'POWER & CONFLICT' Poetry - Poem Summaries

'Kamikaze' - Beatrice Garland

A Japanese pilot gets in his plane, ready to kamikaze himself (this means fly his plane into an enemy target, killing himself and many others). On his way to the battle, he sees the boats on the lake below and remembers his own childhood. This creates doubt and he ultimately decides to return home. As a result of his decision not to go through with his mission, he is shunned by his family and friends for bringing dishonour upon them.

'Checking Out Me History' - John Agard

The speaker discusses how little they know about their own culture. They talk about the British history that they are taught whilst also seeming dismayed at the fact they learn nothing about their own cultural history or identity.

'The Émigree' - Carol Rumens

The speaker remembers their home country, a place we assume is consumed by war and oppression. They tell us about the positive memories they have of this place, and how no bad news they hear about it would ever change their opinion of it. They are desperate to return there, but it is impossible.

'Charge of the Light Brigade' - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

This poem recounts a massive military mistake that took place during the Crimean War in 1854. The Light Brigade, made up of about six hundred soldiers, received incorrect information regarding the location of Russian weapons. The brigade descended, but they were easy targets for the well-armed Russians, and hundreds of British soldiers were killed.

'Bayonet Charge' by Ted Hughes

A soldier is in the middle of a battle. The poem follows this soldier's thoughts and feelings as he takes part in a charge at the enemy, including when he begins to question his role in the war and the control that he has over his own destiny. Ultimately, the soldier continues to fight on and we are left to assume that he becomes yet another fatality of war.

'Ozymandias' by Percy Shelly

The speaker discusses an encounter they had with a traveller. The traveller tells a tale of a broken, neglected statue they discovered. This statue was of the great Ozymandias, a powerful ruler with a huge ego. The poem explores how these self-described 'mighty' rulers expect to be remembered forever, and how this is absolutely not the case in reality.

'London' by William Blake

The speaker describes walking through London during a dark period in English history. Diseases and poverty were rife, child labour was part of normal, everyday life, women didn't have any rights, and factories were appearing everywhere due to the Industrial Revolution, bringing about their own issues, such as pollution. The poem discusses the corruption and the negativity that existed during this period.

'The Prelude' by William Wordsworth

This poem explores the relationship between humanity and nature. The speaker recalls a time he went on a boat down a river, and he describes in detail his feelings towards all the nature around him. These feelings move from being passionate and lustful, to fear and intimidation.

'My Last Duchess' by Robert Browning

The speaker is a Duke who talks about a painting of his deceased wife, the Duchess. In discussing the painting, the Duke's personality is revealed, showing that he is more interested in wealth and reputation than he is about his wife, who seemingly wasn't very happy when she was alive. He also reveals quite a controlling and jealous nature.

'Exposure' by Wilfred Owen

This poem explores the impact nature had on the soldiers on the front lines. The harsh, freezing conditions massively affected the soldiers, both physically and mentally. Many soldiers died as a result of these conditions, or through a combination of these with injuries sustained in combat.  

'Storm on the Island' by Seamus Heaney

The speaker in this poem offers a different perspective on the more intimidating and scary aspects on nature. He explores the conflict between nature and humanity, and how the fears that come from this are quite small when considering the bigger picture.

'Remains' by Simon Armitage

A soldier recounts an event in which he and a group of other soldiers killed a looter. As the poem develops, it becomes clear that this incident had a major impact on the speaker, and he shows signs of PTSD. This poem explores the consequences of traumatic experiences and how, for soldiers, it leads to questions of their own morality/humanity.

'Poppies' by Jane Weir

A mother recalls the final interaction she had with her son before he went off to war, where he was killed. The poem explores a mother's relationship with her child, and the difficulties that arise as their child gets older and more independent. Along with this, it deals with the loss of a child, and the impact that this has.

'War Photographer' by Carol Ann Duffy

A war photographer goes through the process of developing his photographs. We witness this intimate process, and the impact that these photographs have on the photographer. It becomes clear that he suffers from a form of PTSD, and the memories of what he has experienced are ever-present in his work.

'Tissue' by Imtiaz Dharker

This poem explores how paper can have many different uses in life, and how these uses can impact on our perspective and how we feel. Tissue paper becomes an extended metaphor for life itself, and the speaker discusses its delicacy and its fragility, whilst also exploring how incredible things can be created with it.