The poem consists of a single stanza of 24 lines. The lines are pentameters (they have ten syllables each).
- Some of the vocabulary is very 'northern' - the phrase "slathers his daft mush" is particularly suggestive of Armitage's Yorkshire roots.
- The rhyme in the phrase "town clown" contributes to the creation of a comic image, before telling us not to laugh.
- This is a strongly visual poem. The simile of "a basket of washing that got up and walked, towing a dog on a rope" conjures a shambolic person. The structure of the sentence mirrors the way the dog walks behind the clown punk.
- Armitage makes the reader re-imagine a heavily tattooed body. The man's skin is an image all of its own, made up of "every pixel". But the poem stops us from reacting with fear, as we might typically; instead we are encouraged to think sympathetically of how such a person will look in old age, when the tattoos become "sad".
- Vocabulary to do with art or painting - "ink", "daubed" and "dyed" - permeates the poem in the same way that tattoos puncture the man's skin, so that the ink has sunk even into his "brain". Is there a pun here with 'died'?
- It is striking that although the tattoo ink is "indelible", the image of the clown punk can be washed away with windscreen wipers and rain in the minds of the children on the back seat. Although tattoos are permanent, people are not, so eventually everything will be gone.
There is a sense of urgency created in the first lines of the first two stanzas with the repetition of "shouted": the owners begin by needing the horse whisperer.
The final stanza uses a number of techniques to create a spell-like rhythm: the list of three breeds - "Shire, Clydesdale, Suffolk" - creates a strong beat. The assonance of "searing breath" and "steady tread" (the second one is almost a rhyme) builds momentum and climaxes in the repeated word "pride", which ends both the last two lines. The momentum and the repetition emphasise the importance of this word. But it is ambiguous - is it the horses' pride that he misses, or his own pride as a horse whisperer?
The "secrets" of the horse whisperer's talents in the first two verses sound very much like magic spells: in the second stanza the narrator explains that the frog's wishbone provides "a new fear to fight the fear of fire". When the narrator seeks revenge (in the fourth stanza) he tells us that he uses a "foul hex", responding to accusations of witchcraft by deciding to use it.
The horses are given a strong physicality with their "restless/hooves", "shimmering muscles", "stately heads", "searing breath" and "glistening veins". Some of these descriptions use a technique called synecdoche, where a part of something is used to represent the whole: here specific parts of the horse are used to stand for the whole horse, effectively focussing the reader's attention.
Checking out me history
The sections on individual black historical figures contain stronger imagery, with use of nature metaphorsto powerful effect. Toussaint L'Overture is a "thorn" and a "beacon".Nanny de Maroon is linked with a mountain, fire and rivers. Mary Seacole is described in dramatic imagery as a "healing star" and a "yellow sunrise" to the patients she treats.
All three are associated with light - "beacon", "fire-woman" and "star" - suggesting that they play metaphorical roles, illuminating the poet's true historical identity
The horses are elevated by contradictory terms: they are "tender giants"; they are "stately" but they are also innocents: he uses the simile of "helpless children" to describe the animals.
Images are used to deliberately create confusion about when this poem is set: "the tractor came over the fields/like a warning" but the narrator was chased away with "Pitchforks", and the horses were used to pull ploughs in the first stanza. This suggests that this poem is also about the conflict between traditional and modern techniques of animal husbandry. The idea of a crowd armed with pitchforks driving away the "demon and witch" is also iconic.
Finally, there is a suggestion that the horse whisperer is almost a horse himself as he joins the "stampede" to leave the country when the tide turns against him.
The poem is rich in alliteration and rhyme, helping to unify the lines and create a sense of rhythm even in free verse. For example in the third stanza, the two lines "but I know you'll go, betray me, stray/from home" have two sets of internal rhyme (know/go and betray/stray), and half rhyme between the final word and the first set of rhyme.
The third to sixth stanzas all have some end rhyme, which always includes the final line of the verse, creating a sense of finality associated with the death of her victims.
