In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations'
Only a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.
Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.
Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by:
War's annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
Thomas Hardy's memorable poem was chosen for Poems for Refugees by the actor Douglas Hodge. "In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations"' places the events of the First World War in the context of ordinary people going about their lives; its bold perspective gives everyday life a universal, mythical status.
Placing the ordinary and the personal alongside a public or historic event can be a powerful device in a poem. Ask pupils to choose a day in which something important happened; it could be September 11 but it could also be a sporting event or a family occasion. Get pupils to simply list what happened to them on that day. Their poem could refer directly to their chosen event, or the event could be named in the title and not mentioned in the poem. This is one way in which young writers can write "about" a potentially difficult subject, and possibly record the shock of it, without having to try to come to any conclusions.
Next week I'll be looking at "Revenge" by Luis Enrique Mej!a Godoy.
Cliff Yates is deputy head of Maharishi School, Lancashire. He is the author of Jumpstart Poetry in the Secondary School (Poetry Society) Under a special offer from publisher Vintage and The TES, for every copy of Poems for Refugees (pound;6.99 including pamp;p) you buy through our special phone line, 0970 191 9932, pound;1.20 per copy will go to the TES-UNICEF appeal and pound;1.20 will go to War Child's work in Afghanistan. By contrast, only pound;1.20 will go to charity from copies sold in bookshops.For the next three weeks we will be publishing a poem a week from the book plus teaching tips in TES Teacher, and teachers and pupils will also be able to hear an audio recording of the poem by the writer or a celebrity on our campaign web pages www.tes.co.ukafghanistan