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Jane Weir - 'Poppies'


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Three days before Armistice Sunday / and poppies have already been placed / on individual war graves.
Weir immediately foregrounds themes of war, death and pesonal loss. The enjambment of the first two lines allows the idea to be cut short via the caesura of line 3, just like the lives of the soldiers in the "individual war graves".
Armistice Sunday
Armistice Day is commemorated every year on 11 November to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany. Like the poppies worn on the run-up to the event, it is a day which has since grown to encompass and recognise all deaths caused by conflict.
individual war graves
That deeply upsetting adjective "individual" reminds readers that losses in war always have personal emotional impacts. Though the "graves" are in large numbers (and the plural noun itself should be upsetting), Weir uses her adjective to remind readers that war kills "individuals": only some of whom are still remembered.
Before you left
That verb establishes the ambiguity of time and topic in Weir's poem. This is at once a poem about a woman's son leaving to join the army, the feeling of separation and loss at a younger version of him leaving to go to school, and the possible euphemistic sense of "left" in his death in battle.
spasms of paper red
Another negatively emotive verb, "spasms" here echoes (or perhaps foreshadows) the intense pain experienced by soldiers injured in combat. The speaker's fears for her son are prominent here as it affects her language.
a blockade / of yellow
Following on shortly from "spasms" in the same line, the noun "blockade" now potentially gives us the road-block location of her son's injury or death. A miliataristic semantic field is pervasive throughout the poem, creating a sense of war corrupting the speaker's past as well as her present and future.
Sellotape bandaged around my hand
Another polysemous (multi-meaning) verb, here, "bandaged" adds to that militarisitc semantic field, firmly establishing tone and mood of the poem as one of injury and loss.
the gelled / blackthorns of your hair
Weir's noun "blackthorns" is at once the spikey gelled hair of a young boy and the 'crown of thorns' of Jesus, foreshadowing the potential sacrifice of life the narrator's son could be forced to make, as well as reminding us of the soldier's youth, vulnerability and innocence.
intoxicated
Another polysemous choice: in this case an adjective. Weir's speaker identified that her son is metaphorically "intoxicated" ('drunk') by his new freedom, but there is also the sinsiter sense of poison and death burried in the head-word "toxic"
a single dove flew from the pear tree
Weir appears to be using "dove", here, in its symbolic function: a bird of peace (but flow away - there will be no peace), but also a bird of mourning, again creating that ominous sense of the soldier's impending (or confirmed) death.
I traced / the inscriptions of the war memorial
Like the plural noun "graves" at the beginning of the poem, Weir gives us another plural noun through "inscriptions", reiterating a sense of the scale of lose and the lost human connections they represent though the verb "traced" (a poor copy of a real touch).
I listened, hoping to hear / your playground voice catching on the wind.
Weir uses her final sentence to evoke intense feelings of loss and pity as her speaker desperately wishes to hear her son's voice again but (if any of the implications of her foreshadowing are taken as fact of his death) never will.
Level 11