Harold Pinter Harold Pinter Poetry: British Analysis

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Harold Pinter Poetry: British Analysis

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Poetry is a form that continually interested Harold Pinter. During sixty years of creativity, in addition to his plays and film scripts, he wrote innumerable poems, including nearly one hundred that were published. Some of his poems were initially published in now defunct journals such as Poetry London under pseudonyms such as “Harold Pinta.” Some of these poems have been reprinted in anthologies of prose and poetry, in private-press publications (such as Ten Early Poems under the Greville Press imprint), and in various editions of his Collected Poems and Prose and Various Voices.

Pinter’s first published work, including poems and prose pieces that appeared in his school magazine, belong to the period of the 1940’s and early 1950’s. “New Year in the Midlands” and “Chandeliers and Shadows” (from Poems) were published in Poetry London in the August, 1950, issue and the poem “One a Story, Two a Death” in the final issue. In the summer of 1951, Pinter’s poem “I Shall Tear off My Terrible Cap” (from Poems) was published in the Poetry Quarterly. “Chandeliers and Shadows” expresses desperation, depicting scenes of decadence and sexual depravity with a sense of chaos throughout the universe. In this poem, the insane and a random deity rule over a room, and God has been transformed into a monster.

Pinter continued to write poetry during his stay in Ireland. “The Islands of Aran Seen from the Moher Cliffs” (1951; from Poems), in five verse quatrains, extols the magnificent coast and the myths related with that area of Ireland. The Hackney railings and landscape of childhood are transformed into the Irish coastal countryside. Loss, deprivation, isolation, alienation, betrayal, and love are frequent themes in Pinter’s poems. “Episode” (1951; from Poems) is a poetic dialogue with a rejected main voice, an apparently successful rival, and a silent “she” over whom they feud. There are also poems of celebration. “Poem” (1953; from Poems), for example, focuses on love and stability: The final four words, which are repeated through the poem, conclude on a note of Pinteresque ambiguity amid the Irish coastal scenery.

Pinter used poetry to mark the key points in his life. For example, “Paris” (1975; reprinted in Collected Poems and Prose), with its two verses of four lines each, celebrates Pinter and Fraser’s initial intimacy. The longer “Ghost” (1983; reprinted in Collected Poems and Prose), in two six-line verses, was written after the death of Pinter’s first wife, Merchant, with whom so much of Pinter’s early work was interwoven. It begins with a startling image of strangulation and concludes with the image of the physical touch of a dead body, an image echoed in Pinter’s later poetic lament for his dead father, “Death.”

“Requiem for 1945”

“Requiem for 1945” (dated 1999; in Various Voices) is a poem of bleakness and political despair. Its language is relatively restrained, with a cumulative use in the poem of the definite article “the,” which occurs six times in the second, third, and fourth lines. A further ambiguity lies in the final word of the poem, “desire”: desire for life, for a different social order, and unfulfilled personal dreams are extinguished by death. The poem, unusual for Pinter, is a single verse of eight lines in length. Certainly it is a powerful poem of intense bitterness.


The eight poems found in War are full of imagery of death, destruction, and anti-Americanism. With titles such as “God Bless America,” “The Bombs,” “Democracy,” “Weather Forecast,” “American Football: A Reflection Upon the Gulf War,” “Death,” and “The Special Relationship,” these poems contain the violent, the vicious, and the visceral, along with expletives. They are overtly political, and they project hostility to the major international powers. “Democracy” consists of four separate, very short sentences; it is crude and representative of much of Pinter’s...

(The entire section is 1,112 words.)