Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Fenton once commented that the postwar poets’ most workable posture is not as the reliable voice next door giving depth to the familiar. Rather, the poet acts as a visitor, an alien-outsider who interacts with the familiar landscape like an anthropologist or, in the most extreme expression, like an invader. Fenton termed such poetry “Martianism,” and, in this poem, he functions in such a mode, observing with detachment the murderer’s mind-set without tidily rendering a theme or two. The reader is left to observe the act of the poem itself, how the poem conducts its lexical experiment: What would a killer think, a logical act, as he prepares to kill, a most illogical act?

In the first twenty-eight lines, the killer, his van nearby, meditates without irony on the ghastly intimacy that exists between killer and victim. Although he acknowledges his fears, he also finds such fears stimulating and the act unstoppable—he compares his fear to the last whirring seconds before a clock strikes the hour. He is coolly philosophical, impeccably epigrammatic, extending well-turned bromides to his to-be-selected victim, such as “every journey begins with a death” and that while a “suicide travels alonethe murderer needs company.” Suddenly, the killer abandons narrative to speculate on the rapid changes in the geographical makeup of the Staffordshire countryside, how so many trees now stand nearly underwater with fish in their branches and how elsewhere, virtually unnoticed, an entire pond suddenly drained dry, killing its fowl with nature’s cool precision. Thus, the killer meditates on the inexplicability of change and the inevitability of sudden extinction.

That pattern of violent, sudden change is extended within the killer’s logic to history itself as he then...

(The entire section is 733 words.)