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ICSE Class 10 Poems and Short Stories After Blenheim (Robert Southey)

After Blenheim Synopsis and Important Questions


After Blenheim is an anti-war poem written by poet Robert Southey. The poem describes the losses and after-effects of an epic war which was fought in 1704 for the Spanish succession in Blenheim, South Germany.


Blenheim is the English name for the German village of Blindheim, situated on the left bank of the Danube river in Bavaria in South Germany. The overwhelming Allied victory ensured the safety of Vienna from the Franco-Bavarian army, thus preventing the collapse of the Grand Alliance.


This poem was written in 1796 sharply criticising the destruction and death caused by war. It is set at the site of the battle of Blenheim with questions of two small children about the skull one of them has found. Their grandfather, an old man, tells them of burnt homes, civilian casualties and rotting corpses while repeatedly calling it a famous victory. The poem depicts the common man's ignorance of the motive of war.

Whenever a war is fought, it brings a lot of destruction and death along with it. Apart from the loss of life, people also lose their homes and have to start again. Victory cannot compensate for such losses. Thus, the poet has used a simple narrative of a grandfather explaining to his two grandchildren his own suffering and the suffering of many others who were the victims of the battle. The grandfather keeps on quoting that it was a great victory but is unable to justify the gain of the war to mankind. People always think about the victory but fail to realise the loss that mankind faces because of such battles. Wars are evil and cost lives that are precious. We need to find solutions to solve conflicts without it costing any life. Only then everyone will be at peace.


On one summer evening, an old man named Kaspar was sitting in front of his house after finishing his daily chores. He was carefully observing his grandchildren playing in the area near the rivulet in front of him. He had two grandchildren—a boy named Peterkin and a girl named Wilhelmine. Wilhelmine saw that Peterkin had found something smooth and round that looked like a ball near the rivulet. She went up to him to see what he has found. Then their grandfather, Kaspar walks up to them and feels sad. He sighs and explains that the smooth, large, round thing is actually a skull of some fellow who died in the battle that was fought on this land years ago. He also quoted that this fellow had sacrificed his life for a great victory.


The grandfather states that he has been finding many such remnants in the garden or in the field during ploughing. There were a great number of people who fought this battle and many were killed. Many people lost their lives in this great victory.


After hearing these facts, little Peterkin asked the reason for the battle. They wanted to know everything about the battle. Wilhelmine was also curious and looked at her grandfather waiting for an answer in anticipation.


Kaspar in reply said that the war was fought between the English and the French. The English defeated the French. However, on being asked about the reason for the war, he could not answer. He did not know for what the war was fought, but he quoted that it was a great victory.


In continuation of the narration, Kaspar also told his grandchildren that his own father lived at Blenheim. The soldiers burnt his father's house and he was forced to leave the place with his wife and child. As a result of the war, he became homeless.


The fire of evil along with the swords destroyed everything. The war was terrible. There were many pregnant women who lost their lives and newborn babies were also killed. Kaspar ironically stated that such things take place at every battle that has a great victory.


It was a shocking sight where lots of bodies were rotting under the sun. These bodies belonged to the men who were killed in the battle. This battle was won because of these people who sacrificed their lives. Kaspar mentions that such things happen in order to achieve a great victory.


As stated above, the English had won the war. Their army was led by the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene. The commanders were greatly praised for the victory; however, little Wilhelmine said that it was a wicked thing. In response to the exclamation of his granddaughter, Kaspar again quoted that it was a famous victory.


The poem ends with old Kaspar mentioning that everybody praised the Duke. Peterkin asked if there was any good that came out of the war. Kaspar said that he could not answer this question as he did not know the answer but he could just say that it was a famous victory.


The last paragraph leaves a question to the reader about the ruthlessness of war. No motive, objective or reason can justify the loss of life. Innocent children are able to understand this, but sensible men still fight battles in order to resolve conflicts. This is the harsh reality of the world.


Short Answer Questions

  1. Where was old Kaspar sitting?
    Ans. Kaspar was sitting in front of the door of his cottage on a summer evening watching his grandchildren play.

  2. Who found the skull and where?
    Ans. Kaspar’s grandson Peterkin had found a smooth, round object while playing. He was playing beside the rivulet where he found this object, which was actually the skull of a soldier who died during the Battle of Blenheim.

