Advanced Theory of Poetry
Textual Analysis of Poetry Question 1: Sketching a Thatcher with metaphors It is certainly true that one of the distinguishing features of poetic texts is the use of figurative or non-literal language – this essay highlights the fact that metaphors do contribute to the understanding of a poem. Ted Hughes’ poem, Sketching a Thatcher, is loaded with vivid imagery and ample metaphorical constructions which aids to validate this fact.
In order to uncover the message behind this poem, one must take a closer look at the arguments, focus expressions and tenor/vehicle constructions of at least six local metaphorical constructions of the text and how they interact with one another to form part of the global metaphor of the poem. The first local metaphorical construction of the text can be found in line one: “Bird-bones is on the roof. Seventy eight”. One can clearly see that there is a metaphorical relationship at hand, as it is unusual to see or know of any bird-bones on a roof.
Therefore, the argument/vehicle is “bird-bones”, as it is qualified by the focus expression “is on the roof”. By reading past the first few lines it is obvious that the “Thatcher” (from the title) is referred to as “bird-bones”, as there is no immediate indication of who the tenor is. Thus, the poet implies that the seventy-eight year old Thatcher is like Bird-bones. This comparison leads one to think that the old man has a skinny and feeble figure and as much as birds spend their time on rooftops, so does the old man thatching roofs.
The second local metaphorical construction for analysis can be found in line two: “And still a ladder squirrel”. The old man (thatcher) is now being compared to a squirrel. The thatcher is still considered to be the tenor to the vehicle/argument “squirrel”, and the nominal focus being the “ladder”. This implies that the old man makes use of a ladder to reach the rooftops he works on, and that he goes up and down the ladder the same way a squirrel would run up and down a tree.
Although the thatcher is described as being bony and fragile like a bird, he is very energetic and active (like a squirrel running up and down a tree) for an old man, as he is still working at the age of seventy eight and climbs up and down a ladder. The third local metaphorical construction can be found in line four: “Then crabbing out across the traverse”. After three metaphorical constructions, it is apparent that the poet makes use of animal imagery to ‘sketch’ his portrayal of the old thatcher.
Although there is no clear argument or tenor in the third construction, the thatcher is still considered to be the tenor. The verbal focus of the line is the word “crabbing” – albeit there is no meaning for this word, it is obvious that the poet is connoting that the old man (tenor) is like a crab (vehicle). The adverbial focus of the line is “across the traverse”, and suggests that the old man moves sideways across the roof as he is thatching and crabs are known for walking sideways.
One does not have to look further than line five to appreciate the importance of metaphors. The fourth local metaphorical construction to be analysed is, “Cock-crows of insulting banter, liberated/ Into his old age”. Still utilizing animal imagery, the poet compares the old thatcher (tenor) to a cock/rooster (vehicle/argument) that crows – the nominal focus of the line being “insulting banter”.
This construction implies that as the old thatcher ages he feels free from the restrictions of traditional social norms and feels that there is no need to hold back on his ‘banter’, the same way a rooster would not hold back as it persistently crows at the break of dawn or when predators are nearby (this ‘carelessness’ also explains the use of the word ‘insulting’ from the focus expression) The fifth local metaphorical construction can be found in line ten, “Lizard-silk of his lizard-skinny hands”.
So far the poet has compared the old thatcher to numerous kinds of animals including a bird, a squirrel, a crab and a rooster; in line ten the poet compares him to a lizard, continuing his sketch with animal imagery. The argument “Lizard-silk” is qualified by the focus expression “his lizard-skinny hands”. This construction leads one to understand that the thatcher’s hands (tenor) are skinny (adjectival focus) like a lizard (vehicle/ argument), suggesting that the old man’s hands are dry, bony and battered from thatching roofs over the years.
The interesting part of the construction is the argument of “Lizard-silk”, as silk can be associated with qualities of smoothness and elegance, unlike a lizard. This might suggest that –although the old thatcher’s hands are dry and worn out from thatching roofs– he does his work with elegance and grace and makes sure that he does the job right. The sixth and final local metaphorical construction to be explored can be found in line twenty nine, “Suns have worn him, like an old sun-tool”.
Instead of just using animals the poets makes use of nature to help portray the image of the old thatcher. The thatcher (tenor) has spent many a year thatching roofs under the heat of the sun, and has become tanned and rusty like his tools. There are ample metaphorical constructions to be explored in this poem; however, these six constructions are adequate in giving a clear description of the old thatcher and his way of life, thus proving how figurative language does contribute to the understanding of a poem.
