Bayonet Charge

On this page, you will find links to:

  • a narrative response to the poem
  • an analytical Youtube video designed for GCSE students.

First off, however, are my own annotations to this emotive, anti-war poem.  I have tried to avoid what you can find elsewhere.

The poem with annotations

Suddenly he awoke and was running – raw    He awakes from some automatous dreamlike state to the physical reality of repeated, chaffing rawness and breathlessness in the alliterated ‘r’ ‘h’ and ‘s’ sounds

In raw-seamed hot khaki, his sweat heavy,

stumbling across a field of clods towards a green hedge   Note the absurdity of running towards some anonymous, random hedge as well as the physical effort conveyed when going across the ‘k’ in the physical field of ‘clods’

That dazzled with rifle fire, hearing  The synaesthesia of ‘dazzled’ conveys a disorientating visual effect of rifle fire on the infantryman. 

Bullets smacking the belly out of the air –  onomatopoeia used to alarming effect.  The air is personified, losing its breath to violent assault.

He lugged a rifle numb as a smashed arm;   he is heaving this weight and he remains devoid of all feeling – yet the rifle is a part of him.  The simile draws out a sense of the rifle’s uselessnes, physical disability  and utter futility. 

The patriotic tear that had brimmed in his eye  Patriotism, as it was in the past: that sentimentalised tearful false emotion of loyalty has now transformed into a genuine furnace-hot internal personal lava-sweat of feeling. 

Sweating like molten iron from the centre of his chest, –

In bewilderment then he almost stopped –

In what cold clockwork of the stars and the nations    hard alliterated sound provides a sense of an uncaring mechanical universe and the inevitable geo-political self-interest. 

Was he the hand pointing that second? He was running  The question remains unanswered: of what sort of unfeeling world was he such an integral part that he should be the stillness of the actual moment?   After the caesura, the line continues with a nightmarish image of running in darkness with tripled repetition of ‘runs’ and ‘running’, with no reason coming forth out of the emptiness.

Like a man who has jumped up in the dark and runs   This simile here has another simile (‘like statuary’)  within it, giving the moment an unreality divorced from time and place.

Listening between his footfalls for the reason

Of his still running, and his foot hung like   the moment held immobile ….

Statuary in mid-stride. Then the shot-slashed furrows   … before the alliterated violent action of bullets 

Threw up a yellow hare that rolled like a flame   A shocking image of the hare’s dying moments and death: the assonance of ‘rolled’ and ‘crawled’ coalesces the hare’s suffering.

And crawled in a threshing circle, its mouth wide   the nominalised noun phrase ‘a threshing circle’ provides a shocking image of dying.  (This comes about from changing the active verb ‘to thresh’ to an adjective with the noun ‘circle’ into a noun phrase with a single, dynamically powerful unit of meaning.)

Open silent, its eyes standing out.   

He plunged past with his bayonet toward the green hedge,  The absurdity lies in the alliterated desperation of plunging ‘past’ the hare’s excruciating death throes, with only a bayonet, to head towards some anonymous and, otherwise, anodyne ‘green hedge’, which is referenced for a second time in the poem.

King, honour, human dignity, etcetera   the ‘et cetera’ reveals a dismissive tone towards the tripled values which were traipsed out to promote a fighting spirit in the men.  

Dropped like luxuries in a yelling alarm   Such nationalistic ideals are ‘dropped like luxuries’; the alliterated simile highlighting the superfluity and artificial fabrication of these concepts when presented against the terror of the next lines.

To get out of that blue crackling air   The synaesthesia of colour and sound confounds our senses. 

His terror’s touchy dynamite.  The alliteration is a dangerous prelude to the explosive nature of his fear.

Next, is another Youtube video by J Brierley, covering Form, Language, Imagery, Rhythm/rhyme, Tone and Subject (FLIRTS).. Very informative and ideal for making sure GCSE students understand how the poet has written to create meaning.  Use the video as part of your revision – have a copy of the poem in front of you and stop the playback whilst you annotate; this is so much better than simply reading the poem or looking through your notes.  However, do be sure you do not follow the ‘FLIRTS’ approach in the exam room, where you must always answer the question and use the PEE (PEA) paragraph structure.


You may also wish to read this helpful narrative response for GCSE students, by ‘RJ’

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