What? • Understand the language, structure & themes of the poem. • Explore the historical context of the poem. • Create a comprehensive set of revision notes on ‘Mametz Wood’. How? • Looking at images • Listening to a commentary • Carousel Why? • In preparation for GCSE English Literature Paper 2: Poetry Across Time, May 2013. The Battle of Mametz Wood The Poet • Owen Sheers was born in Fiji in 1974 • Brought up in Abergavenny, South Wales. • He is an award winning novelist & poet. The Battle of Mametz Wood • The scene of fierce fighting during the Battle of the Somme. • One of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. • Soldiers of the Welsh division were ordered to take Mametz Wood, the largest area of trees on the battlefield. • The generals thought this would take a few hours. It ended up lasting five days with soldiers fighting face-toface with the enemy. • There were 4,000 casualties, with 600 dead. The Welsh succeeded but their bravery and sacrifice was never really acknowledged. Listen • Listen to this commentary by Own Sheers about his poem and take notes! Learning Check • Write down 3 things that you have learnt about ‘Mametz Wood’ so far this lesson. Carousel • Move around the room taking notes on each of the 4 key areas. • You have no more than 5 minutes at each stop! Form & Structure • Mametz Wood is written in three-line stanzas. The length of the lines changes. In some cases (for instance lines 4 and 12) the longer lines very clearly break up the neat form of the poem. These suggest the uneven ploughed field or the chits of bone rising out of the ground. • The use of full-stops shows there is a clear, regular structure within the poem: a single stanza is followed by a pair of stanzas, then another single stanza is followed by another pair. The final, seventh stanza acts as a conclusion. • This structure reflects the changing focus of the poem – from the land (the single stanzas one and four) then bones and people (the paired stanzas that follow). • The final stanza then combines these three elements into a single image: the 'unearthed' skulls singing in celebration. Language • The poem appears to be written in very plain, almost prosaic (everyday) language. There is a very subtle use of sound, throughout, however. This expresses the overall theme (the poem is a kind of hymn to the dead). It also builds towards the final image: the unearthed bones appear to be singing. • There is no rhyme scheme, but assonance and alliteration mean the stanzas are linked by sounds. The first stanza, for example, starts with the soft sound of "farmers found". We then hear the harder 'b' of "blades" and "back" which is picked up in the second stanza with "blade", "blown" and "broken bird's egg". The next stanza also has "breaking blue". Along with the chipped sound of bone in "chit" and "china" this form of alliteration perhaps echoes of the sound of gunfire and battlefield destruction. • Across stanzas three and four there is the wary 'w' sound of "white", "were","walk… towards the wood" and a "wound working" of the stanza that follows it. This stanza in turn introduces the sibilant "stands sentinel" and "surface of the skin". • Lines 14/15 uses assonance to play of the long 'a' sound in "arm", "dance" and"macabre", a sound echoed in "outlasted" in stanza six which also has the most striking "sound effect" of the poem. In "socketed heads titled back" a series of sharp rapid sounds evoke the moment the men were strafed with machine-gun fire and died. • The visual image of the soldiers' heads being thrown back by the impact of bullets is suddenly switched in the final stanza, however: their heads are back and jaws open because they are singing. The sounds of the final stanza contain a series of clear vowel changes: 'i', 'u', 'o', 'er', and 'a'. It is as if the men were doing the traditional voice exercise of 'do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do…'. This stanza also contains the only clear rhyme in the poem: "sung/tongues". Imagery • This concluding stanza also pulls together the disparate images of the poem: the earth, the bones and the people those bones came from. Right from the start, however, Sheers mixes his imagery to show how there is no simple division between mankind on one side and 'mother nature' on the other. • It is the farmers who "tended the land". It is the land that needs healing (an example of pathetic fallacy). The references to "bird's egg" and "nesting" are used to describe a broken skull (in line 6) and hidden machine guns (in line 9). The bones themselves are described in terms of "china plate" and a "mosaic" while their position in the ground recalls a strangely comic form of dance routine. Themes • Sheers reflects on how the events of that week in 1916 have been buried and forgotten. The bits of bone that are turned up seem just the same as old bits of china – curious relics of history. The violence of the day, the shattering of the bones by gunfire and mortar shell is merely "mimicked" by the flint. Their skeletons even look almost comic. • Sheers could have simply retold the historical events of the battle. By approaching the subject in this slightly strange way, though, Sheers highlights the injustice of history. The poem therefore is about offering some kind of justice or redemption for the dead – and to the land that has held them. By being 'unearthed' the bones have not just literally come free of the ground, they have in some way become themselves again. They have become part of a poem that gives them a voice they have lacked all these years. • In Sheers' work, the three elements have become reconciled: the earth is free of the bones and the bones have become the people they once were. He writes it like a hymn to their memory – but a hymn they sing themselves. Essay Practise • How does the poet write about death in ‘Mametz Wood’? • Create an essay plan for the question above.