Poetry Study #1 – Ballad, by W. H. Auden

At Latinetc last week I made a start on doing some poetry study with the older kids. I managed to forget my book, so grabbed one from Katy’s shelf and luckily it had one of my absolute favourite poems in it, which my mum used to read me when I was very young. An odd choice, actually, since it is quite a scary poem, but it was probably her favourite and being read it by her means that unlike many of the poems butchered by school poetry lessons, I do really love it.

Interestingly, in her book, it was called ‘Ballad’ whereas I have only ever known it is “Oh, What is that Sound?” which is the first line of the poem. Fran, Skye, Jand I talked a little about the word ballad, unpicked it from ‘lullaby’ and talked about what this word gave us expectations of. In general, they expected a gentle poem, perhaps about love. I think they might be influenced,some of them anyway!, by X-factor power ballads 😆

Once we’d discussed that, I read the poem too them; it was not what they expected and Fran and Skye looked quite shocked by it. We tried to place it in history, talking about when it was written and then what clues there were in the poem. Initially expecting it to be WW1 ear, they collected the clues on red coats, flashing weapons and drumming quickly and we talked about the pictures in their heads that gave them. This poem has always provoked a strong visual image in my mind and I was interested to see what it might do for them.

Looking at some of the web writing on the poem now is fascinating as the poem has always been read to me in two particular voices, the man and the woman – this snippet reverses them and I’m curious next week to get them to try reading it reversed to see what different meanings come out as it would put the woman’s voice in the more powerful, controlling situation. As it was, we discussed rhythm and beat, the repetition of words and the feelings the poem provoked. The three of them came up with some good stuff; the sense of threat, anxiety, fear and the sense of the soldiers coming closer and all the hope of each possible diversion being dashed as the soldiers came closer. We talked about the idea of love in the poem and the deception and betrayal. We discussed whether the soldiers were coming peacefully or in violence and how to find clues from the poem to support their theory.

I left them with the option to find out more about Auden and perhaps another of his poems or to do a piece of art inspired by Ballad if they wanted.

Plan for next time is to be organised to do an older group and younger group poem if they feel inclined. Initially I was just going to read poems for kids to dip in and out of but the older ones seemed to enjoy picking it apart so hopefully we’ll make time to do some of that. made me feel marginally more useful anyway 😆

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