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.)