The mountains gathered round me
like bandits. Their leader
swaggered up close in the dark light,
full of threats, full of thunders.
But it was they who stood and delivered.
They gave me their money and their lives.
They filled me with mountains and thunders.
My life was enriched
with an infusion of theirs.
I clambered downhill through the ugly weather.
And when I turned to look goodbye
to those marvellous prowlers
a sunshaft had pierced the clouds and their leader,
that swashbuckling mountain,
a bandolier of light.
This poem reveals the poet’s changing feelings about the place named the ‘Green Corrie‘. The fact that the poet changes his feelings makes the poem psychologically exciting, as the poem seems both alive and dynamic and suggests that the landscape is a ‘character’too- vibrant and capable of transforming those who visit it.
The poet chooses a language full of ‘swagger’, danger and unlawfulness, emphasising that this world is far beyond any human, limiting control.
The word choice or lexis resembles that given to guerilla warfare! You may think in terms of Scottish revolutionaries or freedom fighters , Mexican ‘bandits’ or even the old fashioned Highway Men!
This is a world of the renegade and the rebel.
The poet seems scared by the place yet fascinated also.
It is as if these twin polarities of fear and fascination make the ‘Green Corrie’ utterly special and memorable.
The important irony of the poem, is that this landscape gives the poet the gift of something utterly unexpected.
It gives the poet the gift of ‘mountains and thunders’ and even a ‘sunshaft’ and ‘bandolier of light’.
All these gifts are revelations to the poet.They are ‘epiphanies‘ or ‘moments of being’, as they shift his understanding of this world and himself.
These ‘gifts’ are transcendent as they metaphorically transport the poet beyond the petty realities of the world and into spaces where the poet feels awe inspired and transformed.
Worth Thinking About.
I have just suggested that the landscape has its own distinctive character, its own vitality. This vitality or ‘aliveness’ is mirrored in the very way in which the poem is told. For the poet personifies the landscape thus making it into a swashbuckling creature worthy of lasting fascination.
Yet we notice that at first the landscape seems threatening and dangerous. The poem therefore plays upon the idea that the poet is in a relationship of some sort with the landscape.
This relationship is very intimate and we are very aware of the spaces around the poet as he feels the dangerous, exciting proximity of these mountains, as they ‘ gathered’ around him.
Unsurprisingly the poet’s feelings are ambivalent as he tries to give expression to his emotions.
These feelings create the interest of the poem as they give expression to the conflict between the poet’s initial fearful impression of this place and then his subsequent, enduring attachment to this landscape.
Perhaps the time scale of the poem is significant. For if the poem deals with a return to a place from childhood, then there will be a tension between the adult view and that of the original child self’s viewpoint.
Think of Wordsworth’s Prelude poem also included in the AQA Anthology. The Prelude also explores the conflict between the adult poet’s ‘I’ and that of an earlier ‘I’ belonging to the child.
Think about it. Is the child really the ‘father of the man’ as Wordsworth once declared?
The ‘mountains’ are personified through the use of the verb ‘gathered’ This verb gives the mountains a human action, one that seems possibly deliberate and threatening. Perhaps the poet feels physically claustrophobic and impinged upon.
The simile ‘like bandits’ expands our understanding of the personified mountains. Their actions are those of outlaws and therefore fear is suggested, though there could also be a possibility of excitement too.
For what safety can the poet expect in such a wild and natural place? If one chooses rural seclusion, then security must be compromised somehow?
One of these mountain figures is singled out. We notice the physical awareness of intimacy through the word ‘close’. We also notice the reference to ‘dark light’. This seems oxymoronic, and works to underline the compelling combination of the natural elements of the weather with the emotions attached to the experience.
We can simultaneously experience contrasting feelings and these often render an experience enduring and even in this instance, an adventure. This experience has the psychological firmly entwined with the metaphysical and the natural.
This particular bandit is’ their leader’ , whose singularity makes him special and powerful beyond the others. The poet is thus filled with ‘threats and thunders’. Interestingly the external weather becomes infused within the poet. Like a form of pathetic fallcy transported within!
The alliterative threats and thunders are metaphors too for extreme emotion. We sometimes liken love and loss to ‘lightning strikes’ as the power of extreme feeling can radically affect all our familiar mental and physical landscapes and being.
The secomd stanza begins with the word ‘But’. This word stops the movement and argument of the first stanza.
The poet revises his opinion, because instead of hostility he finds a gift. The highway men( mountains) defy their stereotype and act generously, giving rather than taking riches.
This reversal or surprise makes the poem psychologically interesting as well as spiritually and imaginatively uplifting.
Our expectations or assumptions are often wrong and the poet allows the poem to ‘flow’ with this change of direction.
The gifts of ‘money’ and ‘lives’ are large and generous. We may wonder how the landscape can yield up these gifts. Again, we think metaphorically about what sustains us.
Here we are free to let our hearts and imaginations ‘guess’ what such gifts may come from the awe inspiring vision of such a landscape, where the human is merely incidental compared to the ancient grandeur of nature.
Notice how the poet repeats but changes the ending of the first stanza at the end of stanza two. The ‘thunders’ seem more magisterial and honourable in the second revised version. The ‘mountains’ have replaced the ‘threats’. Perception and emotional experience have shifted.
Third and Final Stanza.
The change in perception is made explicit through the opening declaration: ‘ my life was enriched/with an infusion of theirs.’ This declaration reveals a sense of thankfulness as he acknowledges his change.
Nature has made a huge impression upon him. His experience is a form of ‘infusion’ so that he is no longer separate from this ancient landscape. He feels intimate with this place and this intimacy forms the emotional heart of the poem.
His human physicality is made clear through the use of the verb , ‘clambered’. The finite quality of his life is set against the timelessness of the ‘Green Corrie‘.
Human fear has become transformed into admiration and playful, tender respect, as the mountains seem ‘marvellous prowlers’. This description stresses the true meaning of our associations with the marvellous.
The poet is now ‘marvelling’ at what he sees and feels about him. He feels both a sense of wonder and of awe; he experiences and re-experiences through the poem’s retelling, his epiphany.
One particular ‘character’ is singled out for mention. This is the leader who has become transformed into a ‘swashbuckling mountain…wearing a bandolier of light.’
This description celebrates the haloed aspect of the poet’s vision of this particular mountain. This vision is of a most glorious, natural ‘rebel’ who exists far beyond any human control and concerns.
Thus the poem ends with this transcendent, visionary moment. this is a moment recollected and so repeated, through the activity of remembrance in the poem.
The ‘bandolier of light’ has endured in the mind and imagination of the the poet. It seems almost a religious experience.
Initial horror has given way to a sense of respect and faith. This vision makes the human observer revise his perspectives.
The poem is therefore a poem about change and rebirth. It communicates the power of a natural glorious intimacy with a special place that gives sustenance and courage to the poet and subsequently the reader too!
Carol Ann Duffy 15 ideas!
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