The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Tony Harrison calls this poem and the others in this collection “sonnets” although they are not, strictly speaking, since they consist of sixteen rather than fourteen lines of rhyming iambic pentameter. They are sometimes metrically uneven, quite deliberately, to enhance their informality and the themes of the individual poems. The title refers to a major subject of the book: the relationship of a son to his parents before and after their deaths. The poem, written in the first person, takes as its beginning a memory of the father and son enjoying a visit to an English motion-picture theater in 1949, when the narrator was a child.

He remembers that they both enjoyed James Cagney, the American actor famous for his portrayal of gangsters. The experience is a common one, only slightly complicated by the English setting. The narrator remembers, for example, that his father bought him a “choc ice,” the British equivalent of an ice-cream bar or Eskimo Pie. At that time, some larger theaters in England and America used to employ an organist who would play between showings of films, and who was often positioned on an elevated platform at the front of the screen. As the curtains parted for the beginning of the film, the platform would descend and the organist would disappear into the pit. The narrator remembers two further things: the ring that his father wore, which had belonged to his father before him, and the fact that in 1949 his father would have been...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Continuous Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Harrison is something of a late twentieth century Metaphysical poet in that he likes to manipulate images in clever (and sometimes slightly tasteless) ways but often so tenderly that the reader is willing to accept them even if slightly uneasy about their propriety. He has, in this poem, at least five points of comparison which he uses to deal with this memory of the dead father: the film, the temperature of the “choc” and the fact of its melting, the organ, the disappearing platform, and the ring.

In the first, second, and third stanzas these objects are subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) manipulated to explore the relationship between the loving, if inarticulate, father and the worldly-wise son, now looking back on their simple, somewhat banal moments of togetherness. It is deliberately antiromantic, and fittingly so in the context of the wider meanings that are revealed in a reading of all the poems in the collection. Harrison, born into the English working class, often writes of the simple lives of his parents, attempting to express the narrowness of their lives and their lack of sophistication without patronizing them. In this poem, the mundane objects of a childhood memory are established in the first two stanzas. Then, in a manner reminiscent of the practice of Metaphysical poetry, they appear again, shifted ever so slightly, but sufficiently to create aesthetic pleasure in the modification. The motion picture becomes the tape upon which the...

(The entire section is 509 words.)