Mametz wood is a poem by Owen Sheers. It is about the 38th Welsh Division in the battle of the Somme in the First World War. The poem tells the story of the Welsh division, and how they were told to, “walk, not run” onto the battlefield. The Welsh Division were shot down by German machine guns, and there were no survivors.
The poem is seven stanzas long, and the individual lines have no set pattern and are used to represent a ploughed field, which is where the Welsh Division would have worked before they came together. This is because they would of been farmers before the war, this also contrasts with the semantic field of death that is throughout the poem, as soldiers create death, farmers create life.
The first stanza had a semantic field of farming, this can be seen with, “tended the land”, and , “under their plough blades”. This stanza also has the words, “wasted young”, this is relevant to the poem as it shows the reader that the Welsh Division was made up of young men, and the phrases position in the poem, (in the center of a stanza), simulates the fact that the, “wasted young”, are buried.
In the second stanza there is a semantic field of delicacy, this can be seen with, “china plate”, “relic of a finger” and, “chit of bone”. This shows that human lives are delicate and are easily taken away. There is also a contrast between life and death, with the mention of, “broken bird’s egg of a skull”, this is contrasting, as an egg is associated with life, whereas a skull is associated with death. This stanza also has a semantic field of archaeology and artifacts, with the words, “china plate”, and “relic”.
Stanza three has a semantic field of youth, where it talks about the soldiers being told to, “walk, not run”, this is similar to the school system, as that is what the soldiers would have recently come out of. The stanza also contains the words, “nesting”, which is associated with youth, as chicks are born in nests.
The fourth stanza uses the word, “sentinel”, to describe the earth, this is used to show the reader that the earth will look after the dead now, and it will do a better job than the Generals ever did. This stanza also has the words, “reminders of what happened”, indicating to the fact that the farmers of the fields where the men died are constantly digging up new bones of lost soldiers every year, when they plough the land. Also the phrase, “wound working a foreign body to the surface of the skin” is a reference to a thorn in the skin, and is a metaphor for the bones that will constantly be appearing from the earth.
The fifth stanza is about the grotesque nature of how the Division were killed and how they lay in the field. “broken mosaic of bones”, gives the impression of art and “linked arm in arm” gives the impression of French line dancing. They appear like this because they still lay in the positions in which they were shot.
Stanza six is about the worth of the soldier, and how they lie dead in, “boots that outlasted them” , this shows that the boots they were have more value than the men wearing them.
Stanza seven talks about the, “notes they have sung”, which relates the the Welsh heritage of the poet and the Welsh Division. Also the words, “absent tongues” links to death, and it could also relate to skulls, and their lack of features, which links to the dead soldiers.
One of the main difference between these two poets is likely the age. When Sheers was born, Thomas was already into his sixth decade. With one being an older gentleman from northern Wales and the other being a young man starting his life in southern Wales they seem to be very different but they have a lot in common, including their love of Welsh heritage.
Around the time that Sheers had the inspiration to become a writer and poet, living in southern Wales and playing rugby on the weekends, Thomas was a devout priest and spent his weekends praying and becoming closer to God. There has only been one reported contact between the two poets, and this was after Sheers published his first book titled “The Dust Diaries” and sent a copy to Thomas. Thomas replied to Sheers’ message and thanked him. This was two weeks before he died and according to Sheers, it changed him as a poet.
Although, their upbringings were very different, they still talk about the same things in their poetry, but for the most part they have different views on the subjects they discuss. Both of them are very clear and positive about their Welsh heritage.
In the poem, “Inheritance”, Sheers talks about the life of a Welsh hill farmer, it is a fairly short poem, but tells the story of a full life. This is a contrast to Thomas’ poem , “The Airy tomb”, which is a long poem in its length, but tells the story of a fairly empty and short life. Another difference between these two poems is that in “Inheritance” the thing that is inherited is very much psychological, as the subject of the poem receives traits from his parents. This is in contrast to Thomas’ “The Airy Tomb”, which has the character of Tomos inherit his family home and land, but non of the skills or passion that was held by his father.
The similarities however, are that both subjects of the poem lose their parents and end up in possession of something that was once theirs. Although in “The Airy Tomb”, it wasn’t what he wanted to receive, but he always knew he would end up with it. This, again contrasts with the ideas in “Inheritance” as the subject, very much wanted, and was happy to receive, his parents skills and traits. Although he clearly mourned their loss, this presents a message that skills are more important than possessions, as Tomos was clearly not satisfied by his inherited possessions, but the subject of Sheers’ poem was contented with his inherited skills.
These poems, show again the similarities between the two poets, and it clearly shows that Sheers very much looked up to the seasoned poet of Thomas, and took great inspiration from his poems and ideas.
The central ideas of all Sheers and Thomas’ poems focus on the Welsh heritage and culture that constantly surrounded them, and this comes through in many of their poems, but particularly in these selected two, as Sheers deliberately set out to imitate Thomas’ style, and managed to pull it off successfully.
In my opinion, to be welsh is to embrace the culture and history of Wales. From the Celtic tribes to the modern factories, culture plays a key part in every Welsh citizens life. Be it in the form of jewelry, or the language that was once widely spoken. The Welsh are a proud people that are backed by hundreds of years of heritage and cultural values this gives the Welsh their pride, more so than other countries. Depending where you are from, being Welsh can mean that you were born in Wales or, like the English, where your parents were born. For the majority of Welsh people it is their attitude towards the heritage and history of the country that inspires their patriotism and love of Wales.
This, in my opinion is what it means to be Welsh.
I have chosen to pursue an advanced educational journey into A level English Literature, I feel as though this will benefit me in life, as it will give me skills, such as critical thinking and analysis. I have always enjoyed English and I am happy to continue learning and developing my skills throughout the course.