character and voice

Rhyme in Dylan Thomas’s The Hunchback in the Park

The hunchback in the park
A solitary mister
Propped between trees and water
From the opening of the garden lock
That lets the trees and water enter
Until the Sunday sombre bell at dark
 
Eating bread from a newspaper
Drinking water from the chained cup
That the children filled with gravel
In the fountain basin where I sailed my ship
Slept at night in a dog kennel
But nobody chained him up.
 
Like the park birds he came early
Like the water he sat down
And Mister they called Hey mister
The truant boys from the town
Running when he had heard them clearly
On out of sound
 
Past lake and rockery
Laughing when he shook his paper
Hunchbacked in mockery
Through the loud zoo of the willow groves
Dodging the park keeper
With his stick that picked up leaves.
 
And the old dog sleeper
Alone between nurses and swans
While the boys among willows
Made the tigers jump out of their eyes
To roar on the rockery stones
And the groves were blue with sailors
 
Made all day until bell time
A woman figure without fault
Straight as a young elm
Straight and tall from his crooked bones
That she might stand in the night
After the locks and chains
 
All night in the unmade park
After the railings and shrubberies
The birds the grass the trees the lake
And the wild boys innocent as strawberries
Had followed the hunchback
To his kennel in the dark.

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The Hunchback in the Park

Cwmdonkin-2014-4 orderly


Structure, form, whatever ..?


Seven six line stanzas. Straight up! Shows routine. Even in the midst of the disaster that is his world, the hunchback in the park still shows the human need to seek out order in the chaos. Dylan Thomas knew about this. He chose to write the poem this way to show that there will still be order, even in a life as adrift from the rest of humanity as the hunchback’s.

Mr Bruff talks for ages here about Simon Armitage’s Clown Punk and other poems, but then he does say some stuff about the structure of THITP* – His analysis of THITP starts at 07:56 and he reminds us how the poem is, on closer inspection, structured in a much less ordered way than other poems like, for example, The Ruined Maid, On a Portrait of a Deaf Man or Give.

He also reminds us that it is important to link structure to meaning when we are thinking about a poem. Thomas deliberately chose a random rhyme scheme within an apparently ordered structure of stanzas to highlight the routine of the hunchback’s life, but also the instability that he has to live with.

Cwmdonkin_Park trees


Character and Voice, yeh ..


Because, when we look closer, we can clearly see that the order in this character’s life does not go very deep. It is true that, at first glance, there is structure in his world and in the poem, but when we look a bit more carefully we find that the character is struggling to keep it together. At the same time, if we consider the structure of the poem again, we see that the poet is aware of this and angry, perhaps, at the way the park visitors treat this man and, maybe, at how society treats the vulnerable in its midst.

Minimal punctuation and enjambment give an impression of restlessness and almost constant movement, but movement that is driven by random needs. There is a rhyme scheme, but this is random too, and some of the words don’t even rhyme properly.

Thomas chooses his words deliberately to give us an idea of the way the hunchback lives, forever teetering on the edge; cold, hungry, alone, scared, in danger ..


Language – Who’s talking? How?


Third person, eh? Gives a perspective that almost ‘tells’ us how to feel. We should feel sympathy for the hunchback. He is shunned by all elements of society and we should be ashamed of the way he is treated. How did he get like this? What is his history? We can only imagine these things, but Thomas’s use of language and imagery make it clear that we should feel sorry for him.


What’s it about? – On the surface ..


Tea cosy pete COJS56787815

Well, duh .. a homeless guy, innit .. and how all visitors to the park turn their backs on him or even actively get rid of him, kind of assuming it’s somehow his own fault or even if it isn’t his fault, thinking that if they associate with him they’ll somehow become ‘infected’.

The hunchback shuffles around the park every day, trying not to be too conspicuous because he knows that everyone he comes across will want him gone. And even when it gets dark and the schoolchildren, the mothers, the nannies, the nurses, the sailors, the park keeper have all gone, he needs to keep his wits about him, in the dark at night. Who knows what might happen. He even imagines that a tall statue in the park might protect him against whatever dangers there might be ..


What’s it about? – Themes ..


Again, not hard to understand in the twenty-first century. Homelessness is rife; as individuals, we can be cruel and uncaring; as a society, we tend to look the other way. We often don’t take the time to understand and know people who are less fortunate than ourselves.

GCSE Bitesize sez ..

People, especially children, can be very cruel. There is not one example of the man going out of his way to be unkind or rude to anyone. He gets annoyed and angry when the children tease him – which is exactly what they want.

We should not judge people simply on what they look like. This man is and looks different. We get the sense that this is why he is alone in the park, not for anything he might have done. This is sad to think.

Morals. The final picture of the man – who is regarded as so worthless that we never know his name – retreating to his kennel in the dark is tragic, and provides a damning moral comment on society failing those who need care.’

GCSE Bitesize on THITP


It looks like this ..


The hunchback in the park
A solitary mister
Propped between trees and water
From the opening of the garden lock
That lets the trees and water enter
Until the Sunday sombre bell at dark.
 
