(I read this last night as part of a WJEC GCE past English paper. A lovely gift of a poem).
I love this poem’s intimacy. The speaker grumbles his way through the lines, creating a vivid, melancholic picture of life on Hadrian’s Wall. We can hear the tone of his voice, feel the itch of his skin and recognise the futility of his jealousy, so far from home. The simplicity of the rhyming couplets give a real sense of the speaker’s daily life, his bleak world.
The half rhyme or I say, the half miss of a rhyme(‘blows’ with ‘nose’) that occurs in the first couplet gives the poem an authenticity and rather nasal aspect too! It is as if the speaker is muffling his voice due to cold and clothing. We can hear his faraway, melancholy voice and sympathise with his futile yearning for something sunnier and more homely. His only close contact seems to be the lice!
The poem is unafraid of acknowledging vulnerability; the soldier feels trapped in a historical moment not of his own making and certainly one that disempowers him and consigns him to probable death or disability. The poem has a hint of Larkin when he once suggested that the ‘why’ of our existence is beyond us. There is considerable pathos on Auden when he admits his hapless lack of understanding of his predicament. ‘I don’t know why.’
Time travelling with Auden creates a very desultory speaker whose confidences we over hear as he stands isolated and frustrated on Hadrian’s Wall.
Beautifully evocative and compelling!
ROMAN WALL BLUES
Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic, a cold in my nose.
The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
I’m a Wall soldier, I don’t know why.
The mist creeeps over the hard grey stone,
My girl’s in Tungria; I sleep alone.
Aulus goes hanging around her place,
I don’t like his manners, I don’t like his face.
Piso’s a Christian, he worships a fish;
There’d be be no kissing if he had his wish.
She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
I want my girl and I want my pay.
When I’m a veteran with only one eye
I shall do nothing but look at the sky.
The Woman in Black
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