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English Literature

The Field Mouse

Structure and Language


The poem consists of three stanzas [stanza: A group of lines of poetry that make up a unit - like a paragraph in a piece of prose; a verse. ] of 9 lines each. The lines are of varying lengths, perhaps to reflect the freedom of the natural world - or the lack of order in the war-torn world.

Each stanza tells a different part of the story - the first gives the background about the hay making and the war, the second is about the death of the mouse, the third about Clarke's nightmare vision.

Conflict in Bosnia

Conflict in Bosnia


Think about how the language the poet uses helps to convey her ideas. Here are some points to consider:

  • The title is deceptively simple. We think that we are going to read a poem about the countryside: only when we get into the poem do we realise that it is also about war and conflict. The field mouse is obviously important, though. What does it symbolise?
  • The poem is in the present tense [tense: The verb formation that describes the time at which the action occurred, eg past, present or future. ]. This helps to make the events seem more vivid to us. Perhaps it also suggests the poem could be true of any war, anywhere in the world.
  • There are contrasts throughout between the idealised rural scene and the horrors of war. It is "Summer in Europe" (line 16), the time of hay making for all farmers; yet in Wales they are hay making while in Bosnia they are fighting.
  • However, the poem also reminds us that even a peaceful activity like hay making contains violence. Clarke acknowledges her guilt as she looks at the mouse "we have crushed" (line 18). Is she emphasising that violence can be unintentional? Or does this mean that we are all guilty for war, too?
  • Implied parallels between hay making and war run throughout the poem. For instance, in Wales the dusk garden is "inhabited by the saved" (line 20) - the animals that escaped the tractor. This makes us think of the human refugees who fled over the border to escape the Bosnian conflict. Think too about the word "land" (lines 8 and 27): it refers both to the farmer's land where the hay is grown, and to land in the sense of a person's country, their 'fatherland' - the territory they fight over in a war.
  • The poem ends with a nightmare vision - Clarke dreams of the children dancing in the hay field, yet she sees them as vulnerable as the mouse, "their bones brittle as mouse-ribs" (line 25), as if they were in a war situation with gunfire (line 26) all around. The neighbour who gave their land sweetness in the first stanza has become their enemy, ruining and wounding the land with stones (line 27) . In the Bosnian conflict, neighbours of different religions who had lived in peacefully together for generations turned against and murdered each other.
A child in a field

Picture courtesy of Debra Dell

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