Teaching Poetry: Reading and Responding to Poetry in the Secondary Classroom

By Amanda Naylor; Audrey B. Wood | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
The poetry of conflict

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers:
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;

(William Shakespeare, Henry V: Act 4, Scene 3, ll.60–3)

In this chapter we explore the changing nature of poetry in the face of war and how we might use this poetry with our pupils. ‘The Sentry’ by Wilfred Owen is used as a focus for approaches to a First World War poem with KS4. ‘Vergissmeinnicht’ by Keith Douglas is used with KS3 as a poem from the Second World War and the women’s voice is considered through Vera Brittain’s ‘Perhaps’ at KS5. The case study considers the experience of modern warfare, with an active approach to the study of poetry from the conflict in Afghanistan through ‘The Last Patrol’ by SSgt Colin Clark with KS4.


Introduction: teaching the poetry of conflict

Ever since ancient times poets have written about conflict; there is therefore much to choose from depending on what we as teachers want pupils to gain from the study. In the lower years, poetry lessons will often focus on the narrative form, the language of description and basic poetic techniques such as rhyme and rhythm. The Anglo-Saxon heroic epic Beowulf, dated between the eighth and the early eleventh century ad, is a lasting favourite, and can be made accessible by studying short extracts in translation alongside an illustrated prose publication, such as that by Michael Morpurgo, or Kevin Crossley-Holland’s version illustrated by Charles Keeping. Younger pupils enjoy the story of battles and monsters, and particularly enjoy creating their own kennings.

The character of the knight came to the fore in poetry after William the Conqueror landed with his cavalry, and the early chansons de geste, narrative poems of heroic deeds composed in Old French, related real historical events such as experiences in the Crusades.

James Anderson Winn argues that primary sources from the Middle Ages reveal knights to be brutal, ruthless and violent, and that the values later associated with chivalry, such as courtesy, Christian piety, fairness to defeated enemies, chaste adoration of ladies and appreciation for poetry, owe very little to historic fact. He maintains they are a poetic construct derived from the poetry that followed the chansons de geste: the lyric songs of the troubadours, the chivalric romances recounting the legends connected with King Arthur and the elaborate chivalric epics of the Renaissance (Winn 2008: 109).

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Teaching Poetry: Reading and Responding to Poetry in the Secondary Classroom
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Teaching Poetry i
  • Title Page ii
  • Contents iv
  • Acknowledgments v
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter 1 - Why Poetry? 1
  • Chapter 2 - Critical Perspectives on Teaching Poetry 11
  • Chapter 3 - Aspects of Form 23
  • Chapter 4 - Words and Imagery 36
  • Chapter 5 - Voice in Poetry 51
  • Chapter 6 - Settings as Mirrors 65
  • Chapter 7 - Constructions of Character through Time 83
  • Chapter 8 - Narrative in Poetry 102
  • Chapter 9 - The Poetry of Conflict 117
  • Chapter 10 - Multi-Modality and New Technologies 135
  • Appendix - The Haward Version of ‘To His Coy Mistress’ 143
  • References 144
  • Index 150
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