After Blenheim – Important Questions

After Blenheim, also known as The Battle of Blenheim, is a famous antiwar poem written by Robert Southey. The poem is in the form of a ballad and its theme is the famous Battle of Blenheim of 1704. It was fought between the combined forces of France and Bavaria representing one side, and the forces of England and Austria representing the rival side.

Important Question and Answers

Q. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

It was a summer evening,
Old Kaspar’s work was done,
And he before his cottage door
Was sitting in the sun,
And by him sported on the green
His little grandchild Wilhelmine.

1. Who is the speaker? Where was the old man sitting? What mood was he in?

Ans. The speaker is an old man named Kaspar. The old man was sitting before his cottage. It’s evening and his work was already done, and he was sitting in the sun. This suggests that he was in a relaxed mood.

2. Who were two grandchildren of Old Kaspar? What do you think of them?

Ans. Peterkin and Wilhelmine were the two grandchildren of Old Kaspar. They were curious and intelligent kids with a lot of questions in their minds. They were quite sensitive to their surroundings and were always eager to know about things that they saw.

3. What is he telling about?

Ans. He starts by telling his two grandchildren about the mystery of the skull, one of them has found. As he further explains, it is linked to a battle that was fought many years ago. Historically, this battle is known as the Battle of Blenheim.

4. What tells you about the serene atmosphere at Old Kaspar’s home?

Ans. At Old Kaspar’s home, as the opening lines suggest, there are only three people. One of them is Old Kaspar himself, while the other two are his two grandchildren. The atmosphere prevailing there indicates a kind of aloofness from larger social surroundings. The greenness of vegetation spread before and around the old man’s cottage further adds to the serenity and calm there.

5. What kind of situation is presented here?

Ans. The situation presented here does not directly remind us of the war that took place many years ago. It’s a cottage where an old farmer, feeling relaxed after completing his work for the day, is affectionately involved in a conversation with his two grandchildren. As their conversation proceeds, the readers get to know that the place where they are sitting may have been the battleground for a war years ago.

Q. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

Old Kaspar took it from the boy,
Who stood expectant by;
And then the old man shook his head,
And, with a natural sigh —
“‘Tis some poor fellow’s skull,” said he,
“Who fell in the great victory.
“I find them in the garden,
For there’s many here about;
And often when I go to plough,
The ploughshare turns them out.
For many thousand men,” said he,
“Were slain in that great victory.”

1. Where was the skull found? Why does the speaker say that the skull was of some poor fellow?

Ans. The skull was found by Old Kaspar’s grandson, Peterkin, while playing in front of the cottage. The word ‘poor’ used by the speaker here means ‘unfortunate’ or ‘miserable’. He feels that this must be the skull of someone who lost his life in the battle and his corpse was left there to decay. Thus, he was unfortunate because he could not get what he deserved, for giving away his life in the war.

2. How common were the skulls there? At which place many of them could be found?

Ans. It has been suggested here that the place where Old Kaspar’s cottage is situated must have the ground where the Battle of Blenheim was fought many years ago. That is why such skulls of soldiers who had died in the battle could be found there frequently. As Old Kaspar says, he finds many of them in the garden, when he ploughs.

3. Who does the phrase ‘poor fellow’ refer to in this stanza? Why do you think the poet has used the word ‘expectant’ for ‘the boy’?

Ans. The phrase ‘poor fellow’ refers to a soldier killed in war. The poet has used the word ‘expectant’ for the boy as it suggests that he is expecting an answer from the old man to his question regarding the identity of the object he has discovered.

4. What made the old man shake his head and sigh?

Ans. The old man’s little grandson Peterkin brought a human skull. On seeing it, he did not look surprised. Instead, he felt pity and remorse while knowing already that there were many more skulls lying there. What Peterkin had come with was just one of the many human skulls that belonged to men who had died years ago in the Battle of Blenheim. The tragic thing was that the dead had been left rotting there for so many years

5. What was told by the old man?

Ans. The old man was not astonished when he saw his grandson holding a human skull in his hand. He already knew that there could be many such skulls there, because the place where his cottage was located had been a battleground many years ago. He referred to it as the skull of some poor fellow by which he actually meant that it belonged to an unfortunate, wretched soldier.

6. What is the irony used in the last two lines here?

Ans. While he said that the skull belonged to ‘some poor fellow’, he further adds that he ‘fell in the great victory’. These two phrases seem to be contradictory in their connotations. In any victory that is usually regarded as ‘great’, anyone who gives away his life is considered to be a martyr and is said to have sacrificed his life for his motherland. However, the soldier whose skull was discovered by Kaspar’s grandson was referred to by him as a ‘poor fellow’ because he felt pity for the soldier. Thus, the perception of war as ‘the great victory’ becomes questionable.

