“Flag” Analysis Using SMILE: Poetry (English Literature)


FLAG ANALYSIS So we look now at the poem of ‘Flag’,
excellent poem, very concise. So we look at the structure. Opening with a question in
each stanza is very powerful because that obviously just shows the thoughts and obviously
the respect that’s actually being seen or given to this thing, you know, this thing
is worth noting in so many different times and so many different situations. It’s not
only pondering about it but the words associated with it are always positive. ‘Fluttering’
obviously gives us the idea of freedom. ‘Unfurling’, again it gives some idea of something freeing
itself. ‘Rising’, again giving us the idea of power, etc., so all the questions
that are actually associated here, they kind of set us up to think about this flat with
the grandeur that people do think about flags. It’s a great way to open each one. We’ve got the rhyme. The rhyme in each stanza
actually controls the pace at which we read and also gives it a very regimented feel.
We’ve got the stanzas which are all obviously kind of the same length, I think the syllable
count across is 8-6-8 all the way down and that’s kind of very regimented which gives
us the idea of a military feel or very rigid feel which again would go with the idea of
something being very army based or perhaps even just patriotic and unchanging. Also it actually allows us to read it in a
certain way, obviously the way it’s punctuated, etc., and the way the rhyme is, it just kind
of allows us to hold at the end to consider the stanza in and of itself before we move
onto the next one, because however these were re-arranged, you’ve still got the same feeling,
it’s a series of questions being given for us to consider – apart from the last one
obviously – rather than a flowing piece that needs to be in a set order. The enjambment in the second line of the first
four is really powerful because it gives us a small pause just before we actually move
onto the next one and that’s really good because ‘it’s just a piece of cloth’
is a contradiction to what comes next. So he’s saying ‘it’s just a…’ but then
what follows is obviously something quite great or grand. So this piece of cloth can
‘bring a nation to its knees’ and ‘make the guts of men grow bold’ and ‘dare a
coward to relent’, so it’s just this thing that costs pennies to make – it’s nothing
– but yet it has the power of huge drugs or huge inspiration, or whatever; just a completely
mind altering thing, just from this piece of cloth. So the enjambment there helps us
to actually consider that each time. It kind of sets us up with something really low and
then just gives us this grand image coming after it that makes us really think about
the power of this flag or this artefact. And then I think one of the really interesting
things, probably the most interesting thing in the structure, is the ambiguous answers
that come across. So each one’s placed straight after in the first four. So even though he
says ‘it’s just a piece of cloth’, each one of these we can read it in two ways. So
‘that brings a nation to its knees’, obviously it could have the idea of kneeling down with
respect and obviously looking up on it and obviously pride, or it could actually ‘bring
a nation to its knees’ they’re a conquered people actually, they’re being overrun and
now demeaned. So the idea that it ‘makes the guts of men grow bold’, first of all
it could be the idea that seeing the flag gives them bravery and actually want to step
up to the plate and really kind of make a mark for their flat, or the idea actually
shows that they’re under the illusion of doing something for the flag, they can actually
be cruel and actually say forget the humanity of another side, because the other side has
a different flag and then they can treat them in a very different way. And then obviously go on so ‘it’s just
a piece of cloth that dares the coward to relent’, and here we’ve got the idea that
it can make someone be more brave, etc., or it can make someone turn sides in a kind of
war, being a spy or an informant, etc., etc. And here ‘it will outlive the blood you
bleed’, that could be saying ‘well you know you’ve done the right thing, you’ve
lost your life or you’ve actually injured yourself, so your bloodshed is actually going
to make the flag live because you’re actually helping this empire, whatever it is, to actually
live longer’. Or, it could actually be saying ‘you’re an idiot, you’re going to die
for a flag’ when the flag is just a piece of cloth that’s going to be there all the
time anyway, it doesn’t die, you die for it and so you’re a fool for dying for it.
So you’re looking at all that way. And obviously we’ve got here – I should
have actually mentioned this – there’s no enjambment in the last one because here
it’s actually showing how easy it is to associate with something with an ideal and
obviously the ideal or the actual powers that be if you wish to actually just follow a doctrine
or follow an ideology, etc., that comes with the flag and then he’s saying but the consequence
there is actually very clear; this is a lifelong decision and obviously you’ve bound yourself
to it and then you may always be doing things that you don’t want to do, binding your
conscience and doing it. So the ambiguousness in all the answers is really interesting because
it really does work in both ways on almost all of them. So we look then at the meanings. Well, the
first meaning we actually have is the idea of the patriots in the war. We get the idea
coming through that, again all these kind of places we just imagine every time that
the flag is being spotted should we say, there’s an idea that goes along with it of being patriotic
and you do something that gives you pride, etc., and so obviously that ties us into the
idea of war and where are these actually, especially in this one here and this one here
– ‘over the tent’ and ‘across the field’ – the idea of the flag being seen
there in terms of base camps or in terms of vehicles or if you go back in time just standard
bearers carrying flags running across fields. And it also gives us the idea of conflict,
because in anyone of these points, like we said, these things are actually ambiguous
and it’s not only conflict – if you want to develop this – it’s not only conflict
between nations, nations under different flags or nations under different ideologies, but
it’s also conflict within oneself and that’s really highlighted at the bottom because of
the idea of binding your conscience. If your country’s doing something or under your
flag you have to do something because you think that’s the right thing to do, then
obviously that’s – even if you don’t agree with it yourself – then that’s a
problem obviously for some people. It really highlights for us the power we actually
give artefacts like flags. There’s so many things that people just pledge an allegiance
to. I’ll never forget when I saw people with Nike tattoos on them and they’d just
pledged allegiance to that artefact, the swoosh so much, they just had the artefact of the