Eating bread from a newspaper
Drinking water from the chained cup
That the children filled with gravel
In the fountain basin where I sailed my ship
Slept at night in a dog kennel
But nobody chained him up.
 
Like the park birds he came early
Like the water he sat down
And Mister they called Hey mister
The truant boys from the town
Running when he had heard them clearly
On out of sound
 
Past lake and rockery
Laughing when he shook his paper
Hunchbacked in mockery
Through the loud zoo of the willow groves
Dodging the park keeper
With his stick that picked up leaves.
 
And the old dog sleeper
Alone between nurses and swans
While the boys among willows
Made the tigers jump out of their eyes
To roar on the rockery stones
And the groves were blue with sailors
 
Made all day until bell time
A woman figure without fault
Straight as a young elm
Straight and tall from his crooked bones
That she might stand in the night
After the locks and chains
 
All night in the unmade park
After the railings and shrubberies
The birds the grass the trees the lake
And the wild boys innocent as strawberries
Had followed the hunchback
To his kennel in the dark.


It sounds like this ..


This is a reading of the poem by Dylan Thomas himself. He puts on one of those old-fashioned poetry reading voices that sometimes sound a bit irritating these days.

This is a more modern reading of the poem by Martin Sheen. The film was produced to celebrate the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth in 2014. It was directed by Bram Ttwheam.


The Poet


The Granger Collection - TopFoto

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) – Yup, he only lived to be 39. He was from South Wales but wrote in English. He left school at 16 to work in journalism and published his first book of poetry, 18 Poems, in 1934. He lived a wild, alcohol-fuelled life which continued as he became famous. He was a popular speaker because of his deep, rich Welsh voice and was famous for being a kind of stereotypical maverick poet.  He died on a trip to the USA in 1953 after a heavy drinking session.


What do you think?


Go here for a This IS The Safe House Flash Fiction Writing Session based on The Hunchback in the Park.


trees above duck

*The Hunchback in the Park

The River God

river mimram httpwwwwalkingbritaincoukm14140201.jpg


Structure, form, whatever ..?


The poem flows like a river, sometimes quickly sometimes meandering along. A single long stanza, if you like, where the lines float and swirl into pools, through a weir and flow “merrily” downstream in rhyming couplets until reaching an abrupt and deadly end.

Mr Bruff has a bit to say about structure here.

He compares Simon Armitage’s Give and Stevie Smith’s The River God in terms of structure and then goes on to a detailed analysis of the structure of John Agard’s Checkin Out Me History. Worth listening to if you’re in a mood to concentrate ..


Character and Voice, yeh ..


Personification, uh of course .. The river is a god, old and powerful, uninterruptedly speaking his thoughts. He seems quietly dangerous, but sad somehow and lonely. This is why he doesn’t have too much patience for people who take him for granted and also why he eventually kidnaps a “lady who was too bold,” and hopes she will stay and be his companion. The River God is the dangerous spirit of the river that lies hidden beneath its surface.


Language – Who’s talking? How?


A dramatic monologue in the first person where the poet takes on the persona of the central character – The River God.

The poem starts out as if in reply to ‘accusations’ – who from? It is as if the river is talking to us.

Enjambment, alliteration – all over the place, giving us an idea of ‘who’ The River God actually is. Listen, if you like, to Mrs Tomkins. She has quite a lot to say about the language Stevie Smith chose for her poem here.


What’s it about? – On the surface ..


  1. Roy Conchie Abbey Park 24093124Watch out! A warning – The River God is telling humans that while we may think that he is just a “smelly”, “old” river he is actually a powerful force. Be careful!
  2. We should feel sorry for him – The River God is lonely and misunderstood. He punishes people who don’t respect him and reminds us that while we may dismiss him as “rough and reedy”, he has many good qualities.
  3. This is a love poem – the River God has fallen in love with a human. The River God reminds us that while all of us have forgotten the beautiful lady he will never forget her or forgive her if she leaves.
  4. ‘The River God’ was inspired by an existing river – “the River Mimram in Hertfordshire, which rises from a spring to the north of Whitwell, in North Hertfordshire, and makes its confluence with the River Lea near Horn’s Mill in Hertford.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Mimram


What’s it about? – Themes ..


The power of nature, love, loneliness, rejection, respect, violence .. death.

The poem shows us how we take aspects of nature for granted when each part of it has its own inner life and holds secrets we know nothing about.

In a lot of ways, these days, the poem’s character might appear to be a bit creepy, or sinister. The 21st century context, with its purge of powerful, predatory people, particularly men,  accused, charged and proven guilty of crimes against women and children, perhaps gives the poem a different feel.


It looks like this ..