  3. What was old Kaspar’s reaction after he found the skull?
    Why was old Kaspar not surprised or shocked after his grandchild found a skull?
    Ans. Old Kaspar reacted with a natural sigh after his grandson Peterkin gave him the skull that he had found beside the rivulet. He was not pretending; it came involuntarily. He was not surprised or shocked because he has been witnessing such skulls ever since he started ploughing fields.

  4. What victory did old Kaspar mention?
    Ans. When Peterkin found a skull, his grandfather Kaspar had to mention the Battle of Blenheim. The children were curious and wanted to know more about the war. This war was fought between the English and the French. The English defeated the French, but many soldiers lost their lives, and hence, it was regarded a great victory.

  5. How was the skull?
    Ans. Peterkin found a smooth, large, round skull of a soldier who had fought the Battle of Blenheim.

  6. What is meant by ‘childing mother’? Why does the poet specifically mention the death of childing mothers and newborn babies?
    Ans. Childing mothers mean expectant or pregnant women. The poet specifically mentions these to show the ruthless consequences of war which do not spare the lives of newborn babies or pregnant women. The war is heartless, miserable and brings suffering to innocent people.

  7. Who was forced to leave his dwelling and why?
    Ans. Old Kaspar’s father had a house near a small stream in Blenheim. The enemy soldiers burnt down his father’s house. As a result, he was forced to run from that place to save his life. He took his wife and small child to another place but did not get any place to hide himself.

  8. What sight was seen after the Battle of Blenheim?
    Ans. The shocking sight referred to thousands of bodies which were left in the open to decay. They simply got rotten. It was an inhuman sight. As the battle of Blenheim progressed, there were large casualties of soldiers. The French were defeated in the battle, and the dead bodies were left to smell. So, it was a shocking sight.

  9. What did Wilhelmine quote after knowing about the battle?
    Ans. Wilhelmine called the war a wicked thing which shows man's inhumanity to man. The skull that Peterkin found and those skulls which Kaspar regularly finds while ploughing are an indication that war is totally inhuman and undignified. Wilhelmine realised this and hence said that it was a wicked thing.

  10. What was Peterkin’s reaction after knowing about the battle?
    Ans. Peterkin was listening about the war patiently; finally, he asked what good came out of it when so many people lost their lives and homes with no positive result. This question shows that he was anxious about the war (at the end of the poem) and was unable to figure out why it was called a great victory when nothing good actually came out of it. On the contrary, he understood that people lost their lives and it was a dreadful thing.

Long Answer Questions

  1. Give the character sketch of Kaspar.
    Ans. Kaspar is an old man who has seen the consequences of the battle of Blenheim. His father had to leave his dwelling place as the enemy soldiers burned down their house. Whenever he ploughed the field, he kept on finding the dead remains of soldiers who fought the battle of Blenheim. He has accepted the devastation of war like any other common man considering it to be the cost needed for such a great victory. He focused on the victory instead of evaluating the losses. He knew who fought the battle but did not know who benefited from the battle or what was the reason that it was fought. He kept addressing it as either a famous victory or a great victory since that was what he had been hearing from his childhood.

  2. What is the theme of the poem?
    What is the moral of the poem?
    Ans. ‘After Blenheim’ is an anti-war poem. It illustrates the horrors of warfare which is a devastated landscape. The theme of the poem is about the war scenario years after the battle of Blenheim took place. The sorrowful sights and the shocking history is still afresh in old Kaspar’s mind. The moral of the poem is to avoid wars at any cost as they bring death and destruction. What do we earn when everything is lost? There was nothing great about the victory as people were left to die in the most undignified ways. Thousands of people were forced to flee from their own country and countless mothers and babies lost their lives. So, through this description, the poet brings out the ugliness of war and teaches us not to indulge in war at all.

  3. What has inspired Kaspar to repeat his statement of victory?
    Ans. Kaspar seems to be ignoring the answers to the questions asked by his grandchildren. It seems that Kaspar does not know the actual reason for war. At the end of almost every stanza, there is a repetition of an idea of the great victory in which the English had put the French to rot. Throughout the poem, Kaspar repeats the victory of being famous or great despite being ignorant of the purpose of war. Though he knows what war can do, as a common man he has been taught to glorify war so he continues to do so. He does not create a bad impression about war; hence, he repeats his statement of ‘famous/great victory’ so that the children's attention can be moved towards the positive impact of the war.

