'The Sniper' - Approaching Unseen Poetry

In this recording we tackle a First World War poem that neither of us had read before, entitled ‘The Sniper’. In doing so, we hope to model ways of tackling unseen poetry. Towards the end of the recording, we then make some tentative links to some of the ‘Conflict’ poems in the OCR anthology. You can download a copy of the poem to study and annotate here.

The Sniper

Two hundred yards away he saw his head;

He raised his rifle, took quick aim and shot him.

Two hundred yards away the man dropped dead;

With bright exulting eye he turned and said,

“By Jove, I got him!” 5

And he was jubilant; had he not won

The meed of praise his comrades haste to pay?

He smiled; he could not see what he had done;

The dead man lay two hundred yards away.

He could not see the dead, reproachful eyes, 10

The youthful face which Death had not defiled

But had transfigured when he claimed his prize.

Had he not seen this perhaps he had not smiled.

He could not see the woman as she wept

To hear the news two hundred miles away, 15

Or though his every dream she would have crept.

And into all his thoughts by night and day.

Two hundred yards away, and bending o’er

A body in a trench, rough men proclaim

Sadly, that Fritz, the merry, is no more. 20

(Or shall we call him Jack? It’s all the same.)

W.D. Cocker (1882-1970)

'A Broken Appointment' by Hardy and 'The Breather' by Collins  - exemplar

A Broken Appointment by Thomas Hardy and The Breather by Billy Collins 

Compare how the speakers in these poems express feelings of being let down in love. You should consider: 

• ideas and attitudes in each poem 

• tone and atmosphere in each poem 

• the effects of the language and structure used. 

[20] 

‘A Broken Appointment’ (ABA) and ‘The Breather’ (TB) both demonstrate that with love comes rejection and that this rejection can cause loneliness as well as feelings of confusion, fear and anger. Hardy’s poem ‘ABA’ explores rejection through an organised meeting which his lover did not attend; the speaker’s disappointment and frustration is present throughout the poem. Similarly, the speaker in Collins’ ‘TB’ explores unrequited love, yet, the reflective and melancholy tone suggests a realisation that perhaps this ‘love’ never existed and was in fact ‘taking place only inside me’. 

From the very beginning, Hardy explores an immediate sense of rejection: ‘you did not come’. This direct, opening line demonstrates the inevitable which is hinted at in the title: ‘A Broken Appointment’. This line is repeated at the end of stanza 1, creating a cyclical form (meta poetry), suggesting that nothing has changed and emphasising the fact his lover did not appear. He feels ‘numb’: the use of this adjective creates an image of a cold, lifeless man, suggesting an uncertainty of how to respond, yet ‘grieved I’ demonstrates that he mourned this rejection, demonstrating his sorrow and disappointment. Collins also creates feelings of rejection with the speaker beginning with the discovery that ‘the phone calls are coming from inside the house’. This creates a sudden, scary revelation that the issue lies a lot closer to the heart, and the house, normally a safe haven, becomes dangerous. This reveals the personal nature of his feeling of hurt when he realises that the feelings of ‘sweetness, the love and desire’ have ‘been taking place only inside [him]’, contrary to what he has been thinking ‘all this time’. The realisation that he has been in a one-sided relationship ‘all this time’ reveals a sense of hurt, rejection and betrayal, something so scary that it can be likened to ‘horror movies’. 

Hardy’s poem is full of animosity and anger towards his lover: ‘love alone can lend you loyalty – I know and knew it’. Here the speaker highlights that he is more disappointed with the lack of compassion and warmth offered, ‘of human deeds divine’, suggesting the right and decent thing to do would have been to meet and end things, rather than not show up at all. The speaker’s tone is bitter and reflected in the repeated opening and ending line of stanza 2: ‘you love not me’. This stark, monosyllabic line demonstrates the speaker’s direct reflection, yet the repetition highlights how this is still raw and perhaps something in which the speaker will need to accept. In comparison, Collins’ speaker has a much more sombre and melancholy tone, suggesting the speaker is reflecting and anticipating that ‘its been only me’. His previous tricolon: ‘that sweetness, the love and desire’ has ended with the conclusion that the speaker was in fact ‘dialling myself’ and that his thoughts and hopes for what he thought was love are delusional and never really existed. The enjambment in both poems also helps to demonstrate a realisation of both speakers that their love is in fact no more. 

