In Paris With You by James Fenton

Don’t talk to me of love. I’ve had an earful
And I get tearful when I’ve downed a drink or two.
I’m one of your talking wounded.
I’m a hostage. I’m maroonded.
But I’m in Paris with you.

Yes I’m angry at the way I’ve been bamboozled
And resentful at the mess I’ve been through.
I admit I’m on the rebound
And I don’t care where are we bound.
I’m in Paris with you.

Do you mind if we do not go to the Louvre
If we say sod off to sodding Notre Dame,
If we skip the Champs Elysées
And remain here in this sleazy

Old hotel room
Doing this and that
To what and whom
Learning who you are,
Learning what I am.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris,
The little bit of Paris in our view.
There’s that crack across the ceiling
And the hotel walls are peeling
And I’m in Paris with you.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris.
I’m in Paris with the slightest thing you do.
I’m in Paris with your eyes, your mouth,
I’m in Paris with… all points south.
Am I embarrassing you?
I’m in Paris with you.

Fenton’s poem ‘In Paris With You’ ultimately illustrates the very human methods we use to try to repair a broken heart – specifically ‘the rebound.’ In humanity’s incessant need to be needed and wanted, we can turn to superficial non-relationships that we believe to have no consequences, in order to ‘get over’ a previous love or relationship. In using colloquial language, as evident in the first stanza: ‘when I’ve downed a drink or two’ and consistently maintaining this informal tone throughout the poem, Fenton juxtaposes the elegance and serenity of Paris with very informal and crude language such as ‘sod’ and ‘sodding.’ The speaker also reflects the cynical outlook upon the traditional romantic connotations of Paris through literally suggesting that they and their liaison disregard the monumental landmarks of the ‘city of love’; claiming that they should ‘say sod off to the sodding Notre Dame / … skip the Champs Elysées / and remain here in this sleazy / old hotel room.’ The speaker covertly suggests that this relationship – being a self-professed ‘rebound’ – is purely focused upon sex, wanting to avoid the commitment and responsibility that comes hand in hand with long-term relationships.

The speaker claims that they are angry at the way [they’ve] been bamboozled / And resentful at the mess [they’ve]  been through’, thus implying that they have experienced a negative and ‘messy’ break-up. Their lack of elaboration further intensifies their clear resentment and we are likely to assume that this ‘rebound’ is an attempt to remedy the speaker’s broken heart; they don’t want to talk about love any more, they’ve ‘had an earful’ already. Paris is in fact literal in the sense that the speaker has presumably taken a trip to Paris to escape the woes of their recent break-up; ‘I’m in Paris with you’, but he wishes to shut himself away from the city also. He wishes to disregard everything that Paris has to offer as a city and wants to remain in a hotel room, with only a ‘little bit of Paris in our view’; the speaker can see reality, but does not want to be in its midst.

The final stanza serves to ultimately confirm the speaker’s superficial motives with this partner who is in Paris with them. Fenton illustrates this through having the speaker concentrate upon the physical nature of their new partner, ‘I’m in Paris with your eyes, your mouth.’ The speaker has no interest in their ‘rebound’s’ personality, they are ultimately a tool to repairing the speaker’s loneliness and broken heart; which ostensibly seems rather antagonistic, but really gives the speaker a sense of humanity. Fenton reinforces the humanity of the speaker through their crudeness; ‘I’m in Paris with…all points south / am I embarrassing you?’; physical affection is all the speaker feels like they need, they need to feel wanted and heal the wound of a broken heart.

James Fenton (1949-)

James Fenton (1949-)

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Be Glad Your Nose Is On Your Face by Jack Prelutsky

Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.

Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you’d be forced to smell your feet.

Your nose would be a source of dread
were it attached atop your head,
it soon would drive you to despair,
forever tickled by your hair.

Within your ear, your nose would be
an absolute catastrophe,
for when you were obliged to sneeze,
your brain would rattle from the breeze.

Your nose, instead, through thick and thin,
remains between your eyes and chin,
not pasted on some other place–
be glad your nose is on your face!

