poem. and we have the lapel of the uniform mentioned in line four. Bias binding in the last line of the stanza.

I've got an image of some bias binding military jacket here.

It's this detailing around the edge which is colored tape which is basically sewn on so that. When the poppy in the poem is pinned on it actually cuts across or disrupt this binding. The images of tailoring are used for different effects at this moment. At the start here the word binding seems to suggest a bond or connection between the mother and son and this is quite useful from a structural point of view to compare with the end of the poem where the stitches seem to be literally unraveling.

Possibly another way of looking at this pattern of images is that the poem is partly to do with the process of stitching together the memories that she holds of her son.

There's little in this poem to suggest the age that her son might have be when he left home. Although the word blazer which I've identified here is used by the mother to refer to the jacket that he's wearing and might make us think of perhaps a school blazer. So he could have been fairly young at the time and this argument is strengthened later in the poem by the son's excitement at the prospect of going out into the world.

Next Part:

Sellotape bandaged around my hand,
I rounded up as many white cat hairs
as I could, smoothed down your shirt's
upturned collar, steeled the softening
of my face. I wanted to graze my nose
across the tip of your nose, play at
being Eskimos like we did when
you were little. I resisted the impulse
to run my fingers through the gelled
blackthorns of your hair.

Now as literature students you need to realize that sometimes studying poetry is about coming up with an interpretation and then seeing if that view can be supported by other areas of the poem. I suggested to you before that this poem is partly to do with grief and there seems to be a disconnect between the memories she shares and an outward emotional response. There are several suggestions of coldness which could be an emotional coldness, for example, the Eskimos in this stanza.

The absence of appropriate winter clothing towards the end of the poem and of course this setting for this poem which is three days before armistice Sunday ie in November.

Despite this, the things that she recalls about her son leaving are very tender and reveal a sense of pride in what he is doing. She removes the cat tears from his clothes and smooths down his collar. And the expression to steeled yourself literally means to fortify yourself or harden yourself against an emotionally challenging situation. The mother recalls how she had to steer herself as she fusses tenderly over her son not wanting to give in to the emotion which she must have been experiencing at this time.

Despite this, it's clear through the metaphor of the gelled Blackthorns here that the memories that she is recalling here are painful.

The reference to felt at the end of this stanza. There is a little bit ambiguous and I might leave it to Jane Weir herself to try and explain this she writes the following "I applied the technique of felt making to this poem because it seemed act in the process of grief. The slow remembrance of layering the thick wadding which over time creates a density that's almost impenetrable the muffled deadness of the texture of felt and its ability to denote dumbness padding and the impossibility of the open expression of grief have a felt merges and melts and how if one is degree if one has to at some point allow this to dissolve. And the poem does this; it breaks when the mother goes into her son's empty bedroom."

I mentioned earlier that there is a suggestion that the son could be quite young and evidence for this can be found in his excitement at leaving home. listen to this:-
I was brave, as I walked
with you, to the front door, threw
it open, the world overflowing
like a treasure chest. A split second
and you were away, intoxicated.
After you'd gone I went into your bedroom,
released a song bird from its cage.
Later a single dove flew from the pear tree,
and this is where it has led me,
skirting the church yard walls, my stomach busy
making tucks, darts, pleats, hat-less, without
a winter coat or reinforcements of scarf, gloves.
So as the son walks out of the front door he feels intoxicated. The world is overflowing like a treasure chest suggesting all of the rich and valuable exciting things that he might be about to discover. He is drunk with the huge number of possibilities in front of him although it should be also mentioned that the word also suggests perhaps that he wasn't thinking clearly.

Now these two figurative expressions which I've highlighted here to suggest the literal description of her son leaving. And then juxtaposed with the metaphor which follows released a song bird from its cage which is also suggestive perhaps of the sun's newfound sense of freedom as he walks off to discover this new life.

The bird imagery is continued in the next line doves represent peace. The narrator has followed this bird to the cemetery containing the individual war graves mentioned in the first sentence of the poem. And this brings the poem back to where we started and the proximity of the mother to where her son arguably may be buried. And this makes her feel upset maybe anxious represented by the tucks, darts, and pleats.

It's the feeling of butterflies in our tummies which you've all experienced at some point but the poet uses images of tailoring again to describe this. And the vulnerability of the narrator is suggested at this point by the lack of winter clothing at the end of this poem. And this carries with it the suggestion that she may be on the brink of giving in to the emotional trauma of the situation for the first time.
On reaching the top of the hill I traced
the inscriptions on the war memorial,
leaned against it like a wishbone.
The dove pulled freely against the sky,
an ornamental stitch. I listened, hoping to hear
your playground voice catching on the wind.
So the War Memorial is located on the top of a hill. Hills are another one of these motifs in the literature which sometimes carry symbolic meaning. We might think of the hill where Christ was crucified which creates an image of human sacrifice quite in keeping with the theme of the poem.

The simile of the mother leaning against the war memorial like a wishbone is a little bit opaque but if we pull it apart than we might imagine the white stone structure of the memorial like a bone. And perhaps the implications of wishbone make us think that she still holds some hope that her son will return to her that maybe he is not dead but just missing an action.

In the end, her feelings unravel like the pulling of a stitch or thread. It's interesting to note the adjective here ornamental decorative expression. The laying of flowers on a grave as opposed perhaps to the physical intimacy expressed earlier in the poem.