Jack ‘No one can make me like poetry’ B was given a homework task this week where he had to look in detail at Wilfred Owen’s Dulce Et Decorum Est. Poor kid.
His English teacher had given him an excellent handout, itemising all the things he should cover verse by verse. Still, it was going to be a long evening.
He already had an introduction so we piled into verse 2 and looked at all the verbs ‘fumbling’, ‘stumbling’, ‘yelling’, ‘flound’ring’, and talked about what they all had in common. Jack noticed that they were all in the present tense and we continued to talk about why Owen might have added ‘ing’ each time. If you want to, you can comment with your ideas below!
I remember doing these poems in 1977 for O Level. What I didn’t have which Jack does, is a proper understanding of how grammar works. Jack and I were able to talk about verbs, suffixes, tenses, and then metaphorical effects, in a way that I couldn’t when I was his age because a Comprehensive education in those days only seemed to cover grammar when you chanted “je suis, tu a, il a, elle a” in French. I can’t bear to hear people talking about Standards and Results when I teach kids who have a really good understanding of the topic and work really hard to achieve when arguably the pressure is greater than it has ever been.
We got there in the end with a couple of well reasoned paragraphs and some insight but Jack was no less reluctant to study poetry. In that sense nothing has changed between me 35 years ago and him last Thursday! I’ll have another go next week.