Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Song For Last Year's Wife

Alice fell through the looking glass. Before that, she disappeared down the rabbit hole. Each time, she entered a magical, parallel world to the one she had previously been in. Is it a coincidence that Patten begins his poem with "Alice"? Perhaps. For the purposes of making clever comments in your exam, however, I'm going to say "NO".

'Song For Last Year's Wife' is a poem which reveals a divorced man slowly getting over the end of his marriage. In a variety of images, he shows the two of them to be living parallel lives, but never crossing each other's paths (like Alice!). Consider the line "you, dressed in familiar clothes / are elsewhere", which suggests that although she is the same person (signified by her wearing the same clothes that he knows and recognises) she has shifted into a new social sphere which doesn't include her ex-husband. He returns to this image later with "I imagine you, / waking in another city", which (along with the line break) suggests their geographical separation to be reflective of the two different worlds they live in.

Further imagery used to portray the end of their relationship includes "winter", "hard" earth and "empty gardens". Like in 'Pity Me Not', nature imagery is used to show the death of a relationship, with nothing allowed to flourish, and a sense of death/things ending. However, much like 'Pity Me Not', the entire idea of the seasons has an underlying indication that things will change, as life goes in cycles. Perhaps this could be a cycle of grief, and he is going through the final stage of emotionally letting go of his wife. The images of death are continued when he speaks of "your ghost". This is a poignant image, as it infers that he acknowledges that the woman she was is no more, she who was defined by her role as his wife has now started a new role, which is presumably indicated by a name change/new identity.

However, it is apparent that the speaker hasn't completely let go, due to the sinister statement "I send out my spies / to discover what you are doing". This gives us a sense that, like the Duke in 'My Last Duchess', the speaker has an obsessive, controlling nature, and needs information in order to feel in control. Here, he sees himself as the ruler, with his "spies" serving him only, almost as if this is a wartime situation. Indeed, the petulant "love had not the right to walk out on me" suggests that he wants life to go as he wishes, and sees his loneliness as deeply unfair.

The reports he receives from his "spies" have a physical appeal, such as "your body's as firm / you are as alive, as warm and inviting". This could show the reader that he is still physically attracted to his ex-wife.  This also forms a direct contrast with the image of the "ghost" in his bedroom, which could indicate that he accepts that she can only be a fulfilled person in her new life. On the other hand, the "ghost" could imply that the speaker is haunted by her memory, and his physical desire for her.

Things to consider:

  • Why is the poem labelled as a "song"?
  • Why does it not rhyme or have a set rhythm?
  • What is the effect of sibilance in the poem?
Miss D


  1. The poem is labelled as 'song' because back in the olden times a 'song' was a gift you gave to your lover and as we can see Brian Pattern is still very much in love with his ex-wife. In addition, the fact he calls his poem 'song for last years wife' reveals maybe music had a big part to play in getting over the divorce and maybe his way of getting over it was giving her the gift of 'song' hoping that she will come running back to him.

    The poem doesn't have a set rhyme or set rhythm because its shows that he has no structure in his life due to the fact hat love was taken away from him. In addition, it shows that he cant quite gather his thoughts and feelings and that his mind/ thought is not right and he cannot think straight.

    There is sibilance seen throughout this poem This is seen in the quote 'I send out my spies'. The 's' sound sounds like the hissing of a snake. From this I can infer that maybe he has been poisoned by love and now that its gone he cant function. Furthermore, the hissing sound of a snake can imply that he has become cold, heartless and quite a nasty person because the love in his life has been taken away.

    Onyeka Offiah :)

  2. Wow, I never knew that about songs being used as gifts. Excellent research, Onyeka!