AQA GCSE ENGLISH LIT - Remains and Poppies Essay - Advice Please?Watch
Both Remains and Poppies are concerned with the power of memory. Remains was written by Simon Armitage, from his 2008 collection, The Not Dead, and the speaker is haunted and traumatized by the memory of the dead “looter” for the rest of his life. The voice in the poem appears to suffer from post-traumatic-stress-disorder and the effects of war, whereas in Poppies, a rites of passage poem about personal mourning and loss, from a collection of poetry called Exit Rooms, describes the mother’s emotional reaction and memory to her son leaving to war, or alternatively because he is dead. It is a different, female view of war and a mother’s experience of letting her son go but Remains is representative of a typical soldier’s experiences and memories post-war.
Both Remains and Poppies are written in free verse, but Poppies is written in both the past and present tense, whereas Remains is only written in the present tense. This makes it feel as if the events are still happening now and the speaker cannot put it into his past – this memory of the “body” is in his eternal present. In contrast, the mixture of past and present tense in Poppies makes it a more reflective memory than in Remains and how time has moved on, but the mother cannot. The title, ‘Poppies’, refers to a symbol of national and international mourning of World War One, whereas ‘Remains’ refers to the ‘remains’ of the “looter” that is “dead in some distant”, the “remains” of the memory that haunts the speaker, and the “remains” that are left of his own life now that he is riddled with guilt. Armitage’s use of the plosive on “dead in some distant” reflects how long he has been relentlessly suffering from this memory, and so the voice in Remains appears to suffer from PTSD, talking to a therapist or a psychologist to confess how he feels in this confessional monologue. Similarly, the “brave” mother in Poppies, an elegy, is in mourning because her son has left to war, comparing letting him go to metaphorically releasing “a song bird from its cage”. This symbolises the memory of her son leaving, and how she is struggling to move on and accept the changes, similar to in Remains where “end of story” reflects a lack of original thought and how these terms are worn out through repetition, highlighting the continual destruction and loss of life witnessed in warfare and the intrusive memories of the soldier. Therefore, in both poems the speaker is haunted by memories of war – in Remains the observer is haunted by the brutal death of the “looter”, but in Poppies by her son leaving to war and the danger that he could be in.
Both poems use an irregular structure, where in Poppies the four irregular stanzas represent the mother’s experience and change in her emotions, but in Remains to represent how soldiers have been affected by the war and conflict they have been immersed in through the disintegrated structure. In Armitage’s poem the uniformly, structured quatrains disintegrate into a rhyming couplet, “land” and “sand”- the verse has been cut short just like the looter’s life, and the final lines are separated to highlight the horrific sight of the dead “body”, and due to the soldier’s instability to get the image out of his head, emphasizing the horror undergone and how the soldier is helpless to relive the dreams as they cannot get away from it. In contrast, the irregular stanzas in Poppies with an irregular rhythm emphasizes control without rigidity, creating a sense of natural speech. The notion of the speakers in both poems speaking naturally is reinforced through the use of enjambment throughout them, creating a chaotic structure in Poppies. The use of enjambment, “turned into felt slowly melting” illustrates the cycle of children leaving home and how the mother’s composure briefly disappears, as shown by the “melting” of her words. This gives the impression that the narrator is absorbed in her own thoughts and memories, whereas in Remains, the enjambment, “I swear I see every round”, adds to the sense of the narrator telling his story of this naturally as the poem is conversational. Both poems also make use of caesura, conveyed by “steeled the softening of my face.” in Poppies. This reflects the mother’s attempt to stay in control and hold her emotions together, trying to stay “brave”, whereas in Remains the use of caesura, “and I swear”, lengthens the pause between the quatrains, as if he is trying to remember this memory in detail.
Both Armitage and Weir present the power of memory through war imagery. Armitage describes the memory of the “body” as “dug in behind enemy lines”. This metaphor compares the memory stuck in the speaker’s mind to a soldier in a trench, suggesting that this memory is embedded in the narrator’s mind, presenting him as being traumatized and conflicted as he sees himself as the enemy. In Poppies, however, Weir uses war imagery when she refers to the “sellotape bandaged” and the “spasms of paper red”. This makes the reader think of an injured and wounded body, conveying how the mother is emotionally wounded, and how her son may be wounded in war. In both poems the speaker remembers about the past, and in Remains the imagery is graphic and brutal in its depiction of the killing. The bullets “rip” through the man’s body, and he is “sort of inside out”, reflecting that he finds it difficult to describe the image of this “body”. The terms “tosses” and “carted off” portrays the indifference shown to the looter in Remains, and this use of colloquial language trivialises the man’s death, demonstrating the ordinary outlook of the soldier through informal and cliched terms like “legs it” and “end of story”, conveying how the silent auditor who confesses to what he did must have told this story to this psychiatrist many times. By contrast, in Weir’s poem the mother remembers what her son was like as a child through the use of terms associated with school, such as “blazer” and “upturned collar”, so she can get closer to him emotionally and physically. However, an alternative interpretation could be that Weir does this because the speaker could control and protect him as a child and “play at being Eskimos” when he was “little” but cannot protect the grown man.
