My Father Thought It…

Background

This poem uses a persona to explore the relationship between a boy and his father. It is important to realise that the views of the first person "I" are those of a character and not necessarily Armitage. It is also important to be aware of the time frame: in the poem, the persona is twenty-nine years old, but he is looking back on his teenage years, and reflecting on how much he has changed and grown over the years.


The Poem

My father thought it bloody queer,
the day I rolled home with a ring of silver in my ear
half hidden by a mop of hair. "You’ve lost your head.
If that’s how easily you’re led
you should’ve had it through your nose instead."
And even then I hadn’t had the nerve to numb
the lobe with ice, then drive a needle through the skin,
then wear a safety-pin. It took a jeweller’s gun
to pierce the flesh, and then a friend
to thread the sleeper in
, and where it slept
the hole became a sore, became a wound, and wept.
At twenty-nine, it comes as no surprise to hear
my own voice breaking like a tear, released like water,
cried from way back in the spiral of the ear. If I were you,
I’d take it out and leave it out next year.

-- Simon Armitage


Analysis

"bloody queer"

Colloquial language, imitating the language of the father. The word ‘queer’ marks the father out as from a certain era: a time when earrings were only worn by women and ‘queers’ (or homosexuals). In this phrase, he could be questioning his son’s sexuality, either in an insulting or concerned way, depending on how you view the father.

"ring of silver in my ear."

It is important to understand the significance of the "ring of silver". For the persona, having an earring is an act of teenage rebellion, a deliberate provocation for his father and other figures of 'authority'.

"you should’ve had it through your nose instead."

Here is another concern of the father – that the boy is being pressured into this by his peers. The imagery of a ring through the nose reminds the reader of cattle, and the father is suggesting the boy has no more independent thought than an animal.

"even then I hadn’t had the nerve"

The boy’s act is of defiance and rebellion, yet this is an admission that he didn’t do it properly. He seems to be conceding that he is just a follower, just as his father fears, too scared to do the act properly.

"a jeweller’s gun ... and then a friend / to thread the sleeper in"

The ultimate responsibility for the action is passed on to others, first the “jeweller” with his “gun”, and then to his “friend”, who was the one to “thread the sleeper in”. The boy doesn’t control his own destiny, showing that his father’s concern about being “led” is quite true.

"the hole became a sore, became a wound, and wept"

Perhaps this personification of the “hole” is actually a symbol for the state of the boy. Perhaps he himself feels “sore” as he regrets the “wound” he has given himself.

"no surprise"

Because the boy had very ambivalent feelings at the time, as made clear in the earlier lines of the poems, there is “no surprise” in his change of opinion.

"breaking like a tear, released like water"

The idea of “tear” connects back to the regret in the line about the hole that “wept”. These watery similes suggests a sudden overflowing of emotion that has suddenly overcome the persona at the age of “twenty-nine”. The word “breaking”, however, also reminds the reader of a coming of age ritual for boys, the deepening of the voice, suggesting that he has finally grown up and gained clarity.

"cried from way back in the spiral of the ear."

Perhaps “back” also reminds us of the past, in which the lines “if I were you…” take on a dual significance, not only the man’s current thoughts but also an echo of his father’s words at the time.

"I’d take it out and leave it out next year."

The boy has grown up and has come to accept the futility of the symbol. He has come to share his father’s views on the earring.

 


Compares well with...
  • Mother any distance... Both these poems are about young men coming of age, though in different ways.

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All text copyright © 2006 to EJ Taylor. Page Template created by James Taylor. Site created: 10 April, 2006. Last revised: 2 August, 2015