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Longer Classic Poetry

Key Stage 2

PRESENTATION

The important way to present the following poem to the class it to read it aloud, relishing the rhythm and the sound. Many grown ups still remember Rudyard Kipling’s ‘A Smuggler’s Song’  from their own childhood. They can often recite lines from it, especially the first verse.

As they listen, the class will know that this is a persona poem: a poem written as if spoken, not by the poet himself, but by a character. The voice is the voice of the smuggler.

A Smugglers Song

If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,
Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Five and twenty ponies
Trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the Parson,
’Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

Running round the woodlump if you chance to find
Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine,
Don’t you shout to come and look, nor use ‘em for your play.
Put the brushwood back again – and they’ll be gone next day!

If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining’s wet and warm – don’t you ask no more!

If you meet King George’s men, dressed in blue and red,
You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
If they call you ‘pretty maid’, and chuck you ’neath the chin,
Don’t you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one’s been!

Knocks and footsteps round the house – whistles after dark –
You’ve no call for running out till the house-dogs bark,
Trusty’s here, and Pincher’s here, and see how dumb they lie,
They don’t fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by!

If you do as you’ve been told, ’likely there’s a chance,
You’ll be give a dainty doll, all the way from France,
With a cup of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood –
A present from the Gentlemen, along ‘o being good!
Five and twenty ponies
Trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the Parson,
’Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by! 

Rudyard Kipling

DISCUSSION

  • The poem could be compared with ‘Cargoes’ by John Masefield. (see our Poetry Library) Both poems use lists, and the lists are of concrete nouns - things brought by sea from faraway places.
  • In ‘A Smuggler’s Song’ the accent and dialect of English is West Country, probably Cornish. This is a good chance to talk about the history of smuggling, especially in the West Country, where it was easy to bring boats into hidden coves to unload a cargo, avoiding the customs officers in the big ports.
  • The class might discuss whether the smuggler is a  ‘good’ man or a ‘bad’ man. He is doing something wrong, but has he any good points in his character? 
  • The rhythm and rhyme are very important, and enjoyable. (See Year 6: A-Z of Poetry Terms).
  • Let the class look at the way the beat goes, and at the rhyming patterns.
  • Do they like it? Why?
  • How do the different parts of speech add to the pleasure of the poem?
  • Is it a good way to tell a story?

ACTIVITIES

  • Get the class to perform the poem as a choral group.
  • Or split the class, and get half to do ‘A Smuggler’s Song’, and the other half ‘Cargoes’ too. They are very different poems – one in the smuggler’s voice, one in the poet’s voice – but they have those lovely lists in common.
  • Put their favourite lines or phrases from the two poems on the wall. Sometimes it’s good to enjoy just a few delicious words at a time.
  • Let each child write a list of treasures they’d like someone to bring them from an exotic place. Or even  a posh shop in London!
  • Try to make up a simple tune, and sing ‘A Smuggler’s Song’.
  • Each child could write the story from the child’s point of view, in the child’s voice, hearing the ‘gentlemen’ going by in the night, finding things hidden in secret places.