Mametz Wood Analysis – A Poem by Owen Sheers Part II

February 8, 2018

Mametz Wood Analysis – A Poem by Owen Sheers Part II

Our analysis of Mametz Wood concludes

Following on from our text version and summary of the poem, here is our expert analysis.

Mametz Wood (the final resting place of nearly 4000 Welsh soldiers who gave their lives in service to the country)

For years afterwards the farmers found them – (the poet’s first introduction of the fact that these men are unknown, unnamed)

the wasted young, turning up under their plough blades (a somewhat cruel double meaning: these men themselves were wasted – turned into cannon fodder – as was their potential); (plays on the idiom of making an appearance, and the image of the men being discovered by the ‘blades’)

as they tended the land back into itself. (a gentle metaphor: this is how the poet sees the act of farming – returning the land to how it should be)

 

chit of bone, the china plate of a shoulder blade(early 17th century, from dialect: chit, ‘a shoot [or] sprout’); (both in this instance are just as fragile)

the relic of a finger, the blown (literal meaning – an object surviving from an earlier time, especially one of historical interest; metaphorical meaning – possibly all that is left of the man it belonged to)

and broken bird’s egg of a skull, (the alliteration of blown and broken emphasises the skull’s destruction, as if it had exploded, been dropped like an egg to earth)

 

all mimicked now in flintbreaking blue in white (recreated in stone); (an image of the sky?)

across this field where they were told to walk, not run, (takes us back to the battle in which these men lost their lives; ‘walk, not run’ hints subtly at the accusations of cowardice made later against these men)

towards the wood and its nesting machine guns. (a machine gun nest is a concealed post or protected emplacement in which one or more machine guns are set up); (‘nesting’ intrigues also as it suggests that these guns became part of the wood for a time – violence became its way of life)

 

And even now the earth stands sentinel, (guard – i.e., watchful and alert)

reaching back into itself for reminders of what happened (extends the metaphor of the earth as a guard; it offers up these bodies to remind itself and us of what took place)

like a wound working a foreign body to the surface of the skin. (a magnificent comparison/simile: the earth as body ridding itself of impurity)

 

This morning, twenty men buried in one long grave,

a broken mosaic of bone linked arm in arm, (a picture or pattern produced by arranging together small pieces of stone, tile, glass, etc.)

their skeletons paused mid dance-macabre (the way in which they rest reminds the poet of a dance; ‘macabre’ reminds us of the tragedy of this scene, as if we could forget; macabre - disturbing because it is concerned with or causing a fear of death)

in boots that outlasted them, (the irony of such a burial; those buried are ‘outlasted’ by the clothes they wear/what they are buried with)

their socketed heads tilted back at an angle (fitted into a natural hollow; i.e. remaining attached to their necks)

and their jaws, those that have them, dropped open. (‘those’ that haven’t been blown away/off)

 

As if the notes they had sung (extends the dance-macabre metaphor, as if these men died singing and dancing)

have only now, with this unearthing, (now that they have been dug up)

slipped from their absent tongues. (they are silent, as they have been for so long)

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