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Background Material - Tony Harrison (Analysis)

Updated on April 7, 2014
Tony Harrison is an English poet, translator and playwright.
Tony Harrison is an English poet, translator and playwright.

Like I had said before in my last poetry analysis, it was an idea I had to put all my analysis of all poems in here, so that other students might get an idea or grown ups who are interested in literature may get the meaning. Hope you enjoy it.


This poem deals with the theme of memories. It shows the element of discovering the truth behind photographs. The tone of the poem is both sad and upsetting. The poem has a varying pattern of stanzas, each having lines of five then decreasing to two. It has a varying rhyming scheme as well, beginning with a rhyming scheme of “abab” then ending with “aa”. The title shows that to others the memories are no longer dear, they are the past and that’s how people see what’s in the photographs, just material.

The first stanza reveals to us that the poet is at his writing desk where two photographs of his mother and father are seated. The fact that the poet keeps the photographs on his everyday work table shows his feelings, his intention to see those photographs every day. The way he refers to his parents as “mam” and dad”, reflects how much he still loves them. One photo is of his father’s birthday and the other is of his mother at her ruby wedding but none of them are a couple anymore and both have gone bad. “I make out what’s behind them from the blur”, the word “blur” here points out that the poet is in tears as he is going over the memories of his parents. He is trying to make out what is behind these photographs through his tears of pain which blurs the images in front of him.

Throughout the second stanza, the poet describes where the photos have been taken exactly. The photo of his father’s birthday had been taken in their favourite inn, the way the poet emphasizes the word “our” reflects his pure feelings for his parents, that they are still his, they are still a family to him. “My father and his background are both gone”, this refers to the fact that the father has left the family not as in dead since the poet already says that both his parents had turned bad and the inn has also been gone for good, either taken down or closed, ending the pure memory of his father. The photo of his mother is at his Welsh cottage and the woods. The ruby wedding was at his place. This points out the fact that the poet is all grown up and his parents had split when he was old enough and possibly after their fortieth wedding anniversary. “A wood that still shows those same greens eight summers on, though only the greenness of it’s stayed the same” shows us that the background of his mother’s ruby wedding hasn’t changed, but the life of the occupant and his family’s lives have changed but the reality of the greenness of the woods is unchanged, indicates that the love is still there, his feelings and memories are clear as a crystal.

In the stanzas that follow afterwards the poet exposes the conditions of the photographs. One is said to be in colour and the other is not. In my opinion the poet is using this as a metaphor to convey three messages that one of his parents played a part in his life but the other didn’t, he could also mean that one of the photos is actually in black and white and the other is new or the fact that his memory of one of his parents has faded and the other is fresh and clear, yet despite it all, though the photographs are on different occasions “the two are joined, apart from their shared frame”, to him they are still his loving family, though they are apart, to him they are still one. The poet uses this line to show us his unaffected feelings.

The poet goes on to convey what he sees in his parents eyes from the photographs. “the gleam , the light”, this expresses his father’s happiness during his birthday but “me in his blind right eye”, the poet is not part of his father’s life, he has been nothing to his father but a faded, tiny memory but in his mother’s eyes, he sees her pain, “a shadow holding something to its eyes”

The poet has used the technique of metaphors to express his feelings and the emphasis of certain words such as “ours” and “my”. He has a sense of belonging; they are still etched in his heart. The main idea the reader feels through this poem is the thoughts of the poet that he is a mistake.

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