Sibilance is used at the end of the first stanza to suggest the hissing of snakes: "hissed and spat on my scalp".
Duffy uses groups of threes as a means to build up rhythm from the very first line: "a suspicion, a doubt, a jealousy".
Duffy has written a blackly humorous version of the myth. She uses appropriate types of stone for each living thing that Medusa kills: a "dull grey pebble" for the bee; a "housebrick" for a ginger cat. The sizes of the stones increase through the poem.
The danger posed by upsetting Medusa is emphasised by the metaphor of "bullet tears". The metaphor is paradoxical, since tears are commonly seen as weak, but bullets are violent.
The whole poem is an extended metaphor for a jealous woman who turns against her partner. Although jealousy makes Medusa dangerous, she also loses a lot: her hair turns to "filthy snakes" and her breath "soured, stank". She is aware of the change in herself: by the end of the poem the rhetorical questions "Wasn't I beautiful?/Wasn't I fragrant and young?" show her bitternessat being betrayed and sadness at that change.
The extended metaphor is further developed in her description of her man who was a "Greek God" (a clichéd description of a handsome man but wittily appropriate in context). His heart is metaphorically a "shield", suggesting that he was unable to open up and love her properly.
Nagra uses phonetic spellings in places to represent 'Punglish' - English spoken in a Punjabi accent. This increases the number of 'd' and 'v' sounds in the song, and creates an alliterative, rhythmic effect.
There is a lot of rhyming in the poem, which is to be expected in a song form. It doesn’t follow a regular pattern, in the same way that the structure is irregular. It is usually end rhyme, and the 'ee' sound of "chapatti", "chutney" and "Punjabi" tends to dominate. This use of rhyme gives a swing to the poem, and speeds up the metre. Towards the end of the poem, in the stanzas set at night, rhyme disappears and the metre slows down, appropriate to the intimate feeling of the most affectionate section of the poem.
In the fourth stanza Nagra plays with the metaphor of the cat and mouse, as the narrator's wife is on what could be an internet dating site. The men she is catching are both mice, which she is playing with as a cat might. But they could also be cats. 'Cat' is a fairly common but old-fashioned slang term for a man. The confusion of who is the cat and who is the mouse reflects the situation the metaphor describes, where we might expect the bride to be the victim, but she is not! There may also be some punning here on the idea of the 'web' and her "netting" her prey.
The metaphors used to describe the narrator's bride are quite unexpected. Neither the "tiny eyes ov a gun" and the "tummy ov a teddy" sound particularly attractive, but it is clear that he loves her. They also tell us a lot about his wife: using the comparison of the gun tells us she's assertive, but "teddy" suggests affection and softness.
One image- of his bride swearing - sums up the ideas behind the poem: "all di colours of Punjabi" draws on the idea of colourful language, but it also suggests the idea of variety, and that behind the stereotype of the Indian immigrant, there are many different individual lives.
The shop at night becomes a romantic destination. The personification of the "whispering stairs" gives a beautiful sense of secrecy, and the shopkeeper's stool is elevated with the adjective "silver", while they look out past the things which represent their daily life - the "half-price window signs" - to the "brightey moon", a romantic icon.
Every line ends in a half or full rhyme with Brendon Gallacher’s last name throughout the poem. This is a simple scheme although surprisingly difficult to achieve, and it creates a sense of unity without undermining the idea that the narrator's voice is that of a child.
Dialect words, or words spelled differently to indicate a Scottish accent, occasionally creep in. So characters sit by the "burn" (river) and have a "wee holida" rather than a 'little holiday'.
There is a lot of repetition in this poem, particularly of the phrase "my Brendon Gallacher", which becomes almost a refrain. The narrator almost never says his name without the word "my", and when her mum says the name, she adds "your" to the beginning. The repetition of the possessive pronoun emphasises the idea that Brendan belongs to the narrator, and emphasises the theme of loss and longing for something that is gone. When the name Brendon appears without the surname or the "my" in the last line, as just "Oh Brendon", the impact is much greater: losing the refrain highlights the loss of her imaginary friend.