By looking at the title and the local metaphorical constructions that have been discussed, it is clear that the poem is a description (‘sketch’) of the old thatcher’s appearance and his way of life. We have come to learn that the poet has linked his portrayal of the thatcher (also considered the global tenor of the poem) to nature and numerous kinds of animals and their habitats. The global metaphor of the poem, therefore, implies that the old man has spent many a day on rooftops (his natural habitat) doing the thing he does and loves best, thatching.
Beside his passion for working meticulously on rooftops, the old man is still working at the fragile age of seventy eight and shows that (like animals) he goes on with life doing what he is meant to do, the same way that birds continue to nest on rooftops or the same way that squirrels run up and down trees. This clearly indicates that figurative language is foregrounded in poetry, and is an important factor in uncovering the message behind a poem. QUESTION 3(b): Naked truth: A woman’s perspective of her aging body
Antjie Krog’s book of poems, Body Bereft, is a collection of her perceptions and emotions pertaining to issues such as fascism, feminism, patriarchy and the aging female body. There are numerous facets of female problems that the author explores with her poems; she explicitly emphasizes her pessimistic view of being a maturing woman. In this essay we will take a look at how the body is represented in terms of Antjie Krog’s poetry, the naked photograph on the cover of her book and Adele Nel’s paper, the vocabulary of aging: image and word in Antjie Krog’s Body Bereft.
It cannot be argued that Antjie Krog’s collection of poems transcends honest hostility toward the aging body of a woman. One does not have to look further than the cover of the book as well as the title to comprehend what her work is about. Not only does her anger point toward the aging and menopausal female body, but also –as Adele Nel states – “to the unfair social and political dispensation as well as the patriarchal discourse of power that reduces women to decolonized objects”. Beside rage, her work as well as the cover photograph suggests emotions or qualities of feebleness, loss and mourning.
It is certainly true –as Adele points out – that anger and loss are two major contributing factors of Krog’s work. However, considering the fact that the author complains a lot about her aging body, one might suggest that she has a weathered soul due to her being powerless over her maturing body. Arguably, people do not only get physically tired with age, but also mentally; this theory precedes anger and mourning. Although this may seem as a generalization, people do lose their zest for physical activity as they age and as a consequence end up living the rest of their lives in despair and depravity, thus leading to feelings of anger and loss.
There are more than enough poems by the author to back up this theory. The poem, God, Death, Love is a perfect portrayal of the author’s bluntness toward these topics and just shows how aged and tired her spirit may be. With no shame the author states that: “God, Death, Loneliness, Love, Man/ are Important Themes of Literature/ menstruation, childbirth, menopause, puberty/ marriage are not”. This is a very honest and demanding outlook that the author emits with her words – it definitely raises important questions about the equality of sexes and what is considered socially taboo or appropriate.
The author then states that: “Meanwhile terror lies exactly in how/ one lives with the disintegrating body/ in how one accepts that the body no longer/ wants to intensify with exhilarating detonations”. This clearly shows that the author mentally gives up on her aging body – Some may agree with her view on aging and loss of excitement, while others who go through the same process of maturing have a positive attitude and don’t give too much emphasis on the disadvantages.
Although the author’s view of life –and her poetry backs this theory –seems negative, she spreads realism in such a way that her fight for equality is effective. Today, people are free to speak of that which concerns them and their daily lives – Krog’s poetry is certainly a massive contribution. This raises – yet again – another question regarding the efficiency of the photograph of a naked elderly woman on the cover of her book, taken by Goldblatt.
According to Adele Nel, Goblett’s model’s erect posture constitutes dignity, control and even authority. This view is not completely accurate as the elderly woman has wrinkled skin lines under her breasts, suggesting that she does not have an erect posture, but one that is used to being bent forward to express the theory of her being mentally and physically tired. Furthermore, Adele states that the cover photograph involuntarily raises the question: “What activates the resistance against the cover? It can be said that purely on an aesthetic point of view that the older female body is devaluated in society and thus deprived of sexual desirability. Another possible reason may rise from the fact that public display of nudity is considered taboo. However, the image and vocabulary of her poems paint a clear picture of how the author feels about her aging body. The essence and honesty of the photograph allows one to fully grasp the concept of anguish over aging despite the adverse connotations that the photograph may have.
In conclusion, Krog’s collection of poetry shows how vulnerable women are at the thought of aging. Although her fight against fascism and her mental and physical representation of how a female copes with an aging body is successful, her pessimistic view of her own life cannot –apparently – be overturned. For that reason, it cannot be argued that a troubled soul does not aid in preserving a healthy body. References: * A KROG, Body Bereft, Umuzi, Roggebaai, 2006 * A Nel, the vocabulary of aging: image and word in Antjie Krog’s Body Bereft
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