Week One Essay

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“Five O’Clock Shadow” – Week One Poem Explication
In Sir John Betjeman’s poem “Five O’Clock Shadow,” the idea that the shadow of death physically and emotionally isolates and enervates those who dwell within it is conveyed through the utilization of metaphor and carefully selected words and phrases in the development of a tone and tonal shift, in addition to imagery. The title of the poem is the major metaphor of the piece; after the identification of who the speaker is (a dying man), the title means much more than the stubble of beard so-called “five o’clock shadow.” The wording of several phrases aids in the development of a detached tone where the speaker does not speak in the first person singular; this tone then shifts in the last line to be much more dismal, with the first and only occurrence of an “I” from the speaker’s perspective. The development of imagery is largely intertwined with the development of tone: when there is an apathetic or detached tone, the imagery is seemingly apathetic as well.

There is a metaphorical meaning to the title of the piece: when the shadow of death passes over those who are dying (which is at five o’clock for the speaker). The shadow of death is characterized by the feelings this man feels at a certain time of day: he feels that he can no longer suffer through the physical pain, struggling with inevitable death; he feels weaker, and that he “can struggle less strongly” (3); he feels betrayed by those who are supposed to support him in his final days; he feels a “lonely terror” (16) only intensify. At this time of day, he feels his emotional and physical pain most acutely, as the solitude presses in on him. He recognizes that his isolation and misery become unbearable then, and that the shadow enveloping him is that of death, severing him emotionally from those around him. This shadow falls on him, and he feels just enough more isolated to push him closer to giving up. The propinquity of death weakens him, and so he...
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