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Flashcards in Flag Deck (16):

Recall the first stanza:

What's that fluttering in the breeze?
It's just a piece of cloth
that brings a nation to its knees.


Recall the second stanza:

What's that unfurling from a pole?
It's just a piece of cloth
That makes the guts of men grow bold.


Recall the third stanza :

What's that rising over the tent?
It's just a piece of cloth
that dares the coward to relent.


Recall the fourth stanza:

What's that flying across a field?
It's just a piece of cloth
that will outlive the blood you bleed.


Recall the fifth stanza :

How can I possess such a cloth?
Just ask for a flag my friend.
Then blind your conscience to the end.


What clothing piece is mentioned in most of the stanzas?
(include quotes)

Cotton- 'It's just a piece of cloth'


Why is the cloth symbolic?

-Flags do not represent anything real at all. Nations are merely "imagined communities".
- Agard uses repetition to emphasise the fact the symbol is "just a piece of cloth".
-He contrasts this with violent imagery that expresses the negative power of the flag.


What is the structure of the poem?

-The poem is built around a conversation between two voices – one that asks the child-like question of each opening stanza; the other, perhaps Agard himself, who responds in the next two lines. In the first four stanzas the response is the same, with the line "It's just a piece of cloth" echoing throughout the poem.


What is the form of the poem?

-Flag is written in a tight, regular form. It has five stanzas, each with three lines. The middle line of each stanza is shorter than the other two. The form therefore mimics the shape of an old medieval flag. The three lines are like the three stripes of many national flags today.


What is significant about the first and third lines of the three stanzas?

- The first and third lines of the first three stanzas rhyme. This suggests a bond between the two voices in the poem. This structure then breaks in the third stanza, where "field" and "bleed" don't rhyme. It is gone by the final stanza which ends on a rhyming couplet. This shows how the 'argument' of the poem has been developing and building towards a conclusion and the characters are going in different directions.


How is the sound of the flag presented?

- An important contrast is in the soft sounds of the flag ("fluttering", "unfurling", "rising", "flying"). These are drowned out by the short, sharp, hard sounds that are emphasised by the use of alliteration: "nation/knees" (stanza one); "guts"/"grow" (stanza two).


What technique is used throughout the entire poem?

- Repetition is also key, particularly the line "It's just a piece of cloth". It is also as if the poet is trying to deny the symbol of its power – which he then has to accept. His companion wants a flag and the final two lines sound like a kind of defeat.


What does Agard contrast positive words with?

Agard contrasts positive, poetic language with harsh and heavy words. So "fluttering" and "breeze", or "rising" or "flying" and "field" are always brought down to earth with the very ordinary, dull, repeated "cloth".


What is the cloth?

- This dull piece of "cloth" is the source of all the action and energy in the poem. It is seen "fluttering", "unfurling", "rising" and "flying" – and its effects on people and nations are also active. The flag: "brings", "makes", "dares" and "will outlive".


What consequences does the flag have?

- This action and energy has negative consequences, though – a defeated country ("on its knees"), affecting the "guts" of men, which while meaning bravery also means their bloody insides. This association is made clear in the next stanza ("the blood you bleed").


How is the anger of the poet presented?

The anger or defeat of the poet is expressed in a final, violent image. He suggests it is very simple to get one ("just ask") but not easy to control its power.