Prelutsky’s humorous ‘Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face’, being aimed at children, follows the simplistic ABAB rhyme scheme, and using a simplistic lexis to follow suit. The message of the poem itself is also rather elementary; be grateful for what you have, and be aware that changing these things could bring about disastrous consequences. Through using the nose as a metaphor for something that we have in our lives,Prelutsky is able to illustrate that if our noses were in any other place it would not benefit us at all. He describes our noses as being ‘precious’ and important, and humorously places it in the most peculiar places around the body; the feet, the head and the ear.Prelutsky’s placing of the nose as being ‘sandwiched in between your toes’ evokes both an image of comedy and also discomfort at the thought of being ‘forced to smell your feet.’ This constant state of discomfort ultimately points out to the young reader – in a covert fashion of course – that changing the position of something so important could hold very irreversible consequences, so we should be grateful for the things we have got, and not seek out to change things that are perfectly good as they are.Prelutsky’s poem shows the reader that it is sometimes easy to overlook some of the positive things in our lives, and it is also very easy to concentrate on the negative facets of these things. The desire to change things can often be overwhelming, butPrelutsky goes on to give further examples of the consequences of change. He claims that if our noses were on our heads then it ‘would drive [us] to despair, / forever tickled by [our] hair’, a parallel to the discomfort of positioning a nose between toes on the foot. This is continued again in the third stanza, in which the nose has been placed within the ear and this is described as being ‘an absolute catastrophe’, and that the ‘brain would rattle’ whenever we sneezed.Prelutsky comes to, in the final stanza, the very same conclusion that was stated at the beginning of the poem; that you should ‘be glad your nose is on your face!’, it can be dangerous to attempt to change something that was perfectly fine to begin with.

Jack Prelutsky (1940-)

Jack Prelutsky (1940-)

 

 

Spinster by Sylvia Plath

Now this particular girl
During a ceremonious April walk
With her latest suitor
Found herself, of a sudden, intolerably struck
By the birds irregular babel
And the leaves’ litter.

By this tumult afflicted, she
Observed her lover’s gestures unbalance the air,
Her gait stray uneven
Through a rank wilderness of fern and flower.
She judged petals in disarray,
The whole season, sloven.

How she longed for winter then! –
Scrupulously austere in its order
Of white and black
Ice and rock, each sentiment in border,
And heart’s frosty discipline
Exact as a snowflake.

But here – a burgeoning
Unruly enough to pitch her five queenly wits
Into vulgar motley –
A treason not to be borne. Let idiots
Reel giddy in bedlam spring:
She withdrew neatly.

And round her house she set
Such a barricade of barb and check
Against mutinous weather
As no mere insurgent man could hope to break
With curse, fist, threat
Or love, either.

 

Plath’s 1956 poem ‘Spinster’ serves to juxtapose the order and disarray of the natural world with the anxiety to maintain control. The persona in ‘Spinster’ – as is evident by the name – exists in a state in which men are not to be depended on, furthering the interpretation that ‘this particular girl’ wants to have autonomous control over her own life; without being dictated to by a man. The use of the word ‘ceremonious’ in the first stanza implicates heavy connotations of both the prospect of marriage and also structure and uniform, the ‘suitor’ that walks with her is clearly somebody that this girl is expected to marry. But the presence of disorder in their environment clamps the girl’s attentions, with the ‘birds’ irregular babel / and the leaves litter’; the word ‘litter’ erasing the usual connotations of nature’s beauty, portraying it as a mess and not at is should be.

The persona’s sterile detachment from the ‘suitor’ she walks with is truly confirmed in the second stanza. She ‘observed her lover’s gestures’, the verb ‘observed’ reminiscent of a scientist looking on at some lab-rat experiment, even Plath’s description of him as a ‘suitor’ depersonalizes his character. He poses no significance to the persona, she has no emotional ties to him; he is her ‘latest suitor’, implying that there have been many others before him. The persona also continues to have a dissatisfaction of nature’s movements, in ‘a rank wilderness of fern and flower; / she judged the petals in disarray.’ The only facet of nature that seems to please the persona is the season of winter, which she describes as being ‘scrupulously austere in its order / of white and black’; t’s monochromatic characteristics implies a sense of uniform with the reduced components –  ‘ice and rock.’

The third stanza concludes by referring to ‘heart’s frosty discipline / exact as a snowflake’, finally bringing together the two elements of nature and the heart of the persona. The rest of the poem shows the persona’s rationalization of remaining in spinsterhood, and rejecting all men. In the final stanza Plath implements the metaphorical  ‘barricade[s] of barb and check’ that the persona set around her heart – which Plath refers to as her ‘house’ – which ‘no mere insurgent man could hope to break / with curse, fist, threat / or love, either.’ The persona is utterly adamant. She will remain a spinster, and be the master of her own life.

A young Plath on holiday in 1953, three years before meeting her husband Ted Hughes.

A young Plath on holiday in 1953, three years before meeting her husband Ted Hughes.

 

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

– Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster. 

