At the start of our last lesson, we revised our unseen poetry skills by reading In the Orchard After Midnight by Brian Patten. We were asked to look at the presentation of the narrator and his relationship with the ghost (his dead friend).
We were able to make some insightful comments in the short time given:
“whiskey on the table”
This could connote two things. Firstly, his reliance upon alcohol may represent a sign of his grief. This could also be an explanation for the appearance of the ‘ghost’ – a drunken hallucination. Additionally, it could signify an invite or welcome to call upon the ghost of his best friend.
“I raise a glass to him- two months dead now-“
The two separate statements seem to juxtapose each other as to ‘raise a glass’ suggests a toast in celebration, but the stark reality of ‘two months dead’ contradicts a celebratory tone. We could infer that the ‘glass to him’ is a sign of his acceptance of the death of his friend or perhaps he has relied on alcohol to mourn and is not yet over his grief.
“- who cares if we get smashed now?
Celia’s up in London-“
When he sits with his friend, we get the impression that their relationship is unchanged despite death. The use of colloquial language ‘smashed’ reinforces an informal and relaxed exchange. The humour in their ‘banter’ about ‘Celia’ (who we assume to be a wife) also shows that they had a strong bond both before and after death,
“Tendrils of river mist drift through him.
Somewhere an owl takes out its oboe.”
Despite their relaxed tone, the use of natural imagery adds a magical element to the poem – reminding us that this isn’t an ordinary encounter between two old friends. The fact that ‘tendrils of river mist drift though him’ evokes a typical image of a cloudy, white ghost. The subtle assonance in ‘river mist drift’ enhances the mysterious but nonthreatening nature of the ghost. The reference to an ‘owl’ who ‘takes out his oboe’ is an unlikely image; perhaps a metaphor for the deep hoot of an owl, or perhaps a literal depiction which adds to the magic of this unusual night.
These are just some of our thoughts. We have been asked to write a timed response to the question for homework this week. As well as making considerations about the structure, we could also look at these quotations:
He smiles, takes a chair opposite,
Falls through it, grimaces, nods OK, tries again.
“Not used to this being dead stuff,” he says.
The grass white, crunchy as sugar,
We exchange banter, his ghost and I, the best of mates still.
Hopefully we will update this blog with an example answer soon.