The sound "oh" in the last line is also repeated, adding to the feeling of lament.
The character of Brendon Gallacher is associated with life outdoors. When the narrator's mum suggests having him "round to dinner", the narrator makes excuses - understandably since he doesn't exist! But the only time he comes indoors is in the final verse when he's 'died', suggesting that the fantasy of him doesn't mix with the reality of the narrator's own life.
Brendon Gallacher is pictured as an exotic, glamorous figure, removed from the dull domesticity of the narrator's life. He's "Irish" rather than Scottish, and his father is a "cat-burglar", not just a thief. This description makes Brendon Gallacher's background seem slightly unbelievable from the outset.
Kay uses pathetic fallacy to create a sense of the fateful day when Brendon Gallacher 'died': the rain that was "pouring" could reflect tears, or be used to create an ominous atmosphere. But there is also the suggestion that the narrator meets with Brendon in the "open air" but if it's raining she wouldn't be able to go out, so perhaps the rain contributes to his end.
Brendon Gallacher is vividly imagined in the poem, which is rich in details about his character and the places that he and the narrator go together. At the beginning those details are factual but not visual; it is only at the end of the poem, when we know that he is no longer real, that we get to really see Brendon Gallacher, with his "spiky hair/his impish grin, his funny, flapping ear". The vivid late physical description gives more impact to his death, and strangely makes him seem real.
Alliteration is used throughout the poem: "public places"; "chosen" and "choose"; "street" and "stars"; "swallow" and "sword". This refers to the point made before: the poem is closely knitted to reinforce the tight structure.
Armitage uses words and phrases that suggest a relationship between the speaker and his audience, like "dear". The phrases also suggest the discomfort of that relationship: "to make a scene" has negative connotations, as does the idea of someone begging on their knees.
The poem is a direct address to the second person "you", meaning both the reader and a character in the poem who does specific things such as giving a cup of tea. It makes the poem more immediate for the reader, and makes them think about their own reactions when asked for money in the street.
The words "frankincense" and "myrrh" link to the "gold" in the stanza before: they are references to gifts brought by the three Wise Men to the infant Jesus. They were chosen at the time because of their rarity and preciousness - here they are used to put the requests of the homeless narrator into perspective. The narrator only wants "change", but that word is ambiguous - small coins or a command to the audience: "just change"?!
The romantic image of "under the stars" becomes paradoxical (conflicting) when juxtaposed with being "on the street", but that contributes to the ambiguous tone of the poem, and its attempts to challenge our preconceptions of homelessness.
At first glance the images in the third stanza seem fantastical - "swallow swords", "eat fire" - but they are busking activities that people perform on the street to encourage passers-by to give them money. The final activity, "escape from locks and chains", does not seem to be so much better than the things he will do for silver, but it could be read metaphorically - that gold would enable him to escape the prison of homelessness.
Les Grands Seigneurs
The title Les Grands Seigneurs sounds grandiose, partly because it is French, a language associated with chivalry and courtly love in the medieval era. The term originally referred to aristocratic or noble men, but it has become a phrase that's used ironically.
Men are described in a series of hyperbolic and extraordinary metaphors, some of which reference the era of knights and damsels - "castellated towers" and "buttresses" are architectural features of medieval castles. But some of the metaphors have a subtle air of the ridiculous, subverting (going against) the romantic ideal: they are "performing seals" or "rocking-horses/prancing down the promenade". Neither verb suggests dignity!
The first person possessive pronoun "my" is used quite frequently in relation to men, except in the final stanza, when the narrator becomes a possession.
The metaphors do suggest that the narrator depends on men and the way in which they respond to her for security: "buttresses" and "ballast" are both images of support and balance.
Les Grands Seigneurs
The third and fourth stanzas depict the narrator as she is viewed by men. In the third stanza the images confirm the motif of courtly love - she is a "queen" - and therefore remote and untouchable. But in the final stanza, when the narrator has been won by a man, this reduces her status to that of a "toy". Most of the terms used for her in the final stanza suggest smallness, as if she has been diminished by marriage. The power she had as a queen has gone; her husband can click his fingers and she has to react.
