Analysis of the poem – this is an initial draft! I will update it later! Subscribe to receives updates!!
The first line of the poem gives us a clue about the tone. The speaker is saying goodbye and his attitude is one of sorrow and regret which is clear when we move along in the poem. Barn and Stack and Tree are the elements which he lived with his entire life. For many years these are the spaces that he grew up in. When you grow up in the same place for years, the landscape becomes a part of you. A part of your identity is formed through the surroundings. Which is why when you move after living somewhere for so long, it is not easy to adapt to the new setting and people. For this young man, he regrets what has happened with a deep sense of regret. He did not plan this, which is evident as he is devastated that he has to leave the farm – his home and family. He is not mentally prepared for it. He has not come to terms with it. Terence is a friend of his (In the poetry collection he makes few appearances). It is reasonable to assume that the brothers are friends with this youth. Possibly, he is as shocked about the murder as the brother is.
He wished Terence ‘strength to bring you pride’ and ‘a love to keep you clean’. The speaker, even though he has committed a murder, is not a murderer. Unlike certain politicians in power. We can come to this conclusion because he takes the time to wish his friend all the good things in the world. Strength and pride; prosperity and dignity and good health. He must be a dirty fellow as he requires a love to keep him clean. Jokes aside, he is probably desperately single, telling everyone that he is enjoying the single life. But the youth wishes him partnership and love. He seems very reluctant to leave, and seems to be pondering about things at home. Where is the anger or the reason, or justification for what he had done?
Usually when you do something wrong, you would think about the reason you did it and try to make it seem like you had a good enough reason to do it. That is what you call justifying what you did. Most of the time, even though we have no valid justification, our minds tend to come up with a million excuses. We find it extremely difficult to accept what we have done. But the speaker knows that he has no justification. Why? Because it was not done with resentment or cumulated anger. It was probably an unexpected reaction and result.
But let’s take the second stanza. The hill is half-mown. Once again, signs that they work together, live together and seem to have a good relationship because they also eat as a family with the mother. (Do you eat as a family or do you lock yourself up in your room in front of a screen? Try eating as a family few times if possible!).
The blood is dried – he has not fled the scene, obviously. Some time has passed already. This shows that he is in shock. And it also shows how reluctant and sad he is to leave his home, where his family and heart will always be. The poet uses visual imagery to create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. ‘Maurice amongst the hay lies still’ – as if he has been reduced to just another part of the environment – inanimate and unmoving. The knife at his side is a close allusion to Christ at the cross, betrayed by his own (Judas), one of the closest to him – a spiritual brother.
The third stanza talks about the mother. Yesterday was a normal day where thy had dinner together, and today she will be alone, and both children would be gone. She will be all alone without any help around the house, or even financially. Who is going to mow the hill? Who is going to feed the animals? Who is going to protect the lambs from the wolves, or the farm from thieves? She has no family left. The light of her life, her children, have been taken away from her. She will see the still body of one of her sons, and possibly never see the other son who would be alive somewhere far away. The house is disrupted, the family is destroyed, relationships are broken. The friendships are brought to an end.
The poem shows how things such as anger and actions done in an instant, in a reactionary manner, done in a tiny moment, can have an impact of a lifetime for many people.
Next stanza, the speaker says ‘here’s a bloody hand to shake,’ which can be read in two ways, both equally significant. One, literally, meaning that there is actual blood in his hand – it is the bloody hand that he shakes. This reminds us that whatever he does, wherever he goes, whoever he meets, the death of the brother will always follow him. He cannot shake hands with anyone with a clear conscience. This leads us to entertain the other interpretation that he might not actually have blood in his hands, but it might signify the guilt that will stain his hand forever. This reminds us of Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare’s play Macbeth; Macbeth murders the king. But it is Lady Macbeth who challenges and persuades him to do so. She goes mad, and wakes up every night, rubbing her palms and saying, ‘out, out, damned spot.’ She sees the guilt in her conscience in the form of blood in her hand though there is nothing there. Likewise, the youth in this poem suffers from the guilt, which will always be etched in his consciousness.
‘And Oh man, here’s goodbye.’
After the handshake, he breaks down – and exclaims – Oh. Then repeats the goodbye. He clearly is in disbelief of hwat has happened and ddoes not wwant to leave. He refuses to leave. The deep emotional turmoil he feels is evident in the exclamation – Oh. He seems to tell his friend that they will not do the farmwork as they used to. The daily routines are interrupted. Their lives as they kkow it are gone. This also shows us that he was a hard worker who enjoyed what he was doing. The bloodiness of the hands is repeated as it continues to haunt his mind.
Lammastide is harvest festival – and racing is a community activity where the people get together – he will never be able to visit his community after this. He will be someone on the run, someone always escaping the guilt of what he has done. Guilt can make you go mad.
The last few lines are a fitting end to a poem which emphasizes how the connection of this person to his environment is very strong. This is a pastoral poem which means that the setting and content has a lot to do with the suburban, idyllic and peaceful landscape of the rural areas. The violence which has happened in the peaceful setting his highly contrasted and rather ironic. The rick (stack of hay, corn, etc.) the fold (slight hill) and the empty plate will long wait for him. The repetition and the wording hints at how he will long for these elements in his life, and how it will never be the same anywhere else. The use of anaphora is effective here to end the poem as it ends with his emotions towards the hoemfront. There is no anger or hatred or disagreement about anything. Theres merely regret and a deep sense of longing and belonging to that space. He does not want to leave his home and family.
I remember that one of the questions that were given for the examination is how this conflict affects the household – and in general how conflicts can affect homes. How do you answer that? I’m glad you asked. At the top of the page find the link to the sample answer to that question. Down below are some points to remember.
This is a farm, and the people in question are two young, strong sons who maintain the farm. Their mother is possibly old, and the speaker mentions, will be alone in the evening, with both children missing. So, in this scene, how has the family affected?
- The mother is left alone to grieve – it affects people who are not involved in the conflict as well. And the parents will have to suffer the consequences when their children get into trouble. In this case, she loses both sons, but also has to endure the pain of not really knowing where they are, or if they would ever return.
- The brotherhood is broken. The brothers ate together with their mother and they worked together in the farm as well. After this incident, the speaker is left alone as a fugitive and will miss his friendship with his brother. He will have no one to call family. Even Terence, his friend will no longer be there for him- this shows how these conflicts can end good relationships and friends from one’s life.
- The death of Maurice – the violence and the loss of life is another extreme that could happen resulting in the loss of life over a moment’s rage. A young man loses his life because of a conflict – this shows how these conflicts could escalate into violence, and shows the importance of conflict resolution.
- Financial issues – the mother depended on these two to maintain the farm and take care of her. But with the new developments, this will not be possible. The mother will have a tough time dealing with it mentally, but will also struggle financially as there is no one to labour and manage the farm.
Above I have listed down 4 main points you can address for such a question – check out how I have answered this question in the link given at the top of the page.