Tuesday, 21 May 2013

04/01/07 - Ian McMillan

McMillan's poem is a sonnet which presents his reaction to his mother's death. The fact that it is a sonnet is absolutely key in the presentation of the relationship he had with his mother. Remember that a sonnet is a poetic form most commonly used to present the theme of love. Also take note that at no point in this poem does McMillan state that he loved his mother or any other similar shows of love. It is through the sonnet form that we come to realise his love for his mother. McMillan is clearly pointing us towards this idea (and we're all guilty of this one - sorry mum!) that even if we don't say it, we show that we love people through our actions. In this way, the restricted rhythm and controlled rhyme scheme is his way of showing his mother that she was loved, through his discipline and dedication to sticking to the sonnet form. We could also suggest that this is a tribute to the man she has led him to become, by ensuring that he stuck to the straight and narrow!

Furthermore, the iambic pentameter in the poem reflects the sound of a heartbeat. At first it may been a bit mean that he's doing this (ha ha ha, mother! My heart is carrying on but yours isn't!), but when you look deeper, he owes his entire existence to his mother. Him being alive is her legacy, and this idea of genetics is enforced by the quote "my brother's voice that sounds like mine". Therefore, through his heartbeat and ongoing life, a part of his mother can survive.

McMillan shows not only the fragility of life, but also the fragility of human relationships and happiness through the repetition of shattered/smashed "glass". The onomatopoeia "clinks" then reminds us of this image, as the milkman goes about his deliveries and normal life continues in the outside world. McMillan is clearly reminding us that even those that seem the most dependable (like the milkman!) can be fragile and will eventually break/die. McMillan clearly felt his mother was the one person he could depend upon, and this idea is developed in the quote "I'm trapped inside the empty space / you float in when your mother dies". The image of the son 'floating' without gravity or an anchor really emphasises the stabilising influence his mother had upon his life; she kept him grounded, even though he had grown up and moved out.

The verb "trapped" is also an interesting choice. "Trapped" suggests no escape from a situation. Here the finality of death is hitting McMillan, the lack of reversal offered by death. Furthermore, "empty" emphasises the loneliness he now feels trapped within, his life being void of meaning and joy without his mother. This links to the final line, with "the stream dried up". Here McMillan repeats the idea of loss leading to a lack of nurturing, with the water from a stream feeding the vegetation around it. Now his mother's "stream" has dried up, he has lost this nourishing, nurturing influence.

Things to ponder:

  • Why does he create the image of "dark glass" to describe the night?
  • Why does the glass turn clear at the end?
  • Can the "new year air" have more than one meaning?
Answers on a postcard!

Miss D


  1. Fantastic analysis, stealing it for my own tutorials! Very well presented, for all audiences.

  2. this has helped so much for my GCSE exam. No where else seemed to offer ideas that actually fitted directly with the poem, and it's great how you analysed language as that's how we get good marks. Thank you!

  3. Hello! Thank you so very much for this. At first I had no idea what I was reading, but thanks to you I understand now.