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English Literature

The Field Mouse

Imagery and Sound



A hay field

The first stanza [stanza: A group of lines of poetry that make up a unit - like a paragraph in a piece of prose; a verse. ] is full of sound. At first it appears innocent - Clarke's opening metaphor [metaphor: An expression used to describe and/or compare a subject/action/person by the way it feels or what it resembles - eg 'sea of troubles', and 'drowning in debt' are metaphors. ] describes the snare drum sound made by insects in the grass. Yet the next line is more threatening: "The air hums with jets" - jets which are preparing to take part in the war. It is ironic that although the family are enjoying the hay making at the end of the meadow (line 3) and thought they had escaped 'the radio's terrible news' (line 4), the planes practising low flying above them remind them of it.

Tractor blades

Clarke uses a metaphor of the sea to describe the hay being cut: "its wave breaks before the tractor blade" (line 6). This image suggests both the sea-green colour of the grass and the whooshing sound it makes as if falls.

Spraying the ground with lime

Clarke's neighbour is putting lime onto his field. She explains, "This lime comes from limestone, and is naturally present in alkaline soil. In acid soil lime is deficient, and farmers add it to help the crops to grow. It sweetens the soil, so I describe the cloud drifting onto our land as 'a chance gift of sweetness'."

A field mouse

The child brings the injured mouse, "his hands a nest" (line 11). This metaphor shows both the nest-like shape of his cupped hands and the concern he has for the mouse: he wants to protect it, as if it was in its nest. The tractor has destroyed its real nest.

A field mouse

The agony of the mouse is "big as itself" (line 14). Perhaps Clarke wanted to show the scale of suffering: some people would dismiss the death of a mouse as trivial, but of course it is not to the mouse ..

A field mouse

Its eyes were 'two sparks burning' (line 12); "the star goes out in its eye" (line 15) when it dies. Think about why Clarke used these images of fire and light.

War-torn town

By the end of the day, "the field lies bleeding" (line 19). This ties in with other images which personify the field - "the killed flowers" (line 10), "the field's hurt" (line 16) and "wounding my land" (line 27). It makes us think of the blood of all the other small animals that must have been killed by the tractor, but also suggests the field itself is injured. "We call hay making cutting the hay", says Clarke, "but the Welsh equivalent translates as 'killing the hay'." It reminds us of the blood on the fields in Bosnia.

Bosnian conflict

"The wrong that woke / from a rumour of pain" (line 21) refers to the way the war flared up as a result of long nursed, sometimes imaginary, injuries inflicted on one community by another . Attempting to get away from thoughts of war, Clarke "can't face the newspapers" (line 23) - but the death of the field mouse has brought her face to face with it again.


  • The poem has no set rhythm [rhythm: The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry. ], but flows along the patterns of natural speech, as if Clarke were talking to us.
  • Sounds are suggested through onomatopoeia [onomatopoeia: Words that express the sound they stand for - eg 'crunch', 'pop'. ] - as in "hums" (line 2) and "stammering" (line 26).

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