Both poems reveal a sense of distance between the speaker and the lover. In ‘AB’ the symbol of a telephone is used. The symbol of a telephone, a device used to contact people who are a distant away, runs through the poem – it begins with the discovery about “the phone calls”, and ends with the fact that “it’s been only (him) and the two telephones”. This symbol that is used throughout not only symbolises the distance between the speaker and the lover, it also highlights their inability to 

connect and communicate, and there is “sometimes a little breathing / but more often than not, nothing”. This lack of communication symbolised by the telephone also highlights the distance. This distance and detachment is also seen in ‘ABA’, where the speaker reflects on how the relationship used to be: ‘once you, a woman, came to soothe a time-torn man’. This suggests how things have changed between the speaker and his lover. The use of the verb ‘soothe’ implies that his lover would once comfort him, demonstrating a distant and past affection which no longer exists: ‘you love not me’.

Love & Relationships (Long Distance II / Mum)

Below you'll find another unseen comparison task, using the 'Love and Relationships' anthology. If you'd like to have a Word document version of this task you can download it here.

Love and Relationships - Long Distance II (Harrison) / Mum (Cochrane)

Read the two poems below and then answer both part a) and part b).

You are advised to spend about 45 minutes on part a) and 30 minutes on part b).

 

a) Compare how these two poems explore grief.

You should consider:

• ideas and attitudes in each poem

• tone and atmosphere in each poem

• the effects of the language and structure used. [20]

AND b) Explore in detail another poem from your anthology about loss. [20]

 

Long Distance II

Though my mother was already two years dead

Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,

put hot water bottles her side of the bed

and still went to renew her transport pass.

 

You couldn’t just drop in. You had to phone.

He’d put you off an hour to give him time

to clear away her things and look alone

as though his still raw love were such a crime.

 

He couldn’t risk my blight of disbelief

though sure that very soon he’d hear her key

scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.

He knew she’d just popped out to get the tea.

 

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.

You haven’t both gone shopping; just the same,

in my new black leather phone book there’s your name

and the disconnected number I still call.

 

Tony Harrison

 

Mum

We sat together in silence.

The lost look in your eyes.

Once they were like eternal stars.

 

You were full of joy and love.

But now is pain and loneliness,

Lost in your own world.

 

You cry out Mum.

But she has been gone some

Twenty years.

 

You cry out Mum.

I pray for the kiss of death to come.

My love.

 

Arthur Cochrane

Love & Relationships Poetry - Revision Pack

This link will take you to a downloadable Poetry revision pack. Here are some suggestions for how you can use it to support your revision:

· Identify your “worst case scenario” poem for (a), and start there! 

· Timed plan (10/15 minutes)- plan a response, annotating (a), planning topic sentences making comparative points; for (b), choosing your poem and jotting down key quotations and analysis points. You might want to start with your poems and notes as a guide, then challenge yourself to try “closed book” 

· Full timed response (45 minutes “a”, 30 minutes “b”) Again, you could begin “open book” then challenge to “closed book”, or try “closed book” first to identify the gaps in your knowledge 

· Super challenge: mix and match- try comparing a set poem to one of the other unseen poems here 

· Super challenge: write your own “b” questions for yourself or a study partner

Exemplar 'I Wouldn't Thank You for a Valentine' & 'Valentine'

You can download a copy of this document here

Read the two poems below and then answer both part a) and part b). You are advised to spend about 45 minutes on part a) and 30 minutes on part b). 

a) Compare how the speakers in these poems express feelings about romance. 

You should consider: 

• ideas and attitudes in each poem

• tone and atmosphere in each poem

• the effects of the language and structure used. [20] 

AND b) Explore in detail a poem from your anthology which explores passionate feelings. [20]

I Wouldn’t Thank You for a Valentine

I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine. 

