'I am very bothered when I think of the bad things I have done in my life...'
Think about it for a moment.
If you were asked to continue this piece of writing, using incidents from your own life what would you write?
Then imagine every 16 year old in the country reading about something in your past that you still feel guilty about, that really bothers you.
In this poem, Armitage is prepared to show us an unsympathetic side of himself, something from his past that he is rather ashamed of and is still 'very bothered' about.
But does this mean we can trust him, because he admits his guilt, or is this confessional poem just a way of gaining our trust and sympathy?
It's a love poem, presumably to his wife, and Armitage uses the traditional form for love poems, the sonnet. He refers to 'rings' that will last for 'eternity', objects you might expect in a love poem. But in almost every other way this poem breaks the unwritten rules of love poetry:
Instead of flattery and sweet nothings, we get a confession about an incident in a classroom, which ends with the 'stench of branded skin' - which is not exactly romantic!
In this poem, as elsewhere, Armitage uses what seems, at first, very ordinary language. In this poem there are no elaborate metaphors, no examples of personification, not even a humble simile.
Most of the words are everyday ordinary commonplace words, mostly of one or two syllables. Words like 'done', or 'things', and phrases like 'don't believe me'.
This is a long way from the language of Shakespeare with his 'incarnadines', and 'wither art thou's'.
Apart, that is, from eight.
Here, the first 3 words sound more like the language you might expect in a love poem, whilst the second half definitely does not:
What is the effect of putting these two kinds of Language together?
The language in the rest of the poem is ordinary, everyday.
So what makes this uncomplicated, unfancy language into poetry?
Rhythm and Rhyme
As anyone who writes lyrics will know, rhyme is a way of controlling rhythm. When we read a poem or some music lyrics we naturally stress words that rhyme.
Try reading this aloud:
'Tiger, tiger, burning bright In the forests of the night.'
Armitage uses a lot of internal rhymes and half rhymes to create his rhythms.
In the fourth to eighth lines there are:
'blades', 'played', 'handles', 'marked','lilac', 'flame', 'called', 'name' and'handed'.
Only 'flame' and 'name' are full rhymes.
The rest are half rhymes, in which the vowel sounds sound similar.
So where does this get us?
If you re-read lines 6 and 7 stressing all the 'a' sounds you should hear the rhythm coming through. The rhythm is also helped, of course, by the half rhyme and alliteration of 'Bunsen Burner'
Sensual imagery is a term used to refer to descriptions that appeal to our senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell.
The purpose is to bring the poem or story to life, to allow the reader to experience the world of the text as if they were there.
In Armitage's poem he uses details that appeal to our sense of sight, hearing, touch and one very memorable description that we smell.
Read the following quotes and then drag the sense they are referring to on to the relevant question mark. Mark your answer to see how you got on:
The poem is in the form of the sonnet, a traditional love poem.
A sonnet has 14 lines and a regular rhyme scheme. The most popular form in English is the Shakespearean, which ends with a rhymed couplet:
"Tired with all these, from these I would be gone, Save that to die I leave my love alone"
As we've seen, Armitage's poem is irregular, with rhymes popping in all sorts of unexpected places. Perhaps the irregularity goes with the subject matter.
He is saying this is a sort of a love poem, but it's not what you'd normally expect, it's not romantic. So he's uses some of the conventions of a sonnet,but stamps his own personality and feelings on it.
In all poetry questions you will be asked to write about the following:
- The subject(s) of the poem
- The attitude of the poet
- The poetic devices the poet uses
In other words, you will be asked about what the poet is writing about,what the poet feels about the subject(s) and how the poem is written.
|This is a love poem but also a confessional piece. Not only has Armitage to confess the crime of maiming the young woman, perhaps now his wife, but also the fact that clever excuses came, and come, too readily to him: 'Don't believe me, please'.|
|In effect he's saying watch out for me; help me to be honest.|
|This is clearly an incident the poet feels guilty about.|
|Or could 'bothered', as in 'I can't be bothered', be sarcastic?|
|The pain he describes is though very real; it makes you wince when reading it.|
|But there is also a note of tenderness and warmth, in the last line in particular.|
|A sonnet, but an unconventional one. He adapts the form to suit the unusual subject matter: his unusual form of love.|
|The sensual imagery makes the scene vivid and painful.|
|The rhymes create the emphatic rhythm, and help to put some pattern, order and control on strong heart-felt emotions.|