Poppies: Themes


Memories:

The theme of memories is depicted throughout the poem through the use of complex past tense, which highlights the mother is looking at memories of her son in retrospect and reflecting in contrast to her current situation.

This creates the conflict of emotion in our speaker, because of the socially-engrained idea that volunteering for combat is an admirable, brave act of self-lessness.  This heavily contrasts with the grief the speaker is experiencing.

There are many references to when the speaker’s son was a very young boy. “like we did when you were little” as well as “hoping to hear your playground voice” highlight the mother’s comfort in returning to those memories. This contrasts heavily with the use of metaphors such as “spasm of paper red” which could literally refer to the bodily spasms of a shot-down soldier. The mother’s memories seem very delicate, suggesting some form of naivety, as though it may be naïve to hope her child is still alive.

There are also many references to the clothing of the soldier son “blazer”, “lapel”, “felt” are all within the semantic field of fabric, which depicts the author’s secondary form of interest, as Weir is a designer. The use of the semantic field can also highlight the mother’s distraction, as the focus was drawn away from the son himself but more so the clothes he was wearing.

It might be a means of suggestion the speaker could not possibly bring herself to look her son in the eyes, knowing she may not see him again.

War:

Not distinguished explicitly in the poem, however the theme of war is an underlying cause for the distress in the poem, experienced by the speaker who is a mother who has had to witness her son going away to fight in a war.

There is also mention of Armistice Sunday, which represents the permanent ceasefire which ended the First World War. The fact that the day is mentioned depicts the mother’s worry about her son, and the fact that he may very likely not return from war.

The semantic field of military accoutrements such as “blockade”, “blazer” and “steeled” highlights the theme of war, where the deployment of the military would be necessary.

Loss:

Metaphors within the poem, such as “released a song bird from its cage” imply either the cry of a mother being released from her chest, or a metaphorical weight being lifted off the speaker’s shoulders. The latter however, would imply a positive ending, which we know isn’t the case from the simile of “leaned against it like a wishbone.”

Wishbones are inherently fragile, meaning the speaker is feeling emotionally fragile. This would indicate the possibility of a happy ending is rather unrealistic for the situation presented within the poem. The loss of a child would likely be grieved, which is presented in the poem with the use of enjambment- “slowly melting” may be inclined to highlight the idea that overtaken by her grief, the speaker notices all her days are slowly melting into one seamless blur.

The metaphor and semantic field of fabric “my stomach busy making tucks, darts, pleats” highlights the uncertainty of the mother whose son is yet to return from war. The clothing-related imagery can correlate to the idea that the mother could not focus on the face of her child as he was going away, therefore retaining the vast majority of her focus on the clothing he was wearing; alternatively, it can relate to the secondary profession of the author, design.