Saddled with you for the afternoon,me and Paul
ambled across the threadbare field to the bus stop,
talking over Sheffield Wednesday’s chances in the cup
while you skipped beside us in your ridiculous tank top,
spouting six year-old views on Rotherham United
Suddenly you froze,said you hadn’t any bus fare.
I sighed,said you should go and ask Mum
and while you windmilled home I looked at Paul
His smile,like mine,said i was nine and he was ten
and we must stroll down the town, doing like grown-ups do.
As as bus crested the hill we chased Olympic Gold.
Looking back i saw you spring towards the gate,
you hand holding out what must of been a coin.
I ran on,unable to close the distance i’d set in motion
Andrew Forster’s poem Brothers included in the AQA English Anthology captures the casual cruelty of sibling betrayal. This poem captures a seemingly minor incident in the poet’s earlier life yet for all its careless ordinariness, the poet recognises that some events have a lasting, perhaps irreparable resonance and effect.
All readers with younger siblings may identify with the feeling of being ‘saddled’ with the responsibility for another human being. Responsibility is often an awkward part of family life and the interaction between each member of the family group may feel strained at times. This poem is a memory and as such, evidently relates some incident in the past that has remained important to the poet otherwise why recollect the incident?
The poet’s choice of language contrasts the elder boy’s more self consciously cool way of walking ‘ambled’ with the eager enthusiasm of the more natural younger brother: ‘skipped.’ The delight the younger brother takes in escorting his elder brother across the ‘threadbare field’ is not shared. The older boys are escaping from home in order to explore town when they are ‘saddled’ with the younger brother for ‘the afternoon.’
The irritation and patronising irony of the poet and his friend ‘Paul’ towards the young brother is revealed through the heavy emphases on the ‘ridiculous tank top’ and ‘Rotherham United.’ Neither of these two references improve the younger brother’s already lowly status in the public domain. The older boy fears humiliation before his friend and the wider world. The poet is more concerned with how he appears than with hurting his brother’s feelings or even neglecting his duty and responsibility towards him. This recollection has a special power as it reminds us, perhaps uneasily. of times when our sense of shame supercedes anything else. Here, shame causes distress to his younger brother and perhaps has remained an enduring reminder of a breakdown in their trust.
The flashback to the young boy holding the coin reminds me of Judas. The older brother betraying the younger through a conspiratorial ruse with a friend whose opinion was more important than care or responsibility for his sibling.
The poem reveals that the literal space between the abandoned small brother and his conniving elder brother, that has become a symbol or enduring metaphor for betrayal. The dramatic irony of the elder boys’ belief in their superiority through running away as if they were chasing ‘Olympic Gold’ now resembles a hollow victory.Yet such rivalries and daily upsets are part of family life and strife and this poem works because its subject matter is so real and convincing to the reader.
The poem is told by a first person speaker, the poet. The first person admits his trickery regarding his brother through the poem as a form of confession. This trickery is now admitted in public and in print. So we wonder is the act of telling a form of repentance? Who can survive a first person narrative anyhow without any blame or judgement being attached to their thoughts or actions?
A most accessible poem with an underlying feeling of uneasiness and sorrow. For when we look back, we reanimate the past and in doing so we may find that our actions literally arise from the dead and start to haunt us all over again. These hauntings once granted resurrection, may linger uncomfortably in our minds and consciences.
Carol Ann Duffy 15 ideas!
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