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Lang/Lit: ‘Never Go Back’

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by

Paul Hanson

on 26 April 2017

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Transcript of Lang/Lit: ‘Never Go Back’

‘Never Go Back’
First Reading
First Questions
First Answers
Question
Find examples of words and images related to death and disease in the poem. What do these tell us about the effect of time on the place that the speaker returns to?
Stanzas One and Two
The first stanza is set in the bar the speaker visits when returning to the place where she used to live. In this bar, the poet suggests that everything stays the same and everyone is locked in their own self-destructive routine. The speaker attempts to interact with the people she was once close to, but the conversations are stilted and empty of meaning. They can only reminisce about the stories and memories they have in common, but the past no longer seems real or meaningful to her. There is a sense of self-deception in these meetings, as if everyone is trying to convince themselves that they are still close friends, yet she feels emotionally disconnected from them and the person she used to be when she lived there. She is resigned to the fact that she cannot re-establish a meaningful connection with this social world and is resolved to deaden her feelings with alcohol and never return to the place where she no longer fits in.
What does the
oxymoron
‘the living dead’ suggest about the way that the speaker views her former acquaintances?
What is the effect of the
personification
of the jukebox which ‘reminisces in a cracked voice’ and the
antithesis
‘there is nothing to say. You talk for hours’? Which keywords are emphasised here by enjambment and why?
What
metaphors
are used to describe the topics of conversation in the bar and what do these suggest about the way she connects with the people from her past?
What does the
concrete noun
‘ghost’ suggest about the way the speaker views her presence in the bar?

As you read the poem for the first time, consider the following:
Time
Place
People and relationships
Events
In the poem, the speaker returns to the place where she used to live and feels depressed by the memories evoked by it. She encounters people she was once close to, but finds herself unable to communicate with them in a meaningful way.
More Questions!
Find a line where time is
personified
and analyse it.
How is
personification
and
pathetic fallacy
used in the second stanza to depict the atmosphere of the place and the speaker’s feelings towards it?
How is her friend depicted in the second stanza?
Why do you think the poet uses a series of
minor and simple sentences
at the end of stanza two? Identify them and comment on their effect.
In what way does the
structure
of the first and second stanzas mirror each other? Comment also on the use of
repetition
within them.

The speaker returns to the place where she was a ‘bride’ and experienced love. The house itself appears to reject her, as it seems destroyed and neglected, scarred by the painful memories of the past. She feels remorse and judgment as a result of deserting the place and perhaps her previous relationship. She feels unwelcome and unwanted in the house, tormented by the anguish that she has experienced and caused there. Her previous life there is seen by her as a necessary mistake, a stage in her life that she had to go through only in order to change and develop into the person that she is now. She feels as if a part of her has died as a result of this transformation and is determined to escape these memories and leave behind the person she used to be.
Even More Questions!
Find examples of
personification
and comment on how the house is portrayed through these images.
What words and images does Duffy use to present the house as hostile?
How does Duffy portray the speaker’s memories of the life she lived in the house?
What do the
verbs
‘shaking’ and ‘slamming’ tell us about her attitude as she leaves the house? What other words or images can also be used to support your ideas?
Find three examples of caesura in these stanzas and comment on its effect.
Focus on three words emphasised by enjambment and comment on their effect.

Who is the voice of the poem?

Who are they speaking to?

What are they speaking about?

Have you ever moved away from a place where you used to live and returned there for a visit? What was it like seeing the same places and people again?
Are there any friends that you have grown apart from as you got older? What were the reasons for this and what is it like when you see them now?
In the future, do you think you would like to keep living in the place where you grew up or do you think you’d prefer to settle down elsewhere? Why?

Five and Six: Find Quotations For...
The speaker leaves the place where she used to live, considering the person that she used to be in the past as dead.
She sees how the town has changed and considers that it has deteriorated and lost its identity.
The town is presented as garish and grotesque, full of hostility towards her as she feels she no longer understands it.
She is desperate to escape it and feels herself exiled from a place where she no longer belongs and does not fit in.
The landscape is filled with sadness for her and as she leaves, the place that used to be her home already begins to feel unreal from her as she is finally disconnected from it.
She welcomes this detachment from familiar memories and returns to the new place where she has created her home, a place where she feels comforted and welcome.

Links to Other Poems
Consider how the following are presented in other poems:
the feeling of being stifled in a conventional, suburban environment
the destructive effect of time on close relationships
feelings of alienation

Starter
Questions
Stanzas Three and Four
Full transcript