I won't wake up early wondering if the postman’s been. 

Should 10 red-padded satin hearts arrive with sticky sickly saccharine 

Sentiments in very vulgar verses I wouldn’t wonder if you meant them. 

Two dozen anonymous Interflora red roses? 

I’d not bother to swither over who sent them! 

I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine. 

 

Scrawl SWALK across the envelope 

I’d just say ‘Same Auld story 

I canny be bothered deciphering it – 

I’m up to hear with Amore! 

The whole Valentine’s Day Thing is trivial and commercial, 

A cue for unleashing clichés and candyheart motifs to 

which I personally am not partial.’ 

Take more than singing Telegrams, or pints of Chanel Five, or sweets, 

To get me ordering oysters or ironing my black satin sheets. 

I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine. 

 

If you sent me a solitaire and promises solemn, 

Took out an ad in the Guardian Personal Column 

Saying something very soppy such as ‘Who Loves Ya, Poo? 

I’ll tell you, I do, Fozzy bear, that’s who!’ 

You’d entirely fail to charm me, in fact I’d detest it 

I wouldn’t be eighteen again for anything, I’m glad I’m past it. 

I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine. 

 

If you sent me a single orchid, or a pair of Janet Reger’s 

in a heart-shaped box and declared your Love Eternal 

I’d say I’d rather not be caught dead in them they were 

politically suspect and I’d rather something thermal. 

If you hired a plane and blazed our love in a banner across the skies; 

If you bought me something flimsy in a flatteringly wrong size; 

If you sent me a postcard with three Xs and told me how you felt 

I wouldn’t thank you, I’d melt. 

Liz Lochhead

 

Valentine 

Not a red rose or a satin heart. 

 

I give you an onion. 

It is a moon wrapped in brown paper. 

It promises light 

like the careful undressing of love. 

 

Here. 

It will blind you with tears 

like a lover. 

It will make your reflection 

a wobbling photo of grief. 

 

I am trying to be truthful. 

 

Not a cute card or a kissogram. 

 

I give you an onion. 

Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips, 

possessive and faithful 

as we are, 

for as long as we are. 

 

Take it. 

Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring, 

if you like. 

Lethal. 

Its scent will cling to your fingers, 

cling to your knife. 

Carol Ann Duffy

 

Sample answers… 

 

AO1- knowledge and understanding 

AO2- analysis 

AO3- comparison and context 

 

a) Compare how the speakers in these poems express feelings about romance. 

You should consider: 

• ideas and attitudes in each poem

• tone and atmosphere in each poem

• the effects of the language and structure used. [20] 

 

The question of what is authentically “romantic” is at the heart of both of these poems. While Lochhead’s poem takes a humourous swipe at the commercialism of Valentine’s Day and ends on a note of genuine feeling, Duffy’s is a more serious consideration of what a genuine love token should be. 

Both poets open with what appears to be a rejection of romance; Lochhead opens with the negative “I wouldn’t thank you”, a refrain running through the poem to emphasise her derision for modern Valentine’s culture, and Duffy opens even more emphatically on the negative “Not a red rose or a satin heart”; similar commercial tokens of love are rejected by Lochhead, “red-padded satin hearts.” In both pieces there is a sense of frustration with the way love has been reduced to cheap tokens that cannot adequately express what love is: Duffy uses the adjective “cute” to describe Valentine’s gifts which is surely meant to be read perjoratively, while most of Lochhead’s poem is devoted to her listing all of the empty gestures she does not want to celebrate her love; they are “clichés” and soppy.” This is most emphatic in her sibilant phrasing of “sticky sickly saccharine/Sentiments”; the stacking of the adjectives related to sweetness create an overwhelming, nauseating effect, an attitude towards this “soppy” version of love which would be shared by the voice of Duffy’s poem. 

