Last Saturday I taught this poem and found lots more to say as I realised I had missed so much before. Surely that is the secret of a good poem? It has to give you more than you expected or gives you far more when your return; like blinking and then noticing all sorts of exotic creatures out of the corner of your eye. Well, you may not have noticed the exotic creatures but I wanted to add more to the blog as the poem, like the sphinx had yielded up more of its uneasy secrets. maybe it may be helpful if I pick out certain words now and show how they resonate and affect our reading and understanding of the poem. I will underline words that I want to talk about here:
1) Saddled: suggests burden. Connotations of forcing control and discipline upon another. Does the speaker want to run free, bareback so to speak without the responsibility of the ‘you’?
2) Ambled. They are moving in a ‘cool’ way, differentiating themselves from the gauche eagerness of early childhood. Walking together probably encourages this self consciousness?In contrast with the small brothers skipping!
3) Threadbare. The poem is retrospective. It uses the past tense. The landscape of their childhood is rather bleak and perhaps economically vulnerable. Perhaps the bleakness is also suggestive of loss and betrayal? At any rate it seems a short cut, just as their behaviour ‘short cuts’ kindness and compassion for the little brother.
4) Skipped. The young boy is excited and naively happy to be walking with his older brother. An experience not shared! You feel that a let down, an anti climax is on its way very soon. Is innocence always damaged or betrayed?
5) Ridiculous. The garment is a subject of mockery. Small children don’t care what they wear and the older speaker finds the younger boy’s unquestioning acceptance of this fashion disaster embarrassed! Perhaps it was originally the speaker’s , hence the powerful choice of adjective as he is ashamed to remember it was his and now a hand me down!
6) Spouting. The child has unfounded opinions perhaps overheard from an adult’s conversation or is perhaps trying to form independent opinions and thus gain agency. The narrator is ashamed and dismissive of the child’s allegiances and even the way they are communicated.
7) Froze. The younger brother’s realisation about his lack of money for the bus and the ‘adventure’ is vividly communicated through this simple yet devastating verb. The verb destroys the free-wheeling aspect of the acutely embarrassing( for the older brother) skipping of the younger.
8) Sighed. The weariness of the older brother could be a form of exasperation with the apparent ‘idiocy’ of his brother. On the other hand I feel a certain duplicity to the sigh. For it is the sigh that enable the older brother to escape. Thus it is a theatrical and anticipates his conspiratorial behaviour with his friend Paul.
9) Windmilled. Like ‘skipped’ it communicates the loose limbed gaucheness of the young boy as opposed to the self controlled. self conscious ‘coolness’ of the older boys. Reminds me in a way of the story of Don Quixote too. Innocence as opposed to studied worldly behaviour.
10) looked and smiled. Both rather malicious and nearly cruel? It is the way they understand that they share a desire to dupe the young boy. Smiles and looks can be conspiratorial and malignant. Simple language of bodily behaviour yet makes me shudder slightly. we all recognise this?
11) must stroll. They feel the imperative to posture and play at being cool and nonchalant. They think they are old enough to be independent and make adult choices. Movement again is contrasted with the naive body language oft he younger brother.
12) crested and Olympic Gold. The bus represents freedom and this communicates visual power of the sight oft he bus. The boys make believe they are Olympic athletes chasing their dream prize. In this case, escaping into town.
13)Looking back and spring. The irony of the betrayal, the backward glance. A metaphor for remembrance too. Think of associations with myth. Who gets destroyed via the backward glaance as he leaves the underworld? Spting shows the natural desperation oft he left behind, thwarted child. Almost as if he too wants to escape from childhood’s prison?
14) coin. Reminds me of Judas. The success of the young boy matters little. In fact his success has given the older boys the time to destroy his hope of the adventure. Seem,s an image that will linger and indeed has lingered! At threshold of childhood, seeking acknowledgement and finding rejection.
15) Distance. The speed of the motion a metaphor for this event being a source of hurt perhaps for years. The inevitability of consequences and ways our actions cannot be easily assuaged or healed.
Saddled with you for the afternoon,me and Paul
ambled across the threadbare field to the bus stop,
talking over Sheffield Wednesday’s chances in the cup
while you skipped beside us in your ridiculous tank top,
spouting six year-old views on Rotherham United
Suddenly you froze,said you hadn’t any bus fare.
I sighed,said you should go and ask Mum
and while you windmilled home I looked at Paul
His smile,like mine,said i was nine and he was ten
and we must stroll down the town, doing like grown-ups do.
As as bus crested the hill we chased Olympic Gold.
Looking back i saw you spring towards the gate,
your hand holding out what must of been a coin.
I ran on,unable to close the distance i’d set in motion
Forster examines growing up and growing apart in this childhood memory.
‘Brothers’ by Andrew Forster
Saddled with you for the afternoon, me and Paul
ambled across the threadbare field to the bus stop,
talking over Sheffield Wednesday’s chances in the Cup
while you skipped beside us in your ridiculous tank-top,
spouting six-year-old views on Rotherham United.
Suddenly you froze, said you hadn’t any bus fare.
I sighed, said you should go and ask Mum
and while you windmilled home I looked at Paul.
His smile, like mine, said I was nine and he was ten
and we must stroll the town, doing what grown-ups do.
As a bus crested the hill we chased Olympic Gold.
Looking back I saw you spring towards the gate,
your hand holding out what must have been a coin.
I ran on, unable to close the distance I’d set in motion.
Drifting Apart: The Relationship between the Brothers
Forster emphasises the difference in attitude and behaviour between the brothers. The older boys maturely ‘[talk] over’ their ideas and ‘[amble]’ while the younger boy ‘skip[s]’ and ‘spout[s]’ with childish energy. The word choice here emphasises the age difference, suggesting an incompatibility between the brothers. Forster also puts the words and actions of the older boys in separate lines from the younger brother, further separating them.
However, halfway through the poem, the speaker reveals that the speaker ‘was nine and [his friend] was ten’. It is only at this point that we realise how young the speaker was. In light of this, his rejection of the younger brother seems like a regrettable part of the process of growing up.
In the last stanza, Forster emphasises that they were still very much children. An adult might see running for a bus as an inconvenience. For the boys, however, it is an exciting opportunity for a bit of fantasy, as they ‘[chase] Olympic Gold’.
In the poem’s final image, the younger brother tries desperately to reach the speaker, ‘spring[ing] towards the gate’ and ‘holding out’ his hand with the coin that proves he can join them on the bus. Yet, instead of waiting or going back, the speaker ‘[runs] on, unable to close the distance [he has] set in motion’, a distance both physical and emotional.
Bridging the Gap: Tone and the Use of ‘Second Person’
Although the poem describes a childhood event, the tone is strikingly adult. It’s not written from the point of the view of the nine year old child. Instead, the speaker is grown up, reflecting maturely on this childhood event.
One of the most striking and interesting aspects of the poem is that the speaker addresses himself to ‘you’ – his younger brother. This direct address is a significant shift in their relationship since in this childhood memory the speaker shuns him. The last line isn’t exactly an apology – but the speaker does finally take responsibility for ‘setting in motion’ the separation between them. The use of ‘you’ goes some way towards reopening communication and rebuilding the relationship after estrangement.