 

Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘One Art’ is a poem of melancholic positivism, showing us that we much learn ‘the art of losing’ if we are to remain strong against the pain it may bring us. In calling losing an art, Bishop perhaps labels it as a valuable virtue, harping to the well-known idea that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ She tells her reader that as loss ‘is no disaster’ if one learns to treat it as such.

The speaker begins to ‘teach’ the reader how to ‘master’ the ‘art of losing’ in the second stanza, instructing them to ‘lose something every day’ and to ‘accept’ that this is a necessary part of life. In referring to losing such trivial items such as keys, Bishop shows us that losing things is as easy as anything and that it happens all the time and to everybody. The speaker then continues to encourage the reader to master the art of losing in the third stanza by expanding from losing physical belongings to losing memories and abstract ideas; ‘places, and names, and where it was you meant / to travel.’ She ends the stanza again by ironically claiming that will also not be a ‘disaster’, again prompting the reader to, in some regards, devalue the things that they lose, whether physical or abstract. The speaker then goes on to tell the reader of their own personal successes in mastering the art of losing. They tell us how they lost their ‘mother’s watch’ and ‘three loved houses’ and then even more significantly ‘two cities’, ‘two rivers, a continent’, the speaker confesses that they miss these things but still insists that this, as well, is not any ‘disaster.’

And finally the speaker addresses the very loss that – we can assume – caused them to put pen to paper in the first instance. Bishop pulls the reader back to the present moment of reality, revealing that she herself has lost someone she loves. By the end of the poem we come to realise that a loss can, in fact, be a disaster. Bishop starts simple and small in the losses of objects like door keys, then progresses to the loss of memory and important information like names and places. She then escalates to very significant items of sentiment, such as the family heirloom of a watch or a home, and then raises the stakes again to fantastical losses such as entire cities, rivers, and continents. Bishop ultimately realises that the loss of  love ‘may look [and feel] like…a disaster’, not that it is a disaster.

 

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

 

Words by Anne Sexton

Be careful of words,
even the miraculous ones.
For the miraculous we do our best,
sometimes they swarm like insects
and leave not a sting but a kiss.
They can be as good as fingers.
They can be as trusty as the rock
you stick your bottom on.
But they can be both daisies and bruises.
Yet I am in love with words.
They are doves falling out of the ceiling.
They are six holy oranges sitting in my lap.
They are the trees, the legs of summer,
and the sun, its passionate face.
Yet often they fail me.
I have so much I want to say,
so many stories, images, proverbs, etc.
But the words aren’t good enough,
the wrong ones kiss me.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
but with the wings of a wren.
But I try to take care
and be gentle to them.
Words and eggs must be handled with care.
Once broken they are impossible
things to repair.

 

Now, this is another poem that deals with duality; and the ways in which something can be our metaphorical ‘best friend’, but also our very worst ‘enemy.’ Words are such a funny thing, though abstract in themselves they are arguably the most powerful force in humanity and Sexton’s poem serves as an anecdotal warning to ‘be careful of words’ and their delicate nature. Sexton spends most of this poem drawing attention to how amazing words are, despite their dangers; using natural imagery to highlight how words surround us day by day. They can be as ‘trusty’ as rocks and can be ‘the trees, the legs of summer’, they ‘swarm like insects’ all around us and have come to be as easily as the natural world we live in. In drawing parallels between words and nature, we are encouraged to think about the innate essence of language and our astonishing ability to learn and use it from the onset of our lives.

But despite this beautiful facet of words, Sexton ensures to highlight their dangerous capability. She proclaims ‘yet often they fail me’ and the ‘wrong ones kiss me’, which somewhat implies that we are in some ways the victims of language; the wrong words come to us, we do not come to them, we do not kiss them. But Sexton and so many others are ‘in love with words’ and are something ‘holy’ to us and so it is impossible for us to refrain from using them, and perhaps this in itself is the very danger that Sexton is drawing our attention to. If we cannot stop ourselves from using the simultaneously precarious and beautiful thing that is language, we must be prepared to face consequences that resemble either ‘daisies’ or ‘bruises.’ The final lines of Sexton’s ‘Words’ are really definitive: Words and eggs must be handled with care. / Once broken they are impossible / things to repair’, language is to be treated with respect and care, for it can be both the making of us, but also the undoing.