Alliteration in the second stanza - "prancing" and "promenade", for example - followed by the combination of rhyme and alliteration in the phrase "hurdy-gurdy monkey-men" underlines a sense of ridiculousness.
There is no regular rhyme scheme in Les Grands Seigneurs. There is the occasional instance of internal rhyme: "after I was wedded, bedded", for example. Rhyme serves to draw attention to the crucial change of tone in the poem, and belittles it. The final word, "bluff" rhymes with "fluff" from the middle of the previous line and this also draws attention to key concepts. The sounds create a lighter tone here, which complements the blackly humorous message.
Although it doesn't have an easy, memorable rhyme scheme, the poem is powerful when read aloud. The end of lines one and three rhyme ("land / sand") but so do the first and last words of line three ("stand / sand") which gives it extra power.
Lines 12 and 14 also rhyme and words such as ("decay / away") mean that the poem ends with a feeling of mystery and emptiness.
The use of iambic pentameter means that it has a regular sound.
Shelley creates a memorable image of this "vast" and once great statue, now in ruins. He also places it in the middle of a huge desert with nothing else around it, which highlights its fall from grace. What was once so magnificent - a symbol of the king's great power - is now "sunk... shattered... lifeless".
We have no sympathy whatsoever with the statue or the king though, due to some of Shelley's descriptions: "sneer of cold command... hand that mocked them" and the arrogance of the words displayed at the bottom.
My Last Duchess
Although it is written in rhyming couplets - which would usually make it sound more memorable - the sense of rhyme is partly lost because there is so much enjambment, for example, "Will't please you look at her? I said/'Fra Panfolf' by design, for never read/Strangers like you that pictured countenance". There is lots of stopping and starting and it is hard to read it without sounding full of yourself.
There are lots of personal pronouns in this poem, as one might expect in this situation but in this case they are significant as one of the themes is the narrator's high opinion of himself and his selfishness. Many of the words also relate to his love of possessions - including his former wife ("My last Duchess").
The narrator, in a rare moment of humility, says he is not very good with words "Even had you skill/In speech - (which I have not)" and, in a sense, he's right. This is not a poem full of wonderful imagery and it would reflect a capable, intelligent and sensitive soul if it was;this certainly does not describe the Duke.
The River God
At times the poem sounds childlike due to the simple rhyme scheme and it's also a bit clumsy because the amount of beats in each line is inconsistent. For example:But I can drown the foolsWho bathe too close to the weir, contrary to rules.And they take a long time drowningAs I throw them up now and then in the spirit of clowning.
The "Hi yih", which is repeated, adds to this impression and almost gives it a sing-song lilt, like a folk song.
The language in the poem is like a river itself - simple but powerful, repetitive yet pleasant. "Beautiful" is repeated for emphasis several times, and points to a contrast between the River God's description of himself ("smelly" and "old") and the woman he drags to his bed with her "beautiful white face" and "golden sleepy head".
The Hunchback in the Park
There is some rhyme (eg stanza one, first and last lines, "park/dark"; stanza four, lines one and three, "rockery/mockery") and half rhyme (eg stanza one, lines two, three and five, "mister/water/enter") but there is no regular pattern to it.
One could easily choose to read several lines together as there are examples of enjambment, eg: While the boys among willows Made the tigers jump out of their eyes To roar on rockery stones
But despite this and the lack of punctuation, the poem makes you take things slowly.
Sound is mentioned in the poem as hostile. The only spoken words are "Mister... Hey mister" as the children try to attract his attention to mock and laugh at him.
The images in the poem evoke sympathy for the main character. The first stanza contains information that sets the tone. From the first line the hunchback is defined by his appearance, not by who he is or his name - and cruelly so. It is almost certain that he is known locally as "The hunchback in the park".
Line two tells us that he is "solitary". We never discover his name - he is just "mister".