  4. Was the battle of Blenheim really a great victory as presented in Robert Southey’s poem?
    Ans. No, it is not presented as a great victory. The poet Robert Southey has used the idea of irony in order to communicate the devastation of war. The battle of Blenheim was glorious but certainly not a great victory as it caused a number of deaths. The poem ironically mocks at Kaspar’s belief of a famous and great victory at the end of the battle. It caused a lot of destruction of common people including pregnant women and newborn babies. There was nothing that was gained out of this war, and it was a loss for mankind. This is why the little children Peterkin and Wilhelmine found no reason to call it a great victory; instead, they thought it was wicked and there was no positive outcome of it at all.

  5. What losses due to the consequences of war are discussed in the poem?
    How has the poet described the devastation of war?
    Ans. Apart from the many losses that were caused, Kaspar has described three scenarios that he witnessed after the battle of Blenheim. He told his grandchildren that his father had a house at Blenheim near a small stream. The enemy soldiers burnt it down and, as a result, his father was forced to run away from that place to save his life. He took his child and wife to another place and started again. After the war in which the French were defeated by the English, there were thousands of soldiers who were killed and many more people became homeless. The dead were not properly cremated and were left under the sun to rot. Nobody was spared not even pregnant women and newborn babies. These miserable things and suffering to humankind are described as the consequences of a famous victory.

  6. How can you say that ‘After Blenheim’ is an anti-war poem?
    Ans. ‘After Blenheim’ has a scathing criticism of the horrors of war. It shows that international diplomacy, politics and war are matters which are cut from the lives of common men. In an outburst of praise for the heroes who won the war, old Kaspar reveals the typical inability of an ordinary citizen to understand the reason why the war took place. The poet has used irony to indicate the devastation of war. Old Kaspar tells his grandchildren that not only his own parents have been homeless because of war but many mothers lost their newborn babies. It was a sorrowful sight as after the war many bodies were rotting under the sun, and yet, he regards it as a famous or great victory. It is through the innocence of Peterkin and Wilhelmine that the poet expresses the condemnation of war. Both children think that it is wicked to have so many lives sacrificed without knowing the reason for it and they understand that it brings no good. The poem exposes the destruction caused by war. There are many ways through which the war has caused chaos for the common man. It is difficult to find any benefit from this famous victory. So, the poet has portrayed a post-war scenario to justify that wars are ruthless. Hence, we can admit that ‘After Blenheim’ is an anti-war poem.

  7. ‘After Blenheim’ is an illustration of man’s cruelty to man. Justify this statement.
    Ans. This poem is a scathing commentary on man's cruelty towards man. As seen in the poem, the worst state of human behaviour is being portrayed. While playing, Peterkin finds a skull and he takes it to his grandfather. His grandfather Kaspar has regularly been finding such skulls while he ploughs his field. These are proofs about the horrors of war. A man kills another man to achieve a victory.
    Kaspar, like any other old man, has accepted the consequences of war. He is only concerned about the great victory gained at the cost of death and devastation. On the other hand, his innocent grandchildren are not able to gulp the fact that it was a great victory since so many lives were sacrificed. The poem implies that the perpetrators of war cannot and will not suppress their ambitions that provoke wars. The children who like many people are uncorrupted by adult thinking can readily perceive war for what it is, i.e. death and destruction.

  8. How has the poet used irony to portray the consequences of war?
    Ans. The poem ‘After Blenheim’ is an anti-war poem which reflects on the horrors of war like burned houses, civilian casualties (like those of pregnant women and newborn babies) and rotting corpses. It is however ironical that the poem glorifies the outcome of the war in the form of a great victory of a nation at the cost of huge destruction of life and property. Old Kaspar is aware of the damage caused by war and that too to his own family, yet he seems more interested and aware of the victory achieved in the war than its purpose or benefits. His gruesome descriptions followed by his casual sayings create an effect of irony in the poem. Old Kaspar repeats the phrases ‘great victory’ and ‘famous victory’. It is also ironical that the masses are goaded by leaders into believing the importance of victory in war rather than its purpose or benefits for the common man. The irony exposes the readers to the pointlessness of war.

  9. Explain Kaspar’s complacency.
    Ans. Kaspar is an old man whose father had to shift his residence as a result of the battle of Blenheim. He has known of the devastation that this war has caused to mankind. He has unquestioningly accepted the loss of innocent lives in the battle of Blenheim as the price of the victory in war. It seems that he has resigned himself to the fact that people do die in wars. Throughout the poem he is seen repeating the victory was great and famous but he is ignorant of the cause of the war. Kaspar’s complacency is like that of modern politicians who dismiss the death of innocent people in war by referring to them with impersonal phrases like ‘collateral damage’.