I may be smelly and I may be old,
Rough in my pebbles, reedy in my pools,
But where my fish float by I bless their swimming
And I like the people to bathe in me, especially women.
But I can drown the fools
Who bathe too close to the weir, contrary to rules.
And they take a long time drowning
As I throw them up now and then in the spirit of clowning.
Hi yih, yippity-yap, merrily I flow,
O I may be an old foul river but I have plenty of go.
Once there was a lady who was too bold
She bathed in me by the tall black cliff where the water runs cold,
So I brought her down here
To be my beautiful dear.
Oh will she stay with me will she stay
This beautiful lady, or will she go away?
She lies in my beautiful deep river bed with many a weed
To hold her, and many a waving reed.
Oh who would guess what a beautiful white face lies there
Waiting for me to smooth and wash away the fear
She looks at me with. Hi yih, do not let her
Go. There is no one on earth who does not forget her
Now. They say I am a foolish old smelly river
But they do not know of my wide original bed
Where the lady waits, with her golden sleepy head.
If she wishes to go I will not forgive her.


It sounds like this ..


This is a reading of the poem set to video by Middlesex University students. It could be The River God, couldn’t it?


The Poet


Stevie Smith 1949 BBC archiveStevie Smith (1902–1971) was born Florence Margaret Smith in Kingston upon Hull.

When she was three, her father left home and she moved with her mother, two aunts and sister to Palmer’s Green in London. At the age of five she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to a sanatorium in Kent. She suffered from depression all her life.

Many of her poems explore death, a subject she became preoccupied with as a child. She thought of death as a release from what she called the ‘pressure of despair’.

She began writing poetry while working as a private secretary at a publishing company in London. She worked there for 30 years until she suffered a breakdown in her early 50s.

In the 1960s she was a popular, eccentric performer.

This is her talking about and reading what is probably her most famous poem – Not Waving But Drowning

Her poetry is unconventional and uses a dark sense of humour –  amusing but also unnerving, a bit weird.

She wrote eight volumes of poetry and three  semi-autobiographical novels. She drew pictures to accompany her poetry, but rarely found a publisher who wanted to include them in her books.

She died of a brain tumour in 1971.


What do you think?


You may feel some sympathy for the character. He’s been shunned by society for so long, people have used him and taken advantage of him. He has been kind and he has been patient and, most of the time, he has been good. And even when he was bad, he was only bad out of desperation and for want of connection with others, for want of love. Of course, he shouldn’t be so twisted. He should know better and he should be able to control himself and not use his strength and his power to do harm. You might think that. And you might be sure that he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t be like he was, if only people would give him a chance and if only he could find love again.

You might think, no wonder he’s alone. He’s a miserable old brute of a man with nothing but spite and self-interest in his heart. You might argue that he needs to be kept under watch and controlled in case he does harm. Indeed, if he has already done bad things, you might say that he should be locked up for the benefit of decent society. You might suggest even more punishment, depending on how strongly you felt about the crimes the character admits to.

Or you might think something different .. Wonder what Stevie Smith thought?


towpath 1

 

Innocent As Strawberries

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

abbeypark bridge and cafeThis session is about imagining the world from another person’s point of view and describing their thoughts.

Activity

Imagine you had to hide somewhere in a park. It’s night time. You have nowhere else to go. Where would you hide?

What would your last thoughts be before finally falling asleep?

Stimulus

abbey park map

Click on the map to go to Google Maps.

As well as the map of the park, the stimulus for this session is Dylan Thomas’s poem, The Hunchback in the Park.

The poem is about a homeless man who uses the park on a daily basis to pass away his days and to sleep. He is a lonely man, rejected by everyone who uses the park because he is deformed and ugly. He is an outcast. The poem describes how the poet imagines his feelings of loneliness and rejection to be.

At the end of the poem, the hunchback settles down for the night. He is frightened and alone. There could be people in the park who are out to get him!

Have a look at this for more detail about the poem.

Guide

abbey park - young people meeting by the lakeThis is an exercise in getting into the mind of a particular character.

You should read the poem two or three times. Read it out loud. Get someone else to read it and you listen while you’re reading the words.

Try to work out all the different types of people the poet describes who come into the park.

Think about how the ‘Hunchback’ feels when he sees these people. What goes on inside his head as he tries to keep safe?

Think about what we know about the ‘Hunchback’ from what the poet tells us.

Think about what we don’t know about him.

How old is he?
How long has he been living in the park?
How did he end up there?
Has he got any friends, family, children?
What has happened to him?

bandstand through treesImagine what it must be like to have to keep out of sight from everyone for fear of what they might do to you.

How frightening that must be!

Imagine how difficult it would be to get to sleep, no matter how tired you were.

Write down the last thoughts of the ‘Hunchback’ as he finally drops off to sleep at night in the park.

Word count and process

This could, of course, be a single word!

But maybe you could extend your writing a bit further than that. A sentence? Twenty-five words? You could extend it into something longer. You could be quite dramatic and it could become more of an extended internal dramatic monologue. 250 words?

You, the writer, will decide.

Abbey Park Bricks and LightsIt will be first person, of course. At least, it probably will.

When you have something down, take time to read what you have written, change words, add words, delete and edit.

Take a break. Come back to it later and do the same thing. You might feel like extending the piece a little bit. Do it! Write more!

Don’t forget to check your writing for spelling, punctuation and grammar. Does your writing always make sense?

Make sure you are happy for people to read your writing!

What next?

italian-dog-logo2.jpegIf you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:

share@thisisthesafehouse.com

Here at The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!