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Half-past Two - U. A Fanthorpe

Summary:

The poem presents the concept of time through the eyes of a child. Here the poet puts forward the abstract notion of time as viewed by a child in the concrete, who doesn’t fully comprehend it and therein finds himself lost. It also explores the psychology of a child who’s too small to understand his mistake juxtaposed against a teacher reprimanding him for something beyond his memory with a detention which is also beyond his comprehension. The capitalisation of the language exemplifies the gravity of the mistake of the child which is compromised in his mind by being unclear what this mistake was and adds to the level of poignancy to the poem as the child assumes the worst. This reinforces a sense of transgression that is inherent with the small child rather than action and evoke intense empathy from the reader as a result of his naivety.

Themes:

  • Childhood

  • Memory

  • Punishment

  • Time

  • Criticism of the education system/ adults and how dismissive they can be of children

Structure:

  • Eleven tercet

  • Irregular line length

  • Enjambment

  • Free verse- the irregularity of the lines contrasts with the irregularity of everything else. It can also be related to a child’s inability to measure. It can also be argued that it is free verse as memories are non-numeric.

  • ‘Schooltime’, ‘onceupona’, ‘timefors’- compound words which highlight the lack of understanding of the concept of time. This also reflects the innocence of the boy and just how young he is.

  • Some words are incorrectly capitalised which also highlight the lack of understanding or authority of the teacher.

  • The simple sentence structure reflects how a boy would think/speak.

  • The capitalisation of ‘She’ in stanza 2 suggests the importance of the figure to him. It paints the teacher in an almost god-like image.

  • ‘Gettinguptime, timeyouwereofftime, timetogohomenowtime, TVtime’- listing is evident here. The times that he understands are the times that are related to a certain routine. There’s a sense of security related to the times that he’s comfortable with. The security of this routine contrasts with the insecurity clearly evident in the line ‘but not half past-two’

Meaning:

  • The poem could be an adult’s perspective on the freedom that young children have as they are absent-minded about the time.

Language:

  • ‘Once upon a’- evokes fairytales. This is also juxtaposed with the harshness of school.

  • The simple language utilised reflects how a boy would think/speak.

  • ‘Something Very Wrong’- It can be argued that this poem criticises the teacher for being irresponsible as the boy doesn’t understand what he’s done so his punishment is going to be ineffective.

  • ‘She’d forgotten’- the teacher is disregarding as she hasn’t taught him time and has given him a punishment instead.

  • ‘Too scared at being wicked’- teach with fear and is ineffective as her student is too afraid to tell her that he doesn’t understand. This line evokes pathos.

  • ‘Timesformykisstime’- this indicates the loving family of the boy. This makes the punishment create a sense of unease for the reader as the boy is clearly innocent and loving.

  • ‘Clockface, the little eyes and the two long legs for walking’- personification is evident here. This also helps further highlight the imagination and innocence of the child.

  • ‘click’ - onomatopoeia. The word is used to highlight how he doesn’t understand but can also be associated with the ticking of time.

  • ‘Escaped’- (line 21) has a triumphant tone as the child has escaped the confinements of the teacher’s punishment. Solace from the adult perspective-nostalgic tone.

  • ‘Into the’- anaphora reflects that he’s escaped to a timeless void.

  • ‘Silent noise’- a paradox.

  • ‘Air outside the window’- reflects an image of freedom. Windows can often be associated with freedom so it could be argued that the poem is by an adult reflecting on their childhood thinking about how they were free of pressure.

  • ‘Scuttling in’- animal-like. The poem is being critical of the teacher here by referring to her movements in this way. There’s a bitter tone is evident here.

  • ‘Run along’ the line has a dismissive tone to it.

  • ‘You’ll be late’- the teacher brings the student back to conventional time.

  • ‘So she slotted him back into schooltime’- sibilance. It can be argued that it has been used to display a bitter tone as sibilance brings a sinister effect.

  • ‘Slotted’- objectifies the child.

  • ‘Never forgot’- this suggests that it was an important moment.

  • ‘Escaped’- the word is repeated here which emphasises a triumphant tone.

  • ‘Clockless land’ and tickless’-a metaphor for the freedom of childhood.

Effect on the reader:

  • The reader is able to understand the innocence of the child and sympathise with him when he is punished.

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