Foregrounding - activity

In pairs or small groups, explore instances of grammatical foregrounding in Funeral Blues. This could be done by producing an analysis grid, where students examine how a grammatical feature of the text is foregrounded, and most importantly, discuss the potential meaning of the foregrounded feature. How do the instances of foregrounding add to our understanding and enjoyment of the poem?

To get you started, here are a couple of ideas:

Grammatical feature

Type of foregrounding

Potential meaning

Verses 1, 2 and 4 are composed of imperative/command structures. Foregrounding is achieved through parallelism, where the imperative structure is repeated. To me, this suggests that the speaker of the poem is expressing a strong desire for silence, for things to stop, for the world to leave them alone. The foregrounding here is important because it makes these feelings stand out and be prominent in the text. All of the things the poet talks about are external things in the world: clocks, telephones, aeroplanes, policemen, etc.
Verse 3 is composed of declaratives/statements. Foregrounding is achieved through deviation, because the pattern that is established in the first two verses is broken. At this point in the poem, there is a shift towards more metaphorical language use. At this point in the poem, the speaker stops and reflects on his/her inner thoughts: my North, my working week, my song. It feels as if the speaker has given up on asking the world to be quiet, and is now completely immersed in their own grief and sense of loss.

Of course, there are lots of other patterns that students might explore. These include:

  • The internal structure of the imperatives, achieving foregrounding through parallelism:

Adverbial

Verb

Object

Adverbial

stop all the clocks
cut off the telephone
prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone
silence the pianos
with muffled drum bring out the coffin
let the mourners

  • The use of the definite article in noun phrases, foregrounding specific objects in the story world of the text. The use of the definite article can create a sense of 'conceptual proximity', where we are invited into the 'world' that the voice of the poet creates. Compare prevent the dog from barking vs. prevent a dog from barking. What is it about the use of the definite article that makes us feel a part of the story? Why would the speaker want to 'invite' us in to the world of the poem?

  • The internal structure of the declaratives in verse 3. Here, we have an example of foregrounding being achieved through parallelism:

Subject

Verb

Complement

He was my North
my South
my East
my West
my working week
my Sunday rest
my noon
my midnight
my talk
my song

There are lots of other patterns in the poem that you and your students might find, and discuss the potential meaning of.

Foregrounding is a powerful tool for analysing all kinds of texts, because it rests on the very simple idea of 'noticing' and 'attention'.

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