Tony Harrison

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Can you help me compare the rhythm patterns of two of Tony Harrison's poems: Long Distance II (Though my mother was already two years dead) and Book Ends (Baked the day she suddenly dropped dead)? What significance does this arrangement have? Is the arrangement suited to the theme of the poem?

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Both "Long Distance II" and "Bookends I" by Tony Harrison are written in iambic pentameter, (unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable =ta DUM-5 times in each line) which is the poetic rhythm closest to the natural rhythm of spoken English. However, there are some lines which do not have the traditional ten syllable lines, but, instead have an extra syllable, such as the first line

Though' my mo'ther was' al rea'dy two' years dead' [1 extra stressed syllable]

Iambic pentameter is, of course, also the rhythm of the English sonnet, and Harrison's poems follow this rhyme scheme except that the last stanza is like the others: four lines of alternating rhyme rather than a rhyming couplet that sums up the argument. Both poems have the rhyme scheme ABABCDCEDEFEFGHGH

The pairing of the lines in "Bookends" lends the visual image of the two ends that hold together the poem just as bookends hold written volumes, while the final verse of three represents each member of the family: mother, father, and son. This is a poem which has a pairing rhythm to it while "Long Distance" has the traditional quatrains which act in the standard form of an English sonnet in which each stanza examines different aspects of the single subject of the loss of a loved one. However, the final stanza does less solving of the argument than does the traditional English/Shakespearean sonnet. Instead, the speaker, surprisingly, likens himself to the father who thinks himself unlike his son in his grief. For, in a similar fashion to the father who clings to a living memory of his wife, so, too, does the speaker essay to retain a function of the past and call out to a loved one who is gone:

in my new black leather phone book there's your name
and the disconnected number I still call.

Interestingly, in the third stanza of "Long Distance," the pace of the lines is hastened with alliteration in the second and fourth lines:

though sure that very soon he'd hear her key....
He knew she'd just popped out to get the tea.

Certainly, both "Bookends I" and "Long Distance" are poignant verses that treat grief and the divide between father and son which reveals itself as less than son can reconcile.

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