This cluster explores a range of types of conflict: terrorism, civil war, colonial war, occupations, nationalist struggles, the tensions between ethnic groups and religions. As well as presenting different types of conflict, these poems offer a variety of attitudes to war, from the glory of ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ to Owen’s bleak and bitter ‘Futility’. Sometimes the poem speaks from the point of view of a soldier, as in ‘Bayonet Charge’ or ‘Futility’. Other poems explore the wider effects of conflict − for example ‘Poppies’ concentrates on the feelings of a mother, ‘Belfast Confetti’ on a community, and ‘The Falling Leaves’ explores the idea of bereavement and loss. Some of the poems take a wider perspective, considering the concept of conflict and its consequences, for instance ‘Mametz Wood’ or ‘next to of course god america i’. And, in the widest sense, both ‘Hawk Roosting’ and ‘Flag’ comment on the behaviours and attitudes that may lead to conflict. When studying this cluster, it might be useful for students to focus on some of the following considerations: • What kind of conflict does this poem focus on? Is it about terrorism, civil war, or conflict between cultures in one geographical location? Is it about the aftermath of world war? Is it about the effects of war on countries / individuals / loved ones? • From what perspective is it written? Is the perspective first person, second person or third person address? Is there a persona and, if so, are they a participant, an observer, a victim? Is the poem written after / before / during the conflict? Is it set in the present, the past, or a future time? • How does the poet explore conflict? What does the poem tell us or suggest about conflict? Does it bring alive the experience of battle, or make us think about the pain of losing a loved one in war, or is it about the barbarity and senselessness of war? • Why has the poet written this poem? What feelings, attitudes and/or ideas is the poet considering through his or her presentation of conflict? What is the mood – is it angry / reflective / saddened / quizzical? • How has the poet communicated his or her ideas? What aspects of language, structure and/or form are particularly significant in this poem? What literary techniques is the poet using to achieve their effects?
© HarperCollins Publishers 2010
Cluster 3: Conflict • 93
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John Agard Background and Context
In ‘Flag’, published in 2005, John Agard (1949−) uses a pattern of questions and answers to create a format which invites the reader to question the purpose and value of the flag. He explores the roots and causes of conflict and poses questions about man’s role within it: ultimately, is it the flag or man that causes the conflict? A flag is a piece of fabric used primarily now to symbolise a country, but the origin of flags is in warfare, where they were developed to assist military communication on the battlefield. As such, flags are powerful patriotic symbols which can be used and interpreted in many ways. The American Pledge of Allegiance begins, ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag…’
Present tense: the poem is about now and this will always be an important question
What’s that fluttering in a breeze? It’s just a piece of cloth that brings a nation to its knees. What’s that unfurling from a pole? It’s just a piece of cloth that makes the guts of men grow bold. What’s that rising over a tent? It’s just a piece of cloth that dares a coward to relent. What’s that flying across a field?
An innocent image − pure and clean but also flimsy and insubstantial
Each stanza opens with a question which is then answered. There are two different voices: a young naïve questioner and a wise, advisory answerer Insistent repetition forces us to ask whether the...