2 January 2008
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This classic poem by W H Auden is in the form of an elegy, exploring the idea of time cut short by death through powerful imagery and metaphor
This classic poem by W H Auden not only begins with a reference to time (Stop all the clocks…), but it also explores the idea of time cut short by death and the vain hope that loved ones could live for ever. The poem is in the form of an elegy (song of lament) and features metaphor (aeroplanes moan) and powerful imagery. The poem was famously recited in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Children should be able to: understand the term classic; identify that this poem is not written by a contemporary author; recognise, describe and replicate the simple AA BB rhyming structure.
Key learning outcomes:
- To explore how writers use language for dramatic effect;
- To infer author’s perspectives;
- To reflect on writing, edit/improve it;
- To recognise/use figurative language;
- To prepare poetry for performance;
- To group/classify words according to spelling patterns.
Shared learning and teaching
- List different types/styles of poetry. Talk about preferences.
- Explain that the poem is an elegy – a song of lament, sorrow or mourning after death – written by the poet after the death of a person he had loved very much.
- Taking into consideration the sensitivities of the class, ask the children to think how a person might feel, or what they might do, if someone close to them died.
Sharing the text
- Scan the text for clues that indicate it is a poem (layout: four-line verses, capital letters at the beginning of each line, poet’s name at the end).
- Read the poem to the class, encouraging them to follow the text.
- Gather responses. Encourage the children to support their reactions with quotes from the text. How does the poet express his feelings? How does it make them feel?
- Highlight the strong rhythm and AA BB rhyme structure. Point out the repeated use of ‘My’ in verse 3.
- Point out the poetic techniques used: the figurative language to recreate visual images, including the metaphor of the deceased being points of a compass; the imagery; the use of synonyms for disposing of the stars, moon and sun, ocean and woods (‘pack up’, ‘dismantle’, ‘pour away’, ‘sweep up’).
- Look out for all the references to sound – eg, clocks, telephone, drum; moaning aeroplane.
- Discuss the despair the poet feels as expressed in the final line.
- Identify any elements that suggest this is not a contemporary poem (crêpe bows; traffic policemen in black cotton gloves).
Group and independent activities
- Invite a group to prepare to read the poem to the class, sharing the lines and verses out between them for best effect.
- Scan the text and list phrases particularly associated with the senses – sight, hearing and even taste (aeroplanes scribbling on the sky, ‘muffled drum’, ‘juicy bone’).
- Find and name the different punctuation marks used to clarify meaning in the poem.
- Explain how the punctuation indicates how the poem should be read. Re-read the poem aloud with this in mind.
- Use the activity sheet to explore phonemes and their different graphemes.
Ideas for writing
- Ask a group to plan and write a letter of condolence to the poet, acknowledging and empathising with his loss but trying to help him find positive images to focus on that might help him overcome his despair. Use a response partner to edit and redraft the letter.
- Draft a contrasting poem to express the joy and delight of a parent at the birth of a new baby, based on the structure of Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’. Think about figurative language, including metaphors, synonyms and imagery. What sounds might the new parent want to hear? What images might they want to see? Encourage re-drafting.
- Ask the class to respond to the group performance of the poem.
- Share some of the drafts of joyful poems and encourage the audience to give positive ideas and comments to the authors.
- Let the children share the poems they chose for the activity sheet activity. Invite the children to add other rhyming words to the lists.