'Poppies' - Key Quotations

"Three days before Armistice Sunday

and poppies had already been placed"

- STANZA 1 -

CONTEXT:

The opening lines of the poem, in which the speaker makes the symbolic reference to poppies.

THEMES:

Memory; Mourning

LANGUAGE:

Symbolism = the 'poppy' is massively symbolic, linking in this poem to memory, violence and death.

'Armistice Day' falls on the 11th November every year, on the anniversary of the armistice being signed between the Allies and Germany in 1918, bringing an end to World War One.

"I pinned one onto your lapel"

- STANZA 1 -

CONTEXT:

The speaker begins to recount her final encounter with her son.

THEMES:

Memory; Intimacy

LANGUAGE:

Pronouns = the use of "I" and "your" show the close relationship between the speaker and the person she is discussing, who we later discover to be her son.

"Sellotape bandaged around my hand,

I rounded up as many white cat hairs

as I could..."

- STANZA 2 -

CONTEXT:

The speaker continues to recall the moments before her son went off to war.

THEMES:

Memory; Maternal; Love; Violence

LANGUAGE:

Sellotape was often used in this way to collect hairs from clothes, working like a lint roller.

In describing this, the speaker highlights the loving, motherly acts she continued to carry out, despite the fact her son was an adult and preparing to go to war.

"bandaged" is a term that implies injury or harm, which could foreshadow what is to come for both the son (physically) and the mother (emotionally).

"...play at

being Eskimos like we did when

you were little."

- STANZA 2 -

CONTEXT:

The speaker continues to recall the moments before her son went off to war.

THEMES:

Memory; Innocence; Childhood

LANGUAGE:

Anecdote = the speaker refers to a time when her son was a child, back when he was innocent and protected entirely by her. This contrasts with the reality in which her son was not only an adult, but also a soldier.

"...All my words

flattened, rolled, turned into felt,

 

slowly melting..."

- STANZA 2 into 3 -

CONTEXT:

The end of stanza two and the beginning of stanza three.

THEMES:

Memory; Love; Pride

LANGUAGE/STRUCTURE:

Rule of three = at the end of stanza three, the speaker describes three things that happen to her words. This implies that she is so overwhelmed with emotion, of pride, of love, of fear, that she is choking back tears - the words won't form.

This leads to the stanza break which represents a moment where the speaker can compose herself before continuing.

"...the world overflowing

like a treasure chest..."

- STANZA 3-

CONTEXT:

The speaker, for a moment, looks at the situation from her son's perspective.

THEMES:

Memory; Ambition; Youth; Maturity

LANGUAGE:

Simile = "overflowing like a treasure chest" implies that the world looks incredibly attractive and appealing to the speaker's son. He is now an adult, and the world awaits him.

"After you'd gone I went into you bedroom,

released a song bird from its cage."

- STANZA 3 -

CONTEXT:

The speaker describes what happened in the moments after her son left for war.

THEMES:

Memory; Release

LANGUAGE:

Metaphor = the "song bird" is her son, and so this suggests she is finally releasing him from her motherly protection into the world. The fact that she releases it herself implies that she is ready to accept that she can't always be there to protect him anymore.

"...my stomach busy

making tucks, darts, pleats, hat-less, without

a winter coat or reinforcements of scarf, gloves."

- STANZA 3 -

CONTEXT:

The final lines of stanza three, in which the speaker describes being at the graveyard where her son is presumably buried.

THEMES:

Memory; Grief

LANGUAGE:

Lists = the speaker lists a number of things here, as if she is trying to keep her mind busy so as to not have to face the grief of losing her son. She focuses on the physical - her stomach and how cold it is - rather than what is happening in her mind.

"...I listened, hoping to hear

your playground voice catching on the wind."

- STANZA 4 -

CONTEXT:

The final two lines of the poem.

THEMES:

Memory; Grief; Childhood; Death

LANGUAGE:

Powerful verb = "hoping" shows that the speaker has not yet accepted the death of her son. She hopes that it isn't true, and that she will be able to see him again.

Noun phrase = "playground voice" is another reference to when her son was a child, back in a time when she could protect him and make sure he was safe, something she gave up, as all parents must, when he went off into the world.