actual swoosh insignia on themselves, on their bodies. Obviously loads of people actually
have the actual tattoos of their countries, etc., so it just shows the power we actually
give artefacts, something inspirational, something that actually drives us, etc., and it’s
worth thinking about it more than just over the flag because obviously there’s loads
of other things that people actually do this. I remember – and silly as it sounds – I
don’t even know if any of you will remember Sega as a console, but it was Sega and Nintendo
rivalry, I remember when I was younger, it was ridiculous, just people obviously fighting
over football teams, fighting about the banners or the colours of the scarves or whatever
of their team colours. It’s amazing the power we give artefacts and obviously this
is being accentuated here. But the flag is probably the pinnacle of it. If you want to
think of a modern day one probably the Mac and PC argument is the power we give – especially
Mac users – give Mac artefacts is quite interesting. And then obviously how the artefacts then
shape our lives. Obviously for here, for the flag, someone’s actually willing to die,
etc., etc., so it just gets us thinking as well about how things like flags and other
artefacts – flags in particular in this poem – invite us to change our lives, to
actually drive us, etc. I know a guy that wanted a Ferrari and so he just basically
lived like a pauper for 15 years so he could save enough to get a Ferrari and obviously
it wasn’t the fact that he just wanted the car, it was the artefact, the actual Ferrari
that he wanted and he’d do that for that. I know some of those examples that I’ve
mentioned there with the branding references in particular are a little bit unlinked directly,
but I want you to get thinking about that because in a wider context I’m sure you’re
thinking about the other loyalties we have, because certain ideologies don’t come with
flags but obviously they’re still massively adhered to and followed and obviously they
have just as much power over people as this. So try not to think about it very limited
as just what people do for their country, but it’s what people do for their country
and their ideologies and obviously their masters, whoever they hold their master to be. So what images do we have then? Well we have
the image of the very proud flag which is seen in the words like ‘fluttering’, ‘unfurling’,
‘rising’, ‘flying’ and all of those are really powerful and proud. But there’s
a lot of ambiguity in this last part here, so ‘How can I possess such a cloth? Just
ask for a flag and then bind your conscience to it’. Now obviously they’re not in the
same line but the idea of being bound or binding yourself to a flag could have two meanings.
First of all obviously the idea that you’re going to go along with whatever the people
in control of the flag are telling you to do, but secondly it could obviously be a flag
over your coffin. And if you’ve actually ever watched the casualties of war coming
back and a lot of time in the ceremonies they have a flag over the coffin and obviously
in a way that’s been bound, because it’s wrapped around the coffin and then it’s
obviously the idea of to the end and the blood you bleed, so we get like ideas of death and
obviously the end of life there, so it could be looking at it in that way as well. And
again, that’s still a really powerful thing for the flag because again, that body isn’t
really being given kind of a name or face on the top of the coffin, you want to know
that this was a person from that country dying and that’s what was the most important thing
about it. What other images do we have? We have images
of the change in men and the inspiration. Here the ‘bringing nations to its knees’,
remember all these are ambiguous again, ‘bringing a nation to its knees’, you can just imagine
like a whole field – you will have seen it time and time again – a whole field saluting
or kneeling, genuflecting to (obviously not genuflecting, that’s reserved to queens,
I think, it’s a mark of respect anyway) flags, etc., so all of these things, just
the power they can actually have over people, you can pick any one of them. And then the image – as I mentioned earlier
– of being held by the flag, obviously the idea of the coffin being held by the flag
there as well. So what language actually helps us to understand
the ideas and themes? Well we’ve got the refrain which highlights the power of the
flag. ‘It’s just a piece of cloth’, which is really important because it’s always
reminding us that little, little and significant thing makes us do so much and that’s obviously
really an interesting refrain that’s just reminding us again like we do all of this
for what is ultimately a coloured bit of cloth. We’ve also got the idea of the flag being
powerful. Again obviously that’s kind of really cementing along what I’ve just said
with the images, all these ideas that you have here of the descriptions that actually
go along with it. And then the other thing in the language, you’ve got the use of second
person, obviously the fact that actually references here, when it’s obviously talking about
you, it’s inviting us to think about our associations and obviously says ‘bind your
conscience’, and in turning it into a second person obviously he’s directly relating
to us and asking us what do we believe? What do we bind ourselves to and what do we align
ourselves with? OK, and the effect on the reader? Well it
makes us think perhaps what’s been done in the name of flags and obviously always
with the effect on reader section we’re just looking to try and make it as wide as
possible and actually get us thinking about it. Well, getting us to think about what’s
been done in the name of flags, we can think about wars, we can think about good deeds,
we can think about those people who put them in their gardens and hang them from their
cars and get tattoos, etc., etc. It makes us think about the allegiance we have to flags
and other artefacts. How proud are we of certain associations or how much do we not want to
be associated with things? And it could also get us thinking about – is this a beneficial
loyalty? If we kind of gather under certain banners and certain flags then someone else
has to suffer if we’re going to be at war or conflict with them, just because they’re
under another flag or banner. And obviously that could be titles, it could be anything.
You can think about that. So is it actually beneficial for us to be mindlessly loyal or
subserviently loyal to that idea, which is really important. Now remember this is all the way to the end
and all the way to ‘that outlives the blood we bleed’, so it’s really a reference
to life decisions here, it’s not like a fashion or statement in terms of something
similar, like you might be going through a ‘phase’, this is kind of your true core
values and beliefs that you’re going to hold to the end. Yes, a really great poem.

local_offerevent_note September 25, 2019

account_box Matthew Anderson


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