Q. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

“Now tell us what ’twas all about,”
Young Peterkin, he cries;
And little Wilhelmine looks up
With wonder-waiting eyes;
“Now tell us all about the war,
And what they fought each other for.”
“It was the English,” Kaspar cried,
“Who put the French to rout;
But what they fought each other for,
I could not well make out;
But everybody said,” quoth he,
“That ’twas a famous victory.

1. What had Kaspar told about the battle of Blenheim before in the extract?

Ans. Earlier, Kaspar had told his grandchildren that many thousand men were killed in that great war. He stated this, in order to explain why Peterkin found a skull there. This implied that the skull belonged to one of those who had died in the battle.

2. Why is the word ‘cries’ used by the poet in the first line?

Ans. The word ‘cries’ used here suggests the extent to which young Peterkin was eager to know about the battle. He did not know at that time, that the description of war to be given by his grandfather would be rather saddening and scary.

3. What is meant by ‘wonder-waiting eyes’? Where is the alliteration used here? Why did Wilhelmine look up with such eyes?

Ans. This phrase signifies the unmistakable curiosity reflected by the eyes of Wilhelmine eager to get some amazing answer to her question. The figure of speech used here is alliteration as the consonant ‘w’ has been used here twice. If we read the preceding line, we can find reference to Wilhelmine. This is another word starting with ‘w’. Like other children of her age, little Wilhelmine is curious to know something wonderful about different things she hears from her elders. That is why she looks up with such eyes.

4. What was the curiosity in young Peterkin’s mind?

Ans. Like his little sister Wilhelmine, young Peterkin is small kid fired with the curiosity to know about different things. He was eager to hear something amazing and exciting about the war. He thought his grandfather knew a lot of interesting things about it. In this extract, when his grandfather refers to ‘the great victory’, he feels he cannot remain quiet. He was just curious to know what the ‘famous victory’ was all about.

5. What did Kaspar tell about the ‘famous victory’? In what sense was it famous?

Ans. The ‘famous victory’ talked about by Kaspar was the victory of BritishAustrian forces over their French opponents. Kaspar told about its destructive features resulting in a large number of casualties and massive destruction of property. Nevertheless, he felt like any common man or woman that the victory was famous. Historically, the consequence of the battle established the superiority of the British and dealt a blow to the ambitions of the French emperor Louis XIV.

6. What did the people say about the war?

Ans. The war at the core of this poem was a real historical event forming a part of people’s memory. Despite its horrifying consequences, the war was usually remembered as a ‘famous victory’ for the winning side. In the poem, Old Kaspar expresses the perception of common folks of his time who were subdued in their opinion about the negative consequences of the war.

7. What could old Kaspar not make out?

Ans. Kaspar was aware of the great quantum of destruction and damage done by the battle. He knew that it had left his own family and surroundings in shambles. Despite that, he could not be too articulate regarding the negative impact of the battle probably because he did not bear the brunt directly and it was not a first-hand experience for him. Thus, it was easier for him to uncritically accept the prevailing trends in public opinion that regarded it as a ‘famous victory’. But when he finds the two kids questioning him on the merits of the battle, he found himself in a state of dilemma, and was exposed in his inability to justify his opinion with discerning precision.

Q. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

“My father lived at Blenheim then,
Yon little stream hard by;
They burnt his dwelling to the ground,
And he was forced to fly;
So with his wife and child he fled,
Nor had he where to rest his head.
“With fire and sword the country round
Was wasted far and wide,
And many a childing mother then,
And new-born baby died;
But things like that, you know, must be
At every famous victory.

1. Whose father lived at Blenheim when the war broke out? What does the word ‘then’ mean here? OR Who burnt ‘his dwelling’ to the ground?

Ans. Kaspar’s father lived at Blenheim when the war broke out. The word ‘then’ mean signifies the time when the war took place. The adjective ‘his’ has been used here for the father of Kaspar whose dwelling was burnt by the soldiers of the combined British-Austrian army.

2. How was the great victory a personal tragedy for the Kaspar family?

Ans. The great victory left behind a trail of destruction and doom for all who were affected by it. For the Kaspar family, as the speaker says, it proved to be extremely disastrous. His house was burnt and his father was forced to flee with his wife and child.

3. What were the results of the great victory?

Ans. The great victory was scripted by the combined forces of Britain and Austria. In the Battle of Blenheim, the combined forces defeated the forces of France and some of its German and Italian allies. But thousands of people died. It was a horrible scene with blood-covered bodies lying rotting in the sun everywhere. Many were forced to leave their dwellings, mothers separated from their children. A great destruction had been caused far and wide.

4. What is most tragic about the war hinted here?

Ans. The most tragic aspect of war suggested here is its impact on the civilian population. From the description given by Old Kaspar, it’s evident that they suffered its consequences most severely. The battle, whose winners were hailed as heroes and were immortalized in popular legends, laid waste to the entire country where it was fought.

