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Poetry and Power

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Topics: Poetry
Greeting

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, thank-you for attending the Queensland state library today and also celebrating with me the English cultural heritage of past and present poets.

One of the most famous World War 1 poets in today’s history, Robert Graves, describes his poems through his terror and fear of his war experiences. Throughout this lecture today I will be discussing the theme of Poetry and Power portrayed within Graves poems and how his life and writings have influenced poets today.

Acknowledgement of context and topic

What lead me to the central idea of choosing Graves’ war poems was from the powerful stories of ANZAC day. They were touching and graphic, inspiring me to focus on the concept of war. Poets from Robert Graves’ era are like todays war photographers, they capture an extreme image within their wording, creating a vivid image in the readers head.

Your central idea

* Responsive to the task question * Specific and focused * Offer a challenging assertion or proposition about the poet’s engagement with an issue of continuing importance (nature, love, war, relationships, justice etc.) * Clearly asserts your own conclusion based on evidence

Your poet’s biographical details, body of work and two poems

Robert Graves was born in 1895, in Wimbledon, London. He grew up in a middle class family, attending a series of six preparatory schools whilst completing his education. He was best known for his poetry but also a lecturer and novelist. Over Grave’s lifetime he wrote more than 140 works. These works basically incorporated all his horrific and magnificent experiences of the war.

Two Poems

Poem: The Dead Boche

To you who’d read my songs of War
And only hear of blood and fame,
I’ll say (you heard it said before)
‘War’s Hell!” and if you doubt the same,
Today I found in Mametz Wood
A certain cure for lust of blood:

Where, propped against a shattered trunk,
In a great mess of things unclean,
Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk
With clothes and face a sodden green,
Big bellied, spectacled, crop-haired,
Dribbling black blood from nose and beard.

Poem: The Leveller

Near Martinpuich that night of Hell
Two men were struck by the same shell,
Together tumbling in one heap 

Senseless and limp like slaughtered sheep. 



One was a pale eighteen-year-old, 

Blue-eyed and thin and not too bold, 

Pressed for the war not ten years too soon, 

The shame and pity of his platoon. 



The other came from far-off lands 

With brisling chin and whiskered hands, 

He had known death and hell before 
In Mexico and Ecuador.

Yet in his death this cut-throat wild 

Groaned 'Mother! Mother!' like a child,
While the poor innocent in man's clothes 

Died cursing God with brutal oaths. 



Old Sergeant Smith, kindest of men, 

Wrote out two copies and then 

Of his accustomed funeral speech 

To cheer the woman folk of each:- 


"He died a hero's death: and we 

His comrades of 'A' Company 

Deeply regret his death: we shall 

All deeply miss so true a pal.

Analysis of Poem 1. Dot point Matter, Meaning and Method, always relating to your central Idea. Select several quotations and select a number of techniques.

The central theme of this powerful war poem is the disparity that exists between the glory of “War” and the harsh reality of war.
In the first stanza, the poet addresses the reader as “you” in the opening line and, by using this technique, immediately captures and positions the reader to receive the poem’s full challenge. This message is that the glorification of war ignores the reality.

To you who’d read my songs of War
And only hear of blood and fame,
I’ll say (you heard it said before)
‘War’s Hell!” and if you doubt the same,
Today I found in Mametz Wood
A certain cure for lust of blood:

The phrase ‘songs of War’ in the first line refers to the fact that war was glorified in songs, often involving fame and achievements. The poet, as a soldier, appears to own these songs but, given the poem’s grim content, the songs are almost certainly not written by him. The reader, to whom the poem is addressed, is one who would “read” songs of War and only “hear of blood and fame”, rather than a soldier actually involved in the fighting.

In the second line of the poem, Graves introduces for the first time the word “blood” which is a unifying theme throughout the poem. In the first stanza, the poet connects the fame of war with “blood”, and the glory of war with the “lust of blood”.

This underlying message conveyed by the poem is reinforced in the third line where Graves responds to the reader by ‘speaking’ two direct observations. First, Graves introduces to the reader a first general contradiction, which is that, contrary to the songs of War, war is in fact Hell, which is nothing to sing about. The reader has heard this said before, but still reads the songs.

Where, propped against a shattered trunk,
In a great mess of things unclean,
Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk
With clothes and face a sodden green,
Big bellied, spectacled, crop-haired,
Dribbling black blood from nose and beard.

In the first two lines of this stanza, the poet describes the place where he discovered his cure. Graves’ use of the word “shattered” conveys a scene of nature destroyed; the phrase “great mess” speaks of a place of disorder and chaos; and the words “things unclean” speak of something repugnant and almost immoral.

In that unnatural setting, Graves found a dead “Boche”, which is a word that is today an archaism but which still conveys the impersonal and dehumanising descriptions which were given to the enemy. However, in this case, the poet forces the reader to go beyond the victory of an enemy defeated, and to examine the actual victim.

In the poem “A Dead Boche”, Graves uses rhyme for poetic effect, with the words at the end of the first and third lines of each stanza rhyming; the words at the end of the second and fourth lines of each stanza also rhyming; and the words at the end of the fifth and sixth lines of each stanza rhyming.

Other poetic devices that Graves uses in his poem include alliteration, for example: “black bold”; big-bellied;“scowled and stunk” Further, Graves also uses assonance at the end of lines, for example; “fame’ and “same”; “Wood” and “blood”; “trunk” and “stunk”. Graves also effectively uses metaphor, for example ‘War’s Hell’.

Analysis of Poem 2. See above. In this one, you can make comparative links to Poem 1.

Develop further commentary on your central idea and the poems’ socio-cultural context.

Conclusion.

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