Anne Sexton (1928-1974)

Anne Sexton at her home in Massachusetts

Warning by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

 

Standing opposed to conformity seems to be the overarching theme of this Joseph poem. Since turning eighteen only a couple of weeks ago, the idea of being considered an adult in society both exciting and terrifying at the same time. I can’t deny that becoming an old woman also serves to strike me with a cord of dread in most ways, but reading this poem for some reason made me think of age in a completely new light and that nonconformity to the bleak traditions of age is a positive and thrilling prospect. Joseph champions the idea that eccentricity in old age is becoming and that she looks forward to when her time comes. ‘Warning’ – although ostensibly an ominous title – is really rather humorous, as it is simply preparing the reader for what they may become in the winter of their lives and how this is a thing to celebrate.

The speaker in the poem recognises an opportunity for a lack of pragmatism in old age as she states she ‘shall spend [her] pension on brandy and summer gloves / And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter’, ‘we’ve’ presumably referring to her husband. In fact, the covert reference to a husband is one of the few facets of Joseph’s poem that resembles any kind of normality, with an entire stanza dedicated solely dedicated to the unnamed man. But the fact that he is the woman’s presumable husband is where the normality and conformity to society ends. This man ‘can wear terrible shirts’ and sometimes eat ‘only bread and pickle for a week’, matching the seemingly strange behavior of his wife, who shall ‘wear purple / With a red hat which doesn’t go’ and ‘go out in [her] slippers in the rain.’

Despite their odd behavior as individuals, by the third stanza Joseph has replaced the free prospects of ‘shall’ and ‘can’ to the duty of ‘must.’ Before this stanza, the wife ‘shall wear purple’ as she pleases, and her husband ‘can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat’, but responsibility still remains. The expectations of old age are also important and should not be completely disregarded, and the responsibility to ‘set a good example for the children’ whom are presumably their grandchildren. Joseph’s humorous tone ends momentarily in this stanza when referring to the children this couple must become role models for, as one day these children must grow up and become adults themselves and will need preparing for their time as the eccentric individuals that their grandparents have become. The speaker ends the poem by facetiously suggesting that she should begin for her inevitable transformation as soon as possible, to avoid losing consistency in her personality; in adopting eccentricity then and there, she hopes that when her time comes ‘people who know me are not too shocked and surprised / When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.’

Jenny Joseph (1932-)

Jenny Joseph (1932-)

 

 

I Am Very Bothered by Simon Armitage

I am very bothered when I think
of the bad things I have done in my life.
Not least that time in the chemistry lab
when I held a pair of scissors by the blades
and played the handles
in the naked lilac flame of the Bunsen burner;
then called your name, and handed them over.

O the unrivalled stench of branded skin
as you slipped your thumb and middle finger in,
then couldn’t shake off the two burning rings. Marked,
the doctor said, for eternity.

Don’t believe me, please, if I say
that was just my butterfingered way, at thirteen,
of asking you if you would marry me.

 

I’d say the most interesting thing about this particular Armitage poem is the way in which it follows the traditional length of the romantic sonnet; although abandons all of the other usual facets. A sonnet professes the poet’s love for the recipient and in a strange and unconventional way, this poem does exactly that. It describes a juvenile love and the innocent disregard for consequences and the ‘butterfingered way[s]’ we use to get attention when falling in – what we then are convinced is – love at a young age. The language used massively juxtaposes what one would expect to find  in the traditional sonnet; roses and wine are replaced with white-hot scissors, Bunsen burners and ‘the stench of branded skin’…not quite the pinnacle of conventional romance; and it is in some ways endearing how the speaker still holds some guilt over his actions so many years into the future

Marriage is used as a covert motif throughout the poem and is finally professed as the speaker’s intentions in the final line. Armitage refers to the victim of the speaker’s ‘butterfingered ways’ as ‘slipping [your] thumb and middle finger in / then couldn’t shake off the two burning rings.’ Now, this particular line is a very interesting one. As opposed to the ring finger, Armitage puts emphasis upon the fact that the unnamed girl is using other fingers to use the scissors, perhaps suggesting that she is blatantly not ready for even contemplating the thought of marriage in the same way that the speaker’s immature act proves his lack of readiness. Of course a lack of readiness for marriage at the age of thirteen is to be both expected – to a degree – encouraged, but the following line which depicts that the girl ‘couldn’t shake off the two burning rings, Marked / the doctor said, for eternity’ seems to imply that just because these two are not ready for marriage in that present moment, they are in some way destined for each other and ‘marked’ to be together.’  The speaker’s anecdote of how he burned the hand of a girl he loved to draw her attention suggests an entirely positive message overall; it denotes that an action does not have to be lavishly brimming with romance for it to be romantic in itself uniquely.

Simon Armitage (1963-)

Simon Armitage (1963-)