About His Person

About His Person

About His Person

Like 'Poem' and 'I am Very Bothered', 'About his Person' is about how we can construct a sense of people from just a few details.

This poem is like a detective story, with the reader constructing the character, his past life, and what has happened to him from a series of clues.

Some of these clues are fairly easy to decipher: We can, for instance, quickly work out that that some important event was cancelled and that this man wasn't very happy about the fact. But other clues remain impossible to solve, questions remain unanswered.

About His Person

'About his person' is the expression police use when they go through the items found on a dead body.

However clever we may think we are, we can never work out exactly what happened. Nor can we really be sure about the man's character.

The poem starts off as being fun, a game, a sort of intellectual puzzle, full of plays on words, or puns.

But the seriousness of the last few lines makes us think of this man as a real person. Someone who has been found this way, all alone in the world, dead after some terrible act - probably of suicide. It makes us feel sympathy for him as a human being who has suffered.

About His Person

Language

Through his choice of words, particularly his verbs, Armitage subtly suggests either the violence of the man's death, or of the events that led up to it:

'Stamped'

'Slashed'

'Stopped'

'Final'

'Beheaded'

'Fist'

He uses a lot of lines that could be read in more than one way. This is partly because Armitage plays on the meaning of words, he uses puns, but also because the details could be taken as metaphors for the man's life.

The following table contains lines from the poem, with several explanations or meanings to them...

Line: Possible Meanings:
About his person
    [*] What we can tell about him as a character [*] What we can tell about his life [*] What he's got on his body
A final demand
    [*] Could be from a company, or utility provider, such as British Gas. This might suggest the man was running very low on money [*] Or it could be a letter he was going to send, demanding some end [*] Or it could be a letter from another person in the story, demanding something of the man
Planted there like a spray carnation
    [*] Might be suspicious as if this is a set up [*] Could be a metaphor for love or marriage [*] Could be an ironic description of a suicide note
That was everything
    [*] That was the all he had on his body [*] What he's got on his body

Form

The poem is written in couplets, in 2 line stanzas in which the first and second line rhyme.

The first four rhymes are not full; they are half rhymes.

This creates a slightly off key feel, as if there's something not quite right. A similar effect is created by the irregular rhythm.

Perhaps the rhythm creates the feel that something is not quite right, the lines, like the clues not quite fitting in place, not quite going together enough to make a whole?

The poem is also in the form of a list, like a police report. There is asense of some order trying to be imposed on a distressing experience.

Subject
The subject of this poem appears to be how difficult it is to understand other people's lives.
Although at first it seems we might be able to piece together this character and his story the 'clues' prove to be very tricky.
Like 'Poem', 'I am very bothered' and 'It ain't what', it deals with questions of identity. What makes us us; our actions, our belongings, our desires?
Perhaps too the poem is questioning how death is treated in popular crime fiction, where the whodunit element is more important than the human suffering it usually revolves around.

Attitude
The use of puns and the detective element of the poem might encourage us not to take it too seriously.
But the subtle suggestions of violence coupled with the last lines make us feel some genuine emotion for this character who has lost love and his life: 'No gold or sliver, but crowning one finger a ring of white unweathered skin. That was everything.'

Style
The form of the poem imitates a police list.
The language cleverly avoids being pinned to one meaning. The details are elusive, we cannot complete the picture. Armitage achieves this through using puns, and language that hints at metaphorical meanings.
The rhymes move from being half rhymes to full ones in the middle of the poem to half rhymes again.
This creates the sense of things not being quite resolved, all the pieces not quite fitting together. The half rhymes at the end draw attention to themselves, allowing us to stop and think about their meaning.

And in the end this seems to be what Armitage is saying:

We may be able to work out a lot, but other people always must remain something of a mystery to us.

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