In one of the most frequently memorised

In this essay I will
discuss two poems from the book ‘100 Best Poems for children’, by Roger McGough,
2002. Firstly I shall discuss the poem ‘Jabberwocky’ by Lewis Carroll (in
McGough, 2002, p20). We will then look at the poem ‘mid-term break’ by Seamus Heaney (in McGough, 2002,
p45). I will look closely at the two poems discussing firstly what they are
about and whether there was a particular reason why the poem was written and
who it was written by. I will then look at how the two poems are structured,
the rhyming scheme, the speaker, the tone, whether they include examples of
alliteration, similes, assonance, onomatopoeia, enjambment and many more. I will
then discuss whether I feel the poems should be included or excluded from a new
anthology for children.

Firstly
looking at the poem ‘Jabberwocky’ (McGough,
2001, p20) which was originally published in the 1871 book ‘Through the
Looking-Glass’, and ‘what Alice Found There’ by Lewis Carroll.
This was later followed by its well known companion piece, ‘Alice’s
Adventures in Wonderland’. ‘Jabberwocky’
is the basis for the hugely popular Disney movie ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Lewis Carroll created this fantasy world
through the use of clever sonic devices and ridiculous vocabulary. Jabberwocky
is a nonsense poem where the words are mostly chosen or made up for their sound, rather than their sense.

Ballad
stanza is traditionally found in folk ballad, and is used as a way for people
to communicate legends and stories to each other; because of this its rhythm
and rhyme make it easy to remember. Even though it has some rather bizarre made
up language, “Jabberwocky” is no exception to the memorable rhythm
and rhyme. “Jabberwocky” remains one of the most frequently memorised
poems in the English language. When looking closely at Ballad Stanza’s in this
poem, we see it is written solely in quatrains, four-line stanzas, that have a
regular ABAB, CDCD, EFEF rhyme scheme. The lines themselves are mostly written
in iambic tetrameter. That’s a
lot of syllables, so looking at the first lines with the accents we see “Twas brill-ig, and the sli-thy toves”(1) and “Did gyre and gim-ble
in the wabe”(2). There are four stressed syllables
in each line, and they alternate neatly with unstressed syllables, with the
unstressed syllable coming first. This is the iambic tetrameter. The iambic
bit refers to the unstressed-STRESSED, unstressed-STRESSED rhythm of it, and
the tetrameter part is to let you know that there are four iambs (or
four unstressed-STRESSED groupings) in each line. The only irregularity in the
rhythm itself is the fact that the last line of each stanza only has three stresses, making it iambic trimester, as we see in line 20 “and
went ga-lumph-ing back.”(20) This rhythm and
rhyme within the poem is interesting to children, it gains their attention.
Younger children may not understand the poem fully at first, but enjoy
listening to the poem purely because it rhymes!

Jabberwocky also uses onomatopoeia; this
refers to a word that sounds like what it means such as ‘wizz’ and ‘hiss’. An
example of this in Lewis Carroll’s poem is the word ‘slithy'(25).  This word is not only an example of onomatopoeia; it is also an example of
portmanteau. Portmanteau is a
word that’s made by squashing two words together, in this case lithe and slimy. So we have a word that not only sounds slimy, but is also graceful,
because of the inclusion of lithe
(which can mean graceful”). Both the sound and the word combined give this
new word force and depth of meaning. The words ‘snicker-snack'(18) are also an
example of Carroll’s use of onomatopoeia.

Assonance
which is the repetition of a Vowel sound in two or more stressed syllables that
do not end with the same consonant is also seen within the poem, such as
‘gimble’ and ‘mimsy’ (2,3). Consonance,
the repetition of significant Consonant sounds in a line of poetry is also used
by Lewis Carroll in Jabberwocky “Come
to my arms, my beamish boy!”(22).

The
speaker, our narrator does not give anything away as to who he is, but he takes
great pleasure in the suspense of storytelling, building us up and telling us
with great relish this story of mighty victory, before setting us gently down
where we started.

We
are in Wonderland for this poem. Our setting is nowhere real; this gives the
author complete control over what happens because he has completely made up the
setting. We begin in a strange wood; with make believe creatures and plants
whose physical forms are entirely to our imagination. We then move on to a
scene where a father is giving advice to his son. The hero then moves back out
into the woods, deeper and darker this time, and comes face-to-face with his
nemesis. After the battle, towards the end, we return to the domestic, in a
scene of celebration, and then finally we return to where we came from, with
the same strange pastoral that has been forever altered by the battle between
good and evil.