5. What does the use of ‘fire’ and ‘sword’ suggest here?

Ans. ‘Fire’ and ‘sword’ suggest the destruction, horror and ruin brought about by the war that there was a havoc all over the country. Houses were ruined, a lot people died, death, blood and misery, a sorrowful condition of once calm and happy place. The fire and sword or the arson and murder created terrible disturbance all over the land.

6. How was the country affected by the war?

Ans. The country was ruined by the forces. People deserted their homes and were forced to wander about trying to find safe shelters. The impact of war was so disastrous that many civilians, including innocent women and children, lost their lives. After the war, thousands of corpses were lying everywhere.

7. What do the last two lines suggest about Kaspar’s perception of the so-called ‘famous victory’?

Ans. These lines only suggest that like a common man, he feels that death and destruction are only natural if a war leads to a victory regarded as a famous one. In other words, he accepts them as natural things, instead of denouncing or criticising ‘war’ for causing them.

8. What is the rhyme scheme followed in the poem?

Ans. In the last couplet of 10 out 11 stanzas, two lines rhyme. In the first four lines, the rhyme scheme is ‘abcb’. Thus, the overall rhyme scheme for each stanza is ‘abcbdd’. In the 10th stanza, however, last words in the second and fourth lines respectively (‘won’ and ‘Wilhelmine’) do not rhyme. Thus, we can say that the rhyme scheme is not regular except for the last two lines of each stanza.

Q. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

“Great praise the Duke of Marlbro’ won,
And our good Prince Eugene.”
“Why, ’twas a very wicked thing!”
Said little Wilhelmine.
“Nay… nay… my little girl,” quoth he,
“It was a famous victory
“And everybody praised the Duke
Who this great fight did win.”
“But what good came of it at last?”
Quoth little Peterkin.
“Why that I cannot tell,” said he,
“But ’twas a famous victory.”

1. What does Kaspar’s answer to his grandson’s question suggest?

Ans. It suggests that either he does not actually know why the war should be glorified. That probably brings him closer to the way any victory on the battlefield is seen by common people.

2. Bring out the irony inherent in the speaker’s utterance.

Ans. The speaker occasionally refers to the enormous quantum of destruction caused by the war. He also categorically talks about the death of thousands of people on the battlefield. Nevertheless, he keeps uttering that the war was a ‘famous victory’.

3. How did Wilhelmine react to the old man’s description of the war?

Ans. Wilhelmine was a sensitive and intelligent child. She knew what the war was all about and what it brought in its aftermath. Moreover, when her grandfather told her about the destruction and death that followed the war, she was convinced that it was something bad. She therefore reacted by saying that it was a wicked thing, when her grandfather praised the Duke and the prince for the ‘famous victory’

4. What do you think of the old man’s point of view?

Ans. The old man’s point of view in this poem represents an uncritical mass perception of history. Occasionally, it touches upon the actual consequences of the war it describes, but it is not suggested anywhere that denounces the leaders of the winning side who must have been responsible for all the destruction.

5. Comment upon the contrasted viewpoints in the poem.

Ans. Old Kaspar, who is the speaker in this poem, describes the horrible consequences of the war fought there. He even tells his grandchildren how his own family was affected and forced to migrate elsewhere in the aftermath of ‘that’ war. This is reinforced by the opinion of his little granddaughter who refers to war as something ‘wicked’. Despite all this, the speaker admires Duke Marlbro and Prince Eugene who led the winning side in the war. Moreover, he frequently refers to the war as ‘a famous victory’.

6. Why and how did the speaker try to justify the war?

Ans. The speaker’s interpretation of the battle was wholly based on how it was perceived by common folks during his time. There are no doubt traces of genuineness and authenticity in his description of its consequences. But at the end, it was regarded by everyone as a ‘famous victory’. Kaspar himself had doubts about it, but he lacked the spirit to reject it. He therefore was almost forced by his own ignorance to completely depart from how the result of the battle was seen by common people. He justified his stand by praising the Duke and the Prince, and repeatedly calling the battle a ‘famous victory’.

7. Do you agree with the justification of war? Why/Why not?

Ans. The way the war is justified is not agreeable on any count. As we learn from the speaker’s description, a war is always disastrous as it results in the killing of thousands of people and enormous damage to property or assets owned by common people. It does not matter which side wins and which one gets defeated in it. What is really significant is the extent to which it disturbs the life of common people. From that standpoint, glorification of war heroes cannot really justify its negative side. That is why the justification of war is not acceptable.

8. In the context of the poem, what special significance do the adjectives ‘young’ and ‘little’ have?

Ans. These adjectives have been used here for the two grandchildren of Kaspar, the speaker or narrator. Though they are not mature enough to clearly understand the inherent contradiction underlying Kaspar’s reference to the battle, they are still able to question and counter it. This suggests the difference between how the generation of Kaspar thinks of it, and the way the future will look upon it. While Kaspar’s opinion is that of a generation dying out and becoming obsolete, the questions posed by his grandchildren show a new wave of curiosity that will not accept it uncritically as the former does.

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