“The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna”
1. Re-tell the story
“The burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna” is all about a legendary British soldier. Sir John Moore was a Lieutenant – General in the British army and was born in Glasgow on November 13th 1761. He joined the British army in 1776 and saw his first action during the American war of independence in 1778. This martial poem is based on an incident in the Peninsular War, which was part of the generation-long war between France, under Napoleon Bonaparte, and pretty much everyone else in Europe. Napoleon engineered an overthrow in Spain in early 1808, but the Spanish were unhappy about it, a popular insurrection began, and the British tried to join in with the Spanish against the French. The Spanish proved to be difficult allies, though, and a British army under Sir John Moore was forced to retreat to the port of Corunna, on Spain's north-western tip, from where they were to be evacuated back to Britain. The retreat had all the problems of discipline and morale that every retreat has, with the additional hardships of bad terrain and appalling weather. Worse yet: when they got to Corunna on January 11, 1809, the British troopships that were to evacuate them had not yet arrived, so Sir John had to organize defences and fight a battle against the French. In the battle he was mortally wounded. In not wanting the French’s morale to be given a boost with the realization that the inspirational leader of the British army had died, they decided to bury him in the night; in the hope the French would be none the wiser. Even though Sir John Moore was an iconic figure, a man that the British army looked up to and admired, they could not give him a proper military funeral fitting for a man of his stature in order to keep the French in the dark about the terrible tragedy that has occurred.
2. Explain the context of the poem
This poem has a very patriotic theme to it, words like hero, warrior and glory stretched throughout the poem. The first stanza in my opinion sets out the scene for the rest of the poem. The words “not a drum was heard”, “not a funeral note”,” not a soldier discharged his farewell shot” and “o’er the grave where our hero we buried” are all present in the very first stanza thus giving the reader a distinctive image of the scene of this poem right from the start. One certainly gets the image of a soldier who has died on the battle field, but for some reason is not getting the traditional burial of a soldier who has died in combat. Only when you read on and analyze the poem and its history do you truly understand why this is. If we look at the second stanza it begins with “we buried him darkly at dead of night” for reason of secrecy towards the French as the British did not want the French to know that their leader and inspiration was no longer a threat to them, thus boosting French morale and with all likelihood crushing British morale. The last three lines of this stanza give reference to them digging his grave as best they could with what they had available “the sods of our bayonets turning”. In terms of war a bayonet is a knife like instrument that a soldier would fix onto the end of his rifle to attack an enemy in close combat. They would generally stab the enemy in the guts, turning the bayonet as they retracted it and almost certainly mortally wounding the enemy. Keeping that in mind, this is what they are doing to the soil to dig the grave. They do not have spades so they must dig out a grave with their bayonets using close to the same technique that they would use when engaging the enemy on the battlefield. “By the struggling moonbeam’s misty light and the lanthorne dimly burning” makes reference again to the tumultuous task that these soldiers are facing, burying their great leader with no equipment and using the moons light and a lanthorne (lantern) that is generally used for signalling in those days to try and get the job done,...
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