Model Essay – The Poetry of Janet Frame
What features of Janet Frame’s poetry contribute to the distinctive character and voice of her poems? Discuss.
There are several features of Janet Frame’s poetry that contribute to the distinctive character and voice of her poems. Without a doubt, the most distinctive characteristic of her poetry is her use of simple, yet extraordinarily rich imagery. Another characteristic of her work is her focus on the natural world. Yet another aspect of Frame’s work is that many of her poems deal with the themes of acceptance and the growth from innocence to experience.
Frame’s use of vivid imagery, bursting with meaning, is certainly what is most memorable about her poetry. She uses images familiar to all of us, but in unusual, extraordinary ways. The poem Yet Another Poem about a Dying Child is about a terminally ill boy who welcomes death as a release from his pain. His parents, naturally, do not want him to die and try to deny the fact that he is gravely ill. Throughout the poem, Frame uses images important to and appropriate for a small child – “trees”, “stars”, “spring flowers”, “pebbles”, a “penny”. “Trees and stars” are used as symbols of childhood wonder and a child’s fascination with the natural world. We understand clearly the boy’s painful situation when Frame describes his “pebbles of diseased bone.” Frame uses the image of a “ penny of light” as a metaphor for life. These ‘child –friendly’ images culminate in her use of a “kind-furred spider” as a metaphor for death in the last stanza of the poem. She speaks of the boy caught in a “web of pain”, unable to extract himself until the spider comes. What is particularly interesting about this last stanza is the way she juxtaposes images with connotations of comfort and peace – “night-lamp eyes”, “soft-tread”, “wrap him warm”, “carry him home” – with the reality and finality of death. In the abrupt last line of the poem she writes that the “kind-furred spider” will carry the boy home “to a dark place, and eat him.”
Frame’s use of imagery in her poem The Chrysalids is also very vivid and emphasises her message to us about the dangers of judging by outward appearances. Frame reflects on a childhood experience of picking chrysalids for fishing bait. She describes the chrysalids as “gray-walled”, “sober”, “windowless”, “hanging dungeons”, each description emphasising their dull, worthless outer appearance. She refers to them as:
“houses with walls gray–folded, pleated
like the robes of monks; frayed hairshirts,
old sackcloth sealed at top and tail;”
Frame’s imagery here is rich with meaning. She likens the appearance of the chrysalids to the traditional dress of monks, men who have renounced worldly values and material things in order to focus on pursuing a closer relationship with God. To them, the life within is what is the most significant and this is what Frame is suggesting to us through her use of this imagery. The chrysalids, on the outside, look like nothing special. They are “withered/ and ugly and useful only for fishing bait.” But their outward appearance betrays the “jewel” or life inside. Frame writes:
“I did not know. I would never have believed
that every house I stole contained a jewel.”
Another poem in which Frame creates strong, clear images in the mind is The Tree. The poem describes a tree that is about to be cut down. From the very beginning of the poem the tree is personified. It is given a life and therefore a voice, which make its situation even more serious. Frame writes: “There’s a tree that’s going to be cut down any day
And does not know it”
Throughout the poem Frame uses the technique of personification to emphasise the energy and vitality of the tree. The tree “cannot keep still”. It “waves finger-shaped branches” “exploring, sensing in the blue surrounding swirl and stir”. The sibilance of these lines further enhances the imagery of the tree’s branches moving energetically about...
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