Analysis of "You may turn over and begin" by Simon Armitage.

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Analysis of “You may turn over and begin” by Simon Armitage

“You may turn over and begin” is an interior monologue of a person who is sitting an exam, seemingly on the subject of General Studies. The title itself lends itself well to this theme as “you may turn over and begin” are the words an exam invigilator says as an exam begins. The poem follows the thoughts of the speaker who may or may not be Armitage himself as he sits the exam whilst musing over exam questions and other things that enter the speakers thoughts when he has finished the paper.

The first line of the poem could be said to be the title itself as it directly links to the first line of the main body of the poem. While the title is said by someone else the remainder of the poem is the thoughts of the speaker, the fact that it is someone’s thoughts is reinforced by the seemingly random train of thought and the subjects themselves which are personal in nature- i.e. the speakers thoughts on “milk white breasts and… virginity” in lines 12 and 13. The questions themselves are not typical of a general studies exam and are seemingly random, much like thought processes often are, though reference to “the decameron”  could be linked to the adolescent and hormonal thoughts of lines 12 and 13. Armitage’s reputation for representing and understanding youth culture is highlighted by his reference to the general studies exam as “..a doddle, a cinch for anyone with an ounce of common sense” in lines 6 and 7. This concept of general studies remains true today while the speaker’s insight on the use of “…a calculator with a memory feature” to cheat shows the writer’s comprehension of such things.

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Lines 10 and 11 reinforce the idea of general studies being an unimportant exam as the speaker neglects to check the work, instead choosing to let the mind wander. The next few couplets reflect on the injustice of male/female relations at that age whereby the boys are in a frenzied hormonal state while the girls remain untouchable “long and cool…out of reach”. Use of imagery is evident as mention of the “…the heat” in line 14 points to enforced sexual repression on the part of men that age, while “…long and cool like cocktails” indicates the heightened maturity of ...

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