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Poetry Across Time



Falling Leaves
By Margaret Postgate Cole


Is this really a poem about leaves?


Falling Leaves
By Margaret Postgate Cole
Dame Margaret Cole was born in Cambridge in 1893 and died in 1980. She wrote about politics and history and became a pacifist. She campaigned against military conscription when her brother (whose claims to be recognised as a conscientious objector had been rejected) was jailed for refusing military orders. In the 1930s she gave up her pacifist views however, in response to the Third Reich in Germany and Franco's dictatorship in Spain.

Postgate is representative of a generation of women whose lives were traumatised by the war and the terrible barrier of knowledge that existed between the sexes."

Authors's Ideas and Background

Background Information:
World War One (191418) is sometimes called the Great War great here meaning immense or huge, because it was unlike previous wars. Firstly, it involved everyone, not just the army and navy. Secondly, and probably most devastatingly, it involved the first modern weapons (machine guns, bombs and gas) at a time when soldiers were still involved in hand-to-hand combat. The horror of the trenches is hard for us to grasp fully. However, many of the young soldiers who had signed up believing they were on an heroic mission to defend their families, country and way of life felt betrayed by those who had persuaded them to enlist. The reality of war was shown in their poetry and later for those who survived in their novels. As Margaret Postgate Cole and other women poets of World War One have shown in their work, it was not only the men who suffered as a result of the war. Womens lives were affected too, not least because of the millions of young men who died, all borne by women, and many loved by women. So, while male poets of this generation can tell us about the agony of trench warfare, women poets voice the despair, anguish and endurance of women, waiting, wondering and grieving. In this poem, a tree dropping its leaves leads to thoughts of the thousands of young soldiers dying in their prime in the trenches. The pastoral imagery at the start of the poem becomes a contemplation of the death toll in Flanders, and vividly illustrates how the horror of war overshadows every area of life, even a peaceful ride in the countryside.

The Falling Leaves November 1915 Today, as I rode by, I saw the brown leaves dropping from their tree In a still afternoon, When no wind whirled them whistling to the sky, But thickly, silently, They fell, like snowflakes wiping out the noon; And wandered slowly thence For thinking of a gallant multitude Which now all withering lay, Slain by no wind of age or pestilence, But in their beauty strewed Like snowflakes falling on the Flemish clay. MARGARET POSTGATE COLE


The Falling Leaves November 1915 Today, as I rode by, Sounds I saw the brown leaves dropping from their tree peaceful In a still afternoon, Technique? - why is When no wind whirled them whistling to the sky, Suggests? this odd? But thickly, silently, They fell, like snowflakes wiping out the noon; Imagery? And wandered slowly thence Praise For thinking of a gallant multitude Shows? for who? Which now all withering lay, Links to? Slain by no wind of age or pestilence, But in their beauty strewed Suggests? Like snowflakes falling on the Flemish clay.

Melts into? MARGARET POSTGATE COLE Emphasises what?

Focus Qs

Interpreting the text:

Imagery What extended metaphor is used in the poem?

Structure Track the punctuation of the poem. What do you notice? Is this significant?

Sounds Track the sounds of words in this poem. What do you notice?

Skill: Interpreting the Text


Slain by no wind of age or pestilence, But in their beauty strewed Like snowflakes falling on the Flemish clay.

* What is the significance of the words 'slain' and 'strewed'? * What impression do we get of the poet's attitude towards war? * Why is the comparison made to snowflakes? Explain your ideas.

Skill: Symbolism

Look at the images below:

Can you find the quotation/idea that they refer to?

Question Time!
1. How does the poet create an atmosphere of sadness in the poem? 2. What details connect the leaves falling and the soldiers dying? 3. How does the poet show a sense of regret? 4. How does the poet feel about the soldiers that have died? 5. What is the poet's attitude towards war and how does she portray this is the poem?

Quick Questions

Perhaps To Roland Aubrey Leighton (1895-1915) Perhaps some day the sun will shine again, And I shall see that still the skies are blue, And feel once more I do not live in vain, Although bereft of You. Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay, And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet, Though You have passed away. Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright, And crimson roses once again be fair, And autumn harvest fields a rich delight, Although You are not there. Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain To see the passing of the dying year, And listen to Christmas songs again, Although You cannot hear.' But though kind Time may many joys renew, There is one greatest joy I shall not know Again, because my heart for loss of You Was broken, long ago. VERA BRITTAIN (1920)

Additional: Women's Poetry of WW1

To My Brother In memory of July 1st, 1916 Your battle-wounds are scars upon my heart, Received when in that grand and tragic 'show' You played your part, Two years ago, And silver in the summer morning sun I see the symbol of your courage glow -That Cross you won Two years ago. Though now again you watch the shrapnel fly, And hear the guns that daily louder grow, As in July Two years ago. May you endure to lead the Last Advance And with your men pursue the flying foe As once in France Two years ago. VERA BRITTAIN (1918)

Additional: Women's Poetry of WW1

In Flanders Fields In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie, In Flanders fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields. JOHN MCCRAE


In Flanders Fields
Sickened by what he had seen during the Boer War, John McCrae nevertheless signed up in August 1914, and headed for France with his horse, Bonfire, in tow. He would have found few opportunities for riding in that hell on earth. Knee deep in mud and freezing water, men's feet rotted where they stood, waiting for the next attack of gas to insinuate its way down the trenches, or the signal to go "over the top", often into direct machine gun fire. McCrae wrote "In Flanders Fields" the day after presiding at the funeral of a friend and former student. McCrae was to number among the 9,000,000 fatalities that the war would claim. Poppy seed will lie in the ground for years if the soil is undisturbed. That churned up cemetery known as the Western Front provided the ideal medium for masses of poppies to blanket the graves. By the 1920s, Legion Branches were selling the paper flowers to: provide assistance to needy ex-servicemen and their families, to build housing for seniors, and support programmes like meals-on-wheels, drop-in centres, etc. Like The Falling Leaves', the poem relies heavily on visual imagery.


Biography of Poet: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wcole.htm Historical information about November, 1915: http://www.firstworldwar.com/onthisday/ 1915_11_11.htm Women's Poetry of WW1: http://allpoetry.com/column/show/2168221

Links and References