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English Literature

The Field Mouse

Attitude, Tone and Ideas

Tractor blades

Picture courtesy of Heidi K.C. Bertman

Much of the meaning of a poem is conveyed by the attitude it expresses toward its subject matter. 'Attitude' can be thought of as a combination of the poet's tone of voice, and the ideas he or she is trying to get across to the reader.

A good way to decide on the tone [tone: The mood or manner of a text or part of a text. The author's 'tone of voice' or way in which they expect to be understood. The emotional load carried by a text. ] of a poem is to work out how you would read it aloud. How would you read this poem?

  • in a sombre, muted tone, to express sadness for all the violence in the world?
  • in a bitter, foreboding tone, protesting against the violence?
  • in a gentle tone, expressing the peaceful nature of hay making?

Certainly, either of the first two tones would work. The third one, emphasising the peacefulness of hay making and the children's caring attitude toward the mouse, is there too, especially at the beginning; but the discordant background notes to do with violence and war come more and more to the fore as the poem progresses.


The ideas in this poem concern land and love of land, violence, and the roots of war. Have a look at these quotes from the poem, and our suggestions about how these ideas are expressed in each of them.

Quotations from The Field Mouse

"...far from the radio's terrible news, we cut the hay."She is horrified by the war - she has taken her family to watch the hay making to try to forget about it. Hay making would seem to be a very peaceful pursuit, but on this occasion it brings thoughts violence and war closer than ever.
"We know it will die and ought to finish it off."Clarke uses the euphemism 'finish it off' to avoid using the words 'kill' or 'murder': she cannot kill the mouse, even though she knows it may be the kindest thing. She feels sorry for the mouse and guilty for causing its death. Like those caught up in war, it is an innocent victim.
"the children kneel in long grass ..."The children in the poem run, or dance, or kneel in the grass. The idea of the fruitful land is linked in this poem with the idea of children: both represent life and growth, in contrast [contrast: A description of all the differences between two things (in this case, two texts). ] to the death and destruction of war.
"Before day's done the field lies bleeding ..."The field is personified: it feels hurt and bleeds, like a wounded soldier. This shows Clarke's love of the land - and also makes us think of battlefields in Bosnia, where people are getting killed.

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