Below, you’ll find part of an analysis of the poem Nettles by Vernon Scannell.
Includes a breakdown of the stanzas, an insight into the speaker + voice of the poem, and an exploration of the themes and deeper meanings. This is only a quick overview to help you get to grips with the poem; you can access a full in-depth breakdown of the poem below.
‘My son aged three fell in the nettle bed.
‘Bed’ seemed a curious name for those green spears,
That regiment of spite behind the shed.’
(Full poem unable to be reproduced due to copyright restrictions)
- Nettle – a herb which had jagged leaves covered with stinging hairs
- Regiment – a permanent unit of an army typically commanded by a lieutenant colonel and divided into several companies, squadrons, or batteries and often into two battalions
- Spite – a desire motivated by anger to hurt, annoy, or offend someone
- Blisters – a small bubble on the skin filled with serum and caused by friction, burning, or other damages
- Till – until
- Beaded – decorated or covered with beads
- Grin – smile broadly
- Billhook – a tool having a sickle-shaped blade with a sharp inner edge, used for pruning or lopping branches or other vegetation
- Honed – sharpened
- Fierce – showing a heartfelt and powerful intensity
- Pyre – a heap of combustible material, especially one for burning a corpse as part of a funeral ceremony
My son, aged three, fell in the nettle bed. ‘Bed’ seemed to be a strange name for those green spears, that army of spite that lurked behind the shed: it was no place for rest. With sobs and tears, the boy came seeking comfort from me and I saw blisters beaded on his tender skin. We soothed him until his pain was not so raw. At last he offered us a watery grin, and then I took my billhook, sharpened the blade, and went outside and slashed in fury with it until not a single nettle in that fierce parade stood upright any more. And then I lit a funeral pyre to burn the fallen dead, but in two weeks the busy sun and rain had called up tall recruits behind the shed: my son would often feel sharp wounds again.
The poem begins with a first-person speaker describing the moment where their son feel into a nettle bed. The speaker reveals pieces of themselves as they process the experiences, such as their fierce protective personality and dedication to their loved ones. ‘Nettles’ is thus a dramatic monologue, spoken from a perspective of a parent who is trying to protect their child from the inevitable dangers of the world.
The poem’s introspective tone is shown from the speaker’s realisation that their son would be wounded again, suggesting perhaps that the speaker is a first-time parent. Scannell depicts the clash of overpowering feelings that a parent faces on a daily basis, terror, fear, anguish, rage, and unending love.
TASK: Pick two of the themes below, make a mind map and add four separate quotations from the story that relates to it. Make short notes of analysis, explaining how and why each one relates to your theme. What, in your opinion, is the author’s final message or statement about each theme?
- Youth and innocence
Thanks for reading! To read the full analysis of this poem, including a breakdown of the story and meaning, click here.