The poem is about a church harmonium that is deteriorating from age. Armitage states that it was “gathering dust / in the shadowy porch.” It would have been thrown in a skip had Armitage not wanted it. In the last line of the first stanza he says that he could have it “for a song”, a saying that means very cheaply. This is a clear play on words, as the harmonium is used to play songs.
The second stanza of “Harmonium” is twice as long as the first one and describes the instrument in detail. The first half of this stanza focuses on the effect sunlight has had in the church. The windows show images of saints; Armitage says that the sun can “beatify” the people, which mean to turn them into saints. This contrasts the fact that the sunlight shining through the stained glass windows has a positive effect whereas it has “aged” the wooden case of the instrument. Armitage uses the metaphor “fingernails” in describing the way the sun has made the colours fade on the harmonium's keys; the area that the organist would have pressed with his fingers is now yellow. One of the harmonium's notes, or keys, has “lost its tongue;” which means that that note no longer makes a sound.
The last three lines of the second stanza focus on how worn the treadles of the harmonium are. These are pedals that the organist has to keep pushing down with his feet as he plays the music. There are actually holes in both of them now. Armitage even describes how the organist used to wear “grey, woollen socks / and leather-soled shoes,” creating a rather dull image of the organist.
The third stanza is a shorter one, made up of five lines. Armitage uses alliteration two times in the opening line, “But its hummed harmonics still struck a chord.” This is a vivid description emphasising the fact that although the harmonium is very old, it still means something to the poet. The expression “to strike a chord” means that something triggers a memory, but this is another play on... [continues]
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