Instead, both writers demand an authentic romance. Duffy expresses this through a Valentine’s gift of an onion, which becomes an extended metaphor for love in “Valentine.” It is “truthful” and “fierce,”, “possessive” and even “lethal”; this couldn’t be further from the sugary sentiments of the “kissogram” or the “satin heart.” The final word of the poem is “knife”, creating an unsettling effect and even a shadow of violence in the poem. As such, Duffy’s “truthful” love acknowledges darkness in this relationship as well as the depth and layers implied by the choice of onion as a metaphor. In contrast, Lochhead’s poem is lighter in tone; there is comedy in her lampooning of more conventional romantics who call each other “Poo” and “Fozzy Bear”. Rather than the “fierce” love of Duffy’s voice, Lochhead asks for a more simple love which is freely given, “If you sent me a postcard with three Xs and told me how you felt….I’d melt.” Indeed, Lochhead’s speaker declares “I wouldn’t be eighteen again for anything” suggesting she would also be wary of the kind of “possessive” and “cling [ing]” passion expressed in Duffy’s poem. Like Duffy, she rejects the idea of “clichés” but in favour of something warm and honest; the use of the adjective “thermal” is comically applied to the type of underwear she’d like to receive but can also be read as a metaphor for the kind of relationship she seeks. Like Duffy’s poem Lochhead’s has an impactful ending, but rather than unsettling the reader the final couplet changes our understanding of what has seemed 

to be a light hearted rejection of romance into something much sweeter; we realise that the voice is not rejecting love at all, but in fact seeks something genuine and heartfelt. 

 

b) Explore in detail a poem from your anthology which explores passionate feelings. [20] 

 

Robert Browning’s “Now” is a sonnet in which the speaker passionately requests a kiss from his lover. The first person, present tense form and the direct address to the lover, “you love me!” creates immediacy and intimacy in the poem, intensifying the passionate feelings described. 

Throughout the poem Browning explores the idea of one perfect moment of passion in this kiss. It is “but a moment”, the latter word being repeated a further three times in the poem, perhaps to emphasise that despite its fleeting nature this “moment” will become a beautiful memory that can be revisited. The power of the moment of passion is such that Browning claims it will overcome time itself, “make perfect the present” (there is a pun on the grammatical meaning on “perfect” here) and create the oxymoronic “moment eternal.” So intense will this kiss be, creating “ecstacy”, that although it may be fleeting “the tick of our life-time’s one moment”, it will render “time future, time past” meaningless. 

The lust that the speaker feels, yearning to embrace his lover, is expressed through careful structuring in the poem. The opening line establishes the voice’s passion with the intensifying exclamation mark and the use of the adjectives “whole life” and “but a moment” which emphasises the power of the kiss in the lovers’ lifetimes. The kiss itself is delayed until the final phrase of the poem, “lips meet”, again made more intense by the use of an exclamation mark. The change in rhyme pattern as the kiss approaches, with two perfect rhymes used (sweet/meet; more/core) strengthens the idea of a perfect kiss, two things coming together in harmony. 

The preceding clauses, all delaying the kiss, are full of passionate language. The phrase “ a rapture of rage” powerfully expresses stormy passion, creating a sense of being seized (“rapture”) by strong feelings; the noun “rage” here does not mean anger but rather the intensity of something like a raging storm. The sigh communicated in “Ah, Sweet-” captures the passionate yearning for the perfect moment of the kiss. As the end of the poem approaches the language becomes more intense; the line “When ecstacy’s utmost we clutch at the core” creates a sense of superlative feeling as the choice of the noun “ecstacy” suggests ultimate joy, while “clutch” matches “rapture” in its sense of almost desperate holding of something desired. When used along with “core” the line becomes almost metaphysical; this is a physical lust, yes (“cheeks…arms…eyes…lips”) but the use of “core” suggests a touching of souls too.

Partition

The division of India and Pakistan, in August 1947, led to the largest mass migration in human history and the tragic deaths of more than 200,000 citizens. This poem by Sujata Bhatt is a narrative text in which her mother is presented, reflecting on the impact of those events on her family.

Lament

This poem, by Gillian Clarke, is full of powerful imagery. On the one hand, the 'lament' (or declaration of loss) is for the damage done to the natural world as a consequence of war. On the other, it is an expression of grief for the human cost of such conflict too.