Armitage’s and Weir’s poems both demonstrate the lack of freedom the speaker possesses through the use of language. In Poppies, there is a contrast between the loss the mother feels and the freedom and excitement her son experiences, which is also portrayed in Remains through the desensitized and emotionless speaker struggling to forget the horrific image of the “looter” and “body”. Weir’s use of a simile, “the world overflowing like a treasure chest”, conveys how the world the mother’s son is going to is exciting and full of treasures and new possibilities, which is why he leaves in “a split second”. This notion of excitement he feels is reflected by how he is “intoxicated” and almost drunk as he cannot wait for these new experiences, but the mother is “felt” behind rather than experiencing something new. The “song bird”, suggests how her son has a new life and experiences, symbolic of freedom, which is in complete contrast to “a single dove”, which is a symbol of mourning. This ideology of being stuck in the past is perpetuated in Remains, through Armitage’s use of assonance on “body” and “lorry”, amplifying the visceral imagery of the sloppy innards being casually thrown away – the indignity shown to the hapless criminal displays the objectification of the cadaver, disposed of like an unwanted item. The use of visceral imagery in Remains is also used in Poppies to represent the struggling nature of the mother, through the use of domestic, fabric terms like “tucks, darts, pleats”. This conveys her nervousness and feelings of anxiety, which becomes worse by the end of the poem as she “leaned against” “the war memorial”, reflecting how she is fragile and struggling to support herself, in the hope her son’s name will never appear on “the war memorial”, or alternatively because he is dead. Similarly, in Remains the use of “blood shadow”, implies darkness and death following the soldier. This forms an inescapable image, emphasizing the guilt he feels as the looter’s “bloody life” is in his “bloody hands”. Therefore, in both poems the speaker cannot forget the memory of the dead “looter” in Remains and her son leaving in Poppies, but also “hoping” that he is safe , illustrating the restraint of the people left behind when their loved ones go to war in Poppies, and the guilt they may feel afterwards as in Remains.
In both poems the speakers talk about their memories; in Remains visceral imagery is used to describe how every bullet “rips” through the “looter” and how his mate then “tosses his guts back into his body”. As a result of the visceral image, the reader can imagine the scenes and may feel uncomfortable. The fact that the reader can imagine what the speaker is experiencing portrays how visceral imagery is a powerful form of memory. On the other hand, in Poppies, the mother looks back on the time before her son went on to experience a new life at war. She looks back to when she would “graze” her “nose” and “smoothed down” his shirt. The references to touch portrays how close they were and how she could control him when he was a child, but she cannot anymore. Also, in both poems the speakers struggle to move on. In Remains, the speaker’s memories are “dug in behind enemy lines”. The term “dug” emphasizes how his memories of him are deep in his memory and how “the drink and the drugs won’t flush him out”, implying that he cannot cleanse the image of the “body” and “guts” out of his mind or get rid of him. The fact he is turning to “drugs” reflects his battle with his memory and that his memory is beating and overpowering him. Similarly, in Poppies the mother is both emotionally and physically affected, as her stomach is “making tucks, darts, pleats”. Weir integrates textile language with the speaker’s wellbeing to emphasize how the memories of her son overwhelm her, making her unwell.
In conclusion, both Remains, and Poppies are concerned in presenting the power of memory thoroughly in both poems. It is obvious to the reader that the speaker in both poems cannot forget about the memory that haunts them throughout the poem, and therefore, for the rest of their life, reflected by the use of enjambment in both of them to convey how they are helpless but to relive their respective memories. The continuation of “blink and he bursts again” in Remains presents the notion of the soldier trying to repress the memory, conveying the trauma felt by the soldier through the use of the plosive on the same line, but in Poppies Weir uses enjambment when she refers to her words as “turned into felt slowly melting”, suggesting the mother is emotionally breaking down from her son’s departure due to that memory. Thus, both poems demonstrate the suffering caused to the speaker by war – a soldier’s memory of it in Remains, but on those at home in Poppies.