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Harmonium by Simon Armitage

A brief introduction to the poem
by

A Rayner

on 18 March 2013

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Transcript of Harmonium by Simon Armitage

Harmonium by
Simon Armitage Armitage often uses his own background
and experiences for his poems and here he remembers
an incident with his father. He used to sing to the
harmonium when he was a choirboy in
Marsden Church in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. What happens?
An old church organ is waiting
to be disposed of and the narrator decides
to buy it. The organ is over 100 years
old and it has accompanied the voices
of generations of families in the church
choir, but it can still be played. The
speaker's father comes to help carry the
organ away and, as the organ is carried
'on its back', the older man comments
that the next time his son will carry a box
through the church will be at his funeral.
The speaker is unable to make any
meaningful reply. Structure
The poem consists of four stanzas of
varied length, the final stanza which deals
with the relationship between father and son
being the longest. The metre (rhythm) is
partly in iambic (0 -) feet, which is ideal for
telling a story, since it has an easy rhythm.
Sometimes the stress changes to emphasis
a word: Sun light, through stained glass,/which day/to day
could be a/ti fy saints/and raise/the dead Line 21: the rhythm
changes effectively to
create a pause before
'laid' giving a feeling
of physical exertion as the organ is turned over. The Farrand Chapelette was gathering dust
in the shadowy porch of Marsden Church.
And was due to be bundled off to the skip.
Or was mine, for a song, if I wanted it. Noun and adjective
used to introduce mood
of age, decay, darkness 'Bundled off' shows the 'Chapelette' to be helpless and a victim - only fit to be dumped now it has become old and useless Play on words and maintains the colloquial narrative tone The commas fracture the narrative - making it sound
disconnected and broken, as if the speaker is trying to find the words and the memory. Sunlight, through stained glass, which day to day
could beautify saints and raise the dead,
had aged the harmonium' softwood case
and yellowed the fingernails of its keys.
And one of its notes had lost its tongue,
and holes where worn in both the treadles
where the organist's feet, in grey, woollen socks
and leather-soled shoes, had pedalled and pedalled. Verbs develop the
theme of aging 'Pedalled and pedalled': the repetition acts out the repetitive actions and the passing of time The personification of the harmonium acts to link it with speaker's father But its hummed harmonics still struck a chord:
for hundreds of years that organ had stood
by the choristers' stalls, where father and son,
each in their time, had opened their throats
and gilded finches - like high notes - had streamed out. Alliteration stresses play on words and plays with the sounds the harmonica still makes More play on words - ie the musical chord and an emotional connection - this time with the speaker Continues the idea of repeated generations singing in the choir over hundreds of years and makes the reader think of the speaker and his father Interesting inverted personification of the high notes being like gilded (gold plated) finches - connotations of church wealth, summer, freedom, endless music, beauty Through his own blue cloud of tobacco smog,
with smoker's fingers and dottled thumbs,
he comes to help me cart it away.
And we carry it flat, laid on its back.
And he, being him, can't help but say
that the next box I'll shoulder through this nave
will bear the freight of his own dead weight.
And I, being me, then mouth in reply
some shallow or sorry phrase of word
too starved of breath to make itself heard. The speaker's father is old like the harmonium and his fingers are stained like the instruments keys. This stanza confirms the connection between the instrument and the speaker's father Implication of how well the speaker understands his father and that they have certain expected ways of behaviour with each other Internal rhyme of 'weight' and 'freight' lays emphasis on the theme of aging, decay and dying and idea that the old are just victims, waiting to be carried away - thrown out. At the end of the poem the speaker can only 'mouth' a reply to his father's throw away comment about being carried to his grave.
The reader is left wondering what he thinks about his father's approaching death. 'some shallow or sorry phrase or word
too starved of breath to make itself heard.' The alliteration of the 's' in the final couplet stresses the fact that aging and death are too serious and deep to be dealt with in a careless way. The speaker feels incapable of making his feelings known. The rhyme in the final two lines is interesting. In some ways it is a typical final couplet - emphasising the poem's key themes - but it also works to draw attention to the poem as a whole. The reader could think that the whole poem is the poet's ways of voicing his feelings about his father.
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