Jabberwocky is a poem well known by
children and adults. It is also read in schools. I would consider this poem to
be appropriate for a new children’s anthology. Although in first instance you
could read the poem Jabberwocky and
not understand very much of it at all, this same rather complicated poem of
nonsense also attracts a child’s attention for this very reason.  As Lesley Jefferies mentions “children
appreciate above all the musicality of formal poetry, knowing that they love to
make up nonsense songs and rhymes for themselves”. (Lesley Jefferies, 2009,
p218) This is very true. Children may not automatically follow the story that
is being told within the poem, they may focus on the rhythm and rhyme as well
as the made up nonsense words. The poem is also a very good make believe tale
when fully understood, children enjoy the make believe, and this poem certainly
includes that.
            The
poem Mid-Term Break was written by Seamus Heaney following the death
of his younger brother. It is a poem that grows in stature, finally ending in
an unforgettable single line image. Seamus Heaney himself is the narrator in
the poem, and it is about a sad event from his childhood. It depicts the reactions
of himself and everyone around him, to a death in the family. It does this
through the poem’s three parts, firstly the waiting at school, secondly the
emotion and behaviour of everyone at home, and finally his solitary viewing of
the body. This poem is slightly unsentimental at times but also full of emotion.
                                              The
first stanza introduces Seamus sitting alone at school, in the school “sick
bay”(1). Time is passing slowly as he is waiting. He counts “bells
knelling classes to a close”(2). Classes are still taking place at school,
this tells us it is not a school holiday. The boy is eventually collected by
his neighbours, which shows the reader that his parents are unable to pick up
their son, so it must be an important occasion. The next stanza starts with
Seamus arriving home, and in the porch seeing his father, who is crying. This
stanza tells us that we are witnessing a funeral. The tone of the poem is one
of sorrow, grief, hurt and distress. The boy’s father is crying and the mother
is so upset she is unable cry. Heaney does not specifically state his own
feelings, but it is clear that he is hurting and this is sensed by the reader
from the poems tone. The reader at this point still does not know who has died,
but we know that it is a family member, maybe a sibling . Atmosphere and
tension are building in the second stanza as we see the father being reduced to
tears. A tough man showing emotion which appears is something the speaker isn’t
used to. Heaney then softens the mood a little by introducing us to a baby in
the third stanza. Again, you can picture the speaker, the eldest son, trying to
take it all in as ‘sorry for your trouble’ repeatedly hits home. Heaney’s use
of “corpse” is clinical and a little cold, suggesting that the
speaker is perhaps too upset to mention his brother’s name.

Stanzas six and seven stand out. The
syntax alters in stanza six to meet the contrasting circumstances as the
speaker enters the room where the small body lies. Candles are mentioned which
can be associated with prayer. The use of the word soothed reflects the healing
qualities of the peaceful room where the body lies. There is the deceased child
“wearing a poppy bruise” (19), which tells us it’s perhaps not usually a
part of him, but more a temporary thing. Poppies are linked to peace and also
are a source for opiates which ease pain. He is metaphorically wearing the
poppy as a bruise. The punctuation and enjambment play a
particular role in slowing everything down, carrying us on to the next stanza
and that final devastating line. The last line is full of pathos, the four-foot
box measuring out the life of the victim in years. The full rhyming couplet
which seals up the poem, reminding us of how easy it is to die, in this case from
a single blow of a car bumper, but how challenging becomes the grieving process
that must inevitably follow.

There are two full end rhymes, at
the end, clear
and year, which closes proceedings. Assonance is used throughout,
helping to tie things together close/drove/home/blow/old,
o’clock/rocked/coughed/box/knocked, whilst alliteration occurs in the second,
twentieth and last lines, counting/classes/close and four-foot/a foot. The poem
has a very loose rhyming scheme and is present throughout most of the poem.
This creates the impression of storytelling. The last two lines are an
exception to this, as they form a rhyming couplet to make an impact: “no
gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear. (21) A four foot box, a foot for every year”. (22)
The poem has twenty two lines with an echo of traditional iambic pentameter in
each stanza, also the use of dashes, enjambment and other punctuation to slow
and pause proceedings, or to let them flow; and the syntax is worked in a
formal conversational fashion.

            As mentioned by Lesley Jefferies

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