Chainsaw Versus the Pampas Grass by Simon Armitage

Revision notes on Simon Armitage's Chainsaw Versus the Pampas Grass.



The poem is in free verse style with seven stanzas. The poem relies heavily on enjambment and is a monologue. The freedom of the verse and the use of enjambment adds a conversational tone to the poem. Despite this tone, there are tight uses of sound patterns - sibilance, fricative alliteration, plosive alliteration and rhyme - to give a sinister undercurrent, hinting at the violence in the poem.

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The opening of the poem "It seemed an unlikely match" sets the scene, echoing the title of the poem. The chainsaw and the pampas grass are personified throughout the poem, making the violence more visceral. This extended metaphor continues throughout the poem.Early on, the poet uses on gender-specific lexis: the chainsaw "knocked back" a "quarter pint" of oil. The pampas grass has "ludicrous feathers and plumes". In line with the violence there is also military language used with "gunned the trigger".

The chainsaw "gears up" for the battle with the pampas grass which, despite its selfish and vain depiction, bears a threat with its "twelvefoot spears". The word "spears" here suggesting it has its own weapons with which to fight.

The language now becomes excessively violent, the chainsaw having a "bloody desire" to destroy "the flesh of the face and the bones underneath". Interestingly gentle verbs are juxtaposed with aggressive verbs for effect - the chainsaw "touches" and "dabs", but also "rips", "severs" and "tears". The mix of verbs here suggest the poetry of battle in that boxing matches can resemble dances!

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The main imagery is the extended metaphor of the personified chainsaw and pampas grass. The images conjured in this poem are violent and visceral - "plant-juice spat from the pipes and tubes".  In the setting up of the battle, Armitage uses some stunning imagery to describe the summerhouse where the chainsaw waits, "still holding one last gulp/of last year's heat behind its double doors, and hung/ with the weightless wreckage of wasps and flies". This is hugely evocative imagery, and the mention of the word "wreckage" set us up for the forthcoming violence.

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The tone of the poem begins aggressively in a macho way. This continues through the main body of the poem, the speaker enjoying the battle with the pampas grass and the ensuing violence. The violence becomes more irrational when he "took up the saw and drove it vertically downwards", eventually pouring barbeque fluid on the stump and setting it on fire. After the speaker "left it at that", there is a shift in tone. The poem becomes much more lyrical and thoughtful, making allusions to "corn in Egypt", "twilight moon" and a "count back across time" as the grass grows back. The speaker is left impotent against nature ultimately describing himself in the window powerless, like "the midday moon".

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Masculinity vs Femininity

Masculinity in Crisis

Man vs Nature

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Is this published?

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