Agincourt 600 Poetry Competition: Challenge #1

This year is the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt that was fought between the English and the French. It was part of the Hundred Years’ War – which actually lasted for over 100 years! The battle took place on 25th October 1415 in Northern France. Won by the English who were led by Henry V, it is one of history’s most famous battles. 

Illustration by Alex Foster

Imagine that you are on a school trip in northern France at the place where the Battle of Agincourt was fought centuries ago in 1415. With your hood up to protect you from the rain, all afternoon you have walked around the site where that famous battle took place. You have visited the exhibition with its stories and its collection of relics from the battlefield. The display has rusting weapons and armour of all types that have been discovered over the years.

When you go back out into the grey light of an overcast day, you notice that the rain has stopped at last. A slice of sun breaks through the clouds and you see, not more than 10 metres from where you are standing, something glinting back at you with a strange metallic glare. Is it a can that someone has thoughtlessly dropped on the ground? Perhaps it is simply a rock or a piece of wood that has caught the sunlight in a strange way. Curious to see what it is, you walk over to it. Whatever it is, the main part of it is buried in the ground. The earth around it is soft from the rain and you manage to scrape and dig with your fingers until it more fully reveals itself. With a little more effort you are able to carefully free it and hold it in your hand.

Well! It’s not a can, a rock or a piece of wood. It’s a … what? You’ve found something that fell to the ground 600 years ago! Perhaps it was dropped, unnoticed, by a nervous longbowman, hunching around his campfire the night before the battle. Perhaps it fell to the ground in the heat and frenzy of the battle itself.

Helmet

What have you found? You choose.

How has this been missed by all the archaeologists, historians and tourists all these years? Why has today’s rain, of all the rains there have been since the battle of Agincourt took place, been the one to at last let it resurface? At this particular moment, you don’t care. You carefully put the rusty artefact into your rucksack and tell no-one; not your teacher, your tourist guide or your friends. You don’t even tell anyone back home when you return at the end of the trip. You carry your treasure, unseen, to your bedroom in your house.
Removing it from your rucksack and placing it on your bed you begin to unpack your suitcase. Then you hear a voice. It is the voice of the object! It has no mouth but somehow it is speaking to you. It is as if it has waited until you were both alone to tell you its tale. It has waited until there was no-one but you to hear it.

What was the object you found?

  • a helmet or spur?
  • a jewel owned by one of the nobles who fought?
  • a stud from a tunic?
  • a coin?
  • a belt buckle?
  • a breastplate or other piece of armour?
  • a shield (you had a very large rucksack!)?

What story of the battle does your object have to tell?

To help you think about your object’s story, try reading this poem of mine. It is about the county of Cheshire where I live

Cheshire Rising

My song began in the sand and brine
   of a slow retreating sea
when I crawled to shore and I stood upright
   and the light poured down on me
and my work began in the bones and flint
   of the tools I made my own
and mine is the song of time itself
   and mine is the song of stone.

My limbs were forged in the blazing sun
   and my eyes were lit by fire
and my voice rang out in the razor wind
   and that wind became my choir.
My fingers turned to rivers and roads
   and my choir became a mass
and mine is the song of iron and bronze
   and mine is the song of glass.

My head dreamt a word for a place of work
   and my lips formed ‘factory’
and my blood was the oil of a thousand cogs
   that turned the machinery
and my voice is heard in the whispered words
   of the microchip and plough
and mine is the song of days long gone
   and mine is the song of now.

My pulse is the locomotive chant
   of a heart that beats in Crewe.
My skin is a skein of cotton and silk
   from a life that Macclesfield knew.
My speech is the salt on Winsford’s tongue
   and my throat is a quarry of sand.
I’m the splintering sound of a Tudor beam
   in the palm of Chester’s hand.

That sound remains in the Cheshire plains
   as the light of evening dies
and it echoes in the dish of Jodrell Bank
   and goes out to the Cheshire skies.
It flows through The Dee to Connah’s Quay
   to the sea that I came from
and mine is the song of here and gone
   and mine is the song to come.

John Lindley

My poem is spoken by Cheshire. A place! These types of poems are called ‘personification poems’. The term comes from the word ‘person’. In these kind of poems objects and places can speak to us. Notice that whenever I use the words ‘I’, ‘mine’ and ‘me’ in the above poem that I am not speaking of myself. I have written the poem as if the place of Cheshire can speak to us and tell its own story.

For your poem, I want you to accept that your object has come from the Battle of Agincourt. That much you know. Instead of telling the story of how you found it though, let the object itself speak. Write the poem in the voice of the object. Let it tell of its adventures the day of that famous battle.

What secrets does the landscape hold?

My poem is in rhyme. You may wish to use rhyme for your poem too (but if you do, try and make sure that you are choosing your rhyming words for a good reason. Don’t choose words simply because they rhyme!) I also write poems without rhyme, breaking a sentence and starting a new line where I think it best for the rhythm of the poem. Try to find some poems that don’t rhyme to get the idea. These poems are called ‘Free verse’. You may wish to try writing without using rhyme.

When you have finished your poem, go over and over it to make sure that you have got it as perfect as you can

Enjoy yourself!

Once you’ve written your poem, you can enter it into the Agincourt 600 Poetry Competition.

How to Enter

This competition is now closed. Check back shortly to find out the winners!

This competition is open to poets aged 5-18, from the UK. This challenge is aimed at primary-level young writers – there are separate categories for entries from primary-level pupils (ages 5-11) and from secondary-level pupils (ages 12-18).The deadline for all entries is Sunday 31st January 2016.

Please send your poems in the body of an email to educationadmin@poetrysociety.org.uk with your name, age and address and the subject line ‘Agincourt 600’ followed by your age category (e.g. ‘Agincourt 600 Primary’). By entering, you give permission for Young Poets Network, The Poetry Society and Agincourt 600 to reproduce your poem in print and online in perpetuity, though copyright remains with you. We will add you to the Young Poets Network emailing list – please let us know if you’d rather we didn’t!

Resources for teachers

We have produced a new free, downloadable lesson plan to support this challenge, which explores some of the history and themes surrounding the battle and encourages students to create their own poems, thinking particularly about descriptive and emotive language.

If you’d like to enter a set of poems from your students – and we would love to receive these! – then simply download an entry form and you can send them all to us by post. We will then sort all of the admin for you.

Not within the age bracket? If you are inspired by this competition, why not submit your new writing on this theme to one of the competitions or magazines on our list of Poetry opportunities?

 

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