The rest of the stanza tells us that he is in the park from "the opening of the garden lock" to the "bell at dark". There are no people in sight here; no one is with him.
The Hunchback in the Park
Bread and water were typically given to a prisoner: it is no coincidence that the hunchback is given the same in stanza two. He is treated just like a prisoner because of his physical difference and thus he has been cast aside by society.
The image of the children filling the poor man's cup with gravel and the description of them aping his hunched back are simple but powerful and so our sympathy for the main character grows.
In stanza two and again in the final stanza the hunchback is described as having a kennel like a dog - he is being treated as less than human.
The Ruined Maid
The aabb rhyme scheme is further supported by the rhymes being 'exact' or 'full' rhymes. This means that the words chosen sound exactly like each other, eg "crown/Town", "socks/docks", etc.
The regular rhythm and rhyme help make it sound like a light, playful ditty, almost nursery rhyme in quality. There is a happy, musical lilt in lines three and four of each stanza as Hardy emphasises the 'ee' sound very clearly. This adds significantly to the irony when we realise the main character is a prostitute.
In most of the stanzas, the language and imagery used in the first part is then contrasted by that which follows it, eg:'You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;And now you've gay bracelets and bright feathers three!''Yes: that's how we dress when we're ruined,' said she.
A pattern arises - the naïve farm worker reminds 'Melia (and informs the reader) how things used to be for her and then comments on how much better things are now.
Another, even more obvious pattern of language is in the last line of each stanza, 'Melia tells her friend that she's "ruined". Whilst her friend is praising her, 'Melia constantly reminds her that although on the face of it she is doing well, it has come at a massive, personal cost to her and in some ways, she is worse off than her friend. The fact she is now a prostitute, however well she might look, is always present and inescapable.
Casehistory: Alison ( Head Injury)
Although at first the poem might sound like a conversation, it becomes clear that Alison is talking to herself.
There are a lot of short sentences that show how Alison is taking her time, either because she chooses to or because of her condition.
This poem lends itself to a slow reading with plenty of pauses.
There are several examples of juxtaposition in this poem. Some examples of juxtaposition in the poem include: enmeshed in comforting fat... delicate angles airy poise... lugs me upstairs Her face, broken... smiles clever girl... damaged brain
The poet wants to show the contrast between the two Alisons of past and present and make clear how the injury has affected her life.
There are also lots of words used to reflect loss - loss of family members ("my father's dead"), loss of memory ("I do not remember") and loss of happiness or quality of life ("shall never get over").
On a Portrait of a Deaf Man
As a reminder of ballad metre, think of the Christmas carol O Little Town of Bethlehem. Using ballad metre means that the poem lends itself to being read aloud and has harmony, rhyme and rhythm that are quite lyrical.
The language used creates extremes of mood. A pattern develops whereby Betjeman uses positive, warm images to evoke happy memories:The kind old face, the egg-shaped head,The tie, discreetly loud,The loosely fitting shooting clothes
And then he brutally undermines all this with an image related to death in the following line:A closely fitting shroud.
This also happens in stanzas two, four and seven.In these stanzas the death imagery is even worse, bordering on horror:But now his mouth is wide to let The London clay come in. maggots in his eyes...now his finger-bones Stick through his finger-ends.
Checking Out Me History
Agard uses variations in spelling to suggest Caribbean dialect, especially replacing 'th' with 'd'. This stresses the importance of carving out his "own identity".
There is repetition - particularly of "Dem tell me" - throughout the poem, creating a sense of rhythm.
End rhyme is heavily used, emphasised by adapted sections of nursery rhymes: the dish who ran away with the spoon, and Old King Cole, for example.
In the "Dem tell me" sections the poet refers to nursery rhyme characters and other non-historical people, like Robin Hood or the cow who jumped over the moon. Even "1066 and all dat", which might appear to be an historical reference, is probably citing a humorous book (published in 1930) famous for its irreverent parody of histories of England. There's a suggestion that the version of history taught to the poet is not exactly accurate even before you consider that black people have been completely left out.