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Discuss ways in which Thomas presents memory in `Old Man' in your answer
explore the effects of language, imagery and verse form.
Jan Marsh says `the sense of searching (for the) mislaid key, is the central theme to Thomas'
life and works' This critical quotation is accurate as this central theme is portrayed
throughout Thomas' poetry. In Old Man Edward Thomas contrasts age with youth and
explores memory as he looks back on his daughter plucking the old mans bush. The lack of
consciousness within his daughter and the innocence triggers the thought of remembrance.
Thomas begins to think will she remember picking the plant when she is older.
The poem starts with almost a third person, authoritative tone speaking about the properties
of the herb. The last line of the first stanza is personal, first person `And yet I like...' and the
poem is first person throughout. The use of present tense adds immediacy and emotional
impact and creates a tension between the now as the poet muses on the herb and the child
`picks' it his thoughts of the past and his speculations about the child's (and his own) future.
The form of the poem Old Man is one way in which Thomas presents memory the structure
of the line `Old man or Ladslove in the name there's nothing' uses iambic pentameter
however the line ends in an unstressed syllable as opposed to a stressed syllable which is
typically used in iambic pentameter, this is characteristic of Thomas who frequently played
with traditional poetic structures. This presents memory as the irregularity could represent
the irregularity of Thomas' memories, perhaps Thomas is unable to remember the past as
vividly as he would like to or he is unable to remember back to an age of lack of
selfconsciousness. Thomas was a very self conscious person who always doubted himself
and was unable to make decisions without dithering the image of his daughter so care free
caused him to reflect and try to strive towards the age of innocence.
Furthermore the poem is very irregular, the free verse conveying Thomas's uncertainty in
dealing with the subject of memory, this uncertainty is evident throughout the poem when
Thomas admits he has `mislaid the key' which is a metaphor for the memory he is unable to
retrieve. However as each line has ten/ eleven syllables it creates a gentle stable rhythm and
it suggests that Thomas is fully aware and able to find it in the future, the word `mislaid'
suggests that it is not indefinitely lost, it is only hidden from and he longs to recall the
memory. This conveys an image of optimism apparent in several Thomas poems, although
he drifts between melancholy the poetry brings him out of his depression, like March and
But these things also the poems end more optimistic than they began.
Additionally the poem only has four stanzas, although Thomas had a turbulent relationship
with his family, often abandoning them for weeks and expressing hatred for them due to his
melancholy, Thomas' daughter Myfanwy was also four years old when he wrote the poem.
Therefore the poem being for stanzas is important as the poem revolves around the memory
of Thomas's daughter. Moreover, the second stanza where Thomas in recollects the
memory of his daughter who plucks the old mans bush `snipping the tips and shrivelling the
shreds' contains the most lines. This is the central stanza and this is the stanza where Thomas
presents the memory it consists of sixteen lines as opposed to the other stanzas with only
eight lines. This is effective as Thomas presents memory as the most important aspect of the
poem and perhaps life in general, essentially without our memories we would have nothing at
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However Thomas further presents memory through language using a variety of different
techniques. The use of soft alliteration, mostly soft s', `l', `n' and `m' sounds reinforce the
thoughtful musing on memory and emotion. For example `scent is lost. I, too, often shrivel
the grey shreds' alliteration also adds emphasis on the importance of memory to Thomas.…read more