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The Captain of the 1964 top of the form team
Transcript of The Captain of the 1964 top of the form team
This poem is a dramatic monologue. Duffy adopts the persona of a man who has never got over the disappointment of growing up, and who hankers after the time in the 1960’s when, as a schoolboy who was top of the class, and as the captain of a quiz team, life was uncomplicated. We get the idea that time has not been kind to him.
In this poem we hear the voice of a man who is disillusioned by adulthood and all that it brings. Instead he longs for a time when he was a school boy-top of the class, and captain of a quiz team. The speaker looks back on his youth with fond memories and a clear sense of Nostalgia longing, all of which serve to contrast with the unhappiness he feels in his adult life.
Th reference to popular songs and musicans such as 'baby love' sets the poem firmly in the year that the title gives. The specfic months of the records release date is even mentioned, suggesting that the speaker has a vivid and fixed memory of his childhood. Music is often associated with memory.
In Stanza One we can sum up his character as he was then: a teenage boy, full of optimism, boyish, uninhibited, clever, full of self belief. He is interested in music- “the Top Ten” and is beginning to be interested in girls.
The poem begins with him recalling the titles of pop songs which help to fix 1964 in his mind. (This will be a familiar thought process to many readers, as many people identify specific years in their lives with the release of “records”.
Even a specific month- October- is imprinted on his mind- that is when his special event- title of the poem- occurred.
He continues lamenting the ease he felt in childhood, before the complexities and compromises of adult life. Everything seemed black and white, right or wrong:
“The Nile rises in April. Blue and White. The humming bird’s song is made by its wings…” His achievement is reflected in the image of him “salut(ing)” the answers to his teacher and the predictable tone of “Sir?... Correct.”
It is summarized by his enthusiasm for life at the time, “no hands, famous, learning…”
The first of these images is suggestive of a recklessness, a sense of invincibility and assurance which is shown as hubris by the poem’s end. Again, Duffy gives this period of life a geographic “country” but in the final stanza it is subverted from its idealized vision and aligned.
This poem explores the manner in which time can be “mean” in the sense of inflicting emotional pain. As the man grows older his horizons have not expanded, and his younger self becomes a “straitjacket” on his adult life which has signalled decline, rather than progression or development.
Although physically older with a wife, and children, he cannot deal with the separate country of an adult life with its complications, disappointments and uncertainties. There are no “correct” answers any more.
The short sentence which forms the end of this stanza sums it up “My country”. He means his childhood, not just the actual place, but to what was a golden time for him. (Links to “Originally”- “I want my own country”- Duffy herself wanted to go back- not just to Scotland but to an earlier time when life was uncomplicated.)
Pathos is introduced by the short sentence which follows in line one of Stanza Four:“ I want it back. “ followed on the same line by three more separate sentences explaining what he wants “The captain. The one with all the answers. Bzz.”
He was hero worshipped by a girl at school, but now his “fame” has been replaced by a “stale wife”, “my boss”, and “thick kids”- all of whom he bombards with questions- and none of them can (or want to?) answer them. “Nobody” sums up his disgust/ disappointment. We imagine that his “thick kids wince” from embarrassment. Among all the italicised questions (presumably the answers to which he had to learn for the quiz) is again that short sentence “My country”.
“fizzing hope”- the use of onomatopoeia evokes a sense of optimism and excitement about his future.
“gargling with Vimto”- boyish lack of inhibition.
“clever smell” of his satchel. Transferred epithet evokes the sense of self belief he had then.
Reference to “convent girls” conveys his emerging sexuality.
At the end of the stanza, the idea of him imitating Mick Jagger using a steel comb as a musical instrument adds humour, but also again evokes the behaviour of a teenage boy.
His lips are as numb as they would be after a “two hour snog”- this would be his language of the time.
Stanza Two begins with “ No snags”- a simple statement of what he felt about life then, and adds a regretful tone.
He states facts that he knew then (from studying for the quiz) using the present tense. He is trying to recreate the past, in the present. “The Nile rises in April”
We can see his pride in being so clever
“………………….in class, the white sleeve
of my shirt saluted again and again. Sir….correct”
Later, his youthful exuberance is seen as he “whooped” ( good use of onomatopoeia again) at the side of his bike, then mounts it in one jump, and “sped” down Dyke Hill, riding with “no hands” (pretending to be a cowboy- another reference to popular culture of the time.
“no hands, famous, learning, dominus,domine,dominum.”- sums up all that is good in his life at the time. He can ride a bike with no hands on the handlebars, he is famous for his appearance on the TV quiz, and he is learning Latin (the grammar would be learned by rote- something he is obviously good at. Dominus means Lord, master, ruler- very apt- what he feels he is at that point?)
This humorous reference at the beginning of stanza three “Dave Dee Dozy…” (ref. to a 1960’s pop group.) The two short sentences -”Try me. Come on”- ( showing Duffy’s skilful use of sentence structure for effect)- which follow this suggest he is desperate for someone to ask him questions NOW in his adult life so that he can show how much he remembers.
The rest of the stanza sums up his fond memories. His mother’s pride keeping his “gonk” and photo in pride of place for a year.
“ The blazer./ The badge. The tie.” (Note how each is given its own sentence.)
He refers to the iconic first chord of a Beatles song being loud in his head, as he ran (in triumph) through the streets and places of his childhood- his familiar environment. The ”pink pavements” on a “blue evening” create a sense of it being idyllic. He stamps animal paw prints in the mud with the soles of his shoes (1960’s reference again)- leaving his mark.
Loss (of his golden time), Memory, Time, Disappointment.
Relates to “Originally”. “All childhood is an emigration”. He is unhappy with his emigration to adult life. Life then was full of joy and hope, “fame”, belonging. Now all he has is a “stale wife”, “thick kids” and no answers.
The structure of the poem, and the punctuation within lines, gives it the cadence of speech, and the sense of memories revisited.