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An appreciation of a Tony Harrison poem.

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Introduction

Natalie Ktena An appreciation of a Tony Harrison poem Death is perhaps the only certainty that we as humans have in life. That it will come, both directly and indirectly, is inevitable and each person has their individual response to that: some are afraid, some are upset and some are even excited by the idea. In his poem, Tony Harrison expresses his own views on death generally and particularly on how death has affected his own life. One obviously does not know what the subject of the poem shall be before reading it. The poet takes advantage of this blank page and rather than bringing in the theme smoothly he chooses another method. The poem's very first line reads: 'Though my mother was already two years dead' Harrison chooses to get straight to the point. From knowing nothing, the reader now has to get to grips with the idea quite quickly. Death is quite a shocking thing to be faced with anyway so by being introduced to it in such an abrupt manner, the reader is forced to take notice. One can be sure that the poet wants us to note this due to his word order. It is far more natural to say that his mother had been dead for two years, as opposed to 'two years dead'. The emphasis falls on the word dead, not to mention the fact that the poet then changes line, and so there is an inclination for the reader to pause slightly and reflect, yet again building up an environment for the overall theme. ...read more.

Middle

The size of the images are also insignificant in comparison to the monumental topics of life and death, and so they become more effective. This inability to let go shows the despair that death brings. But the poet identifies the precise reason for the upset. It is not death in itself, it is the absence of communication with the one you love that causes the sadness. There are references made to using the phone showing the importance of communication in the theme but it is the last light that truly epitomizes the idea: 'the disconnected number I still call.' The phone line could also be interpreted as the life-line and so it is no longer in existence, in other words life is communication and death means no communication. In fact the poet states this: 'I believe life ends with death, and that is all.' There is a finality to death, that there is nothing beyond or at least nothing that one can be sure of beyond. The poet realises that communication has ceased with whoever has been lost, something made more effective by the second part of the sentence. By using the word 'and', one expects an addition, but what they get is a reassurance that 'that is all'. Harrison takes care that you note this line by use of a short, to-the-point statement. ...read more.

Conclusion

In fact, in the fourth stanza we realise that yes, his father was suffering, but his father is now too dead and he too is experiencing all that his father experienced. The build up, followed by the so-called 'jolt' we receive in realising that he is in fact talking about himself give this poem that extra ingredient that makes it more attractive in nature. Just when you fall into the pattern of reading, Harrison shocks you with a revelation. He too is trapped in that difficult position his father was and he admits 'the disconnected number I still call',ie. The disconnected telephone number of his own parents. His repeating of the same mistakes he accused his father of are haunting him to, his message being that we all, whether we like it or not, have difficulty coming to terms with death. In appreciating this poem, one cannot help but feel saddened by Harrison's experience. Ironically, the only fact of life is that there will be death, and he exemplifies the reality of coping with the matter very effectively through mundane images and with the demonstration of 'disconnected' relationships. It is often difficult to demonstrate effectively one's feelings on such common matters as all have their own opinions of it. However, Harrison shows us that, as he and his father before him, we are all prey for this sad fact of life and there is no escape from the upset and loneliness that accompanies it and that is common to us all. ...read more.

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