On A Portrait Of A Deaf Man.
Structure and language
This poem is an elegy.
This poem is eight stanzas written in ballad metre.
Lines one and three also have more beats in them than lines two and four. (If you want to get a bit more technical, one and three are tetrameters, two and four trimeters! Tetrameters have four stresses, trimeters have three stresses). Sound
As a reminder of ballad metre, think of the Christmas carol O Little Town of Bethlehem. Using ballad metre means that the poem lends itself to being read aloud and has harmony, rhyme and rhythm that are quite lyrical. Imagery
The language used creates extremes of mood. A pattern develops whereby Betjeman uses positive, warm images to evoke happy memories: The kind old face, the egg-shaped head,The tie, discreetly loud,The loosely fitting shooting clothes And then he brutally undermines all this with an image related to death in the following line: A closely fitting shroud.
This also happens in stanzas two, four and seven.
In these stanzas the death imagery is even worse, bordering on horror: But now his mouth is wide to letThe London clay come in.
maggots in his eyes
...now his finger-bonesStick through his finger-ends
Although the narrator speaks warmly about his late father he doesn't use euphemisms. (A euphemism is something said to avoid an unpleasant or offensive word or phrase.) Usually the subject of death is full of euphemisms such as 'passed on' or 'gone to a better place'. Betjeman is more direct about the nature of death, although this can be upsetting. Themes
Loss: Betjeman has to come to terms with the loss of his father. Lack of faith: the poet has no faith in God.
Death: Betjeman is open and even brutal in the physical descriptions in this poem of the effects of death. Ideas
One central idea, hinted at throughout the poem but then clearly revealed at the end, is that death is definitely the end of life. We do not go to heaven or anywhere else...
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