Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Essay on "You lived in Glasgow"

Hi, sorry I have had so much homework recently! I got my essay on "You lived in Glasgow" back and I got 16 again. However, I thought I would redraft it to try and improve my grade and was wondering if you would help?

Critical Essay
“You lived in Glasgow”

Choose a poem which explores either the significance of the past or the importance of family relationships.
Show how the poet treats the subject, and explain to what extent you find the treatment convincing.
In your answer you must refer closely to the text and to at least two of: theme, imagery, rhyme, tone, or any other appropriate feature.

“You lived in Glasgow”, by Iain Crichton Smith, is a poem in which the poet describes his fruitless search for traces of his deceased mother which takes place in Glasgow. By embarking on this search the poet wishes to achieve a sense of closure due to the guilt he feels because of his rejection of her culture and beliefs. The poem revolves around the central theme of how “the past’s an experience that we cannot share” and in doing so presents how significant the past is. This is achieved by the use of theme, imagery and also tone.

The poem is written in first person and begins in past tense. However this quickly changes to present tense to show that the poet’s search has been initiated. There is a reference to the great depression-a major aspect of Glasgow’s past, which occurred due to the Wall Street crash. The “dregs” which the poet mentions create a sense of imagery and the “fag ends” show the use of a colloquial tone. Through the imagery and tone here, the poet shows that aspects of the past still remain in his mind. “A maxi-skirted girl strolls by” and causes memories of the poet’s mother to be stirred. This shows that the past can still be seen in Glasgow.

One of the main themes of the poem is of the contrast between continuity and change. For example there is a contrast between the “Stone remains”, these statues have remained from the past and are permanent, and humans who are temporary. These statues are a significant part of the past as they cause this realisation of the temporariness of human life; this is what the poet is attempting to come to terms with during his search. Another symbol of the past which is used are the trams which are “invisible now but to the mind”-showing that their past presence is still remembered. Also, the significance of their past is that they will probably return at some point as part of life’s cycle. Change is also embodied as: “now everything is brighter”, shows a reference to the past, which helps to show this change. Also, the “pale ghosts” show the importance of past people as their presence can still be felt; this is shown through the suggestion made to the temporary nature of life, which is another theme of this poem.

The poet still feels guilty about rejecting his mother’s faith years later; therefore it must be significant to him. He sees Calvinism as a “black figure” which was devoid of pleasure. The imagery of “the gaslit blue” is that of the dim light of the past, which contrasts with the “fiercer voltage” of today now that we have electricity. This shows the significance of the past as this image of the “gaslit blue” has remained with the poet throughout the years. The poet feels that “The past’s an experience that we cannot share”, an important theme of the poem, perhaps because he feels the past is so important that full recognition cannot possibly be given to it.

In the third stanza imagery of Glasgow’s past is used. The poet remembers the “Flat-capped Glaswegians and the Music Hall”. These past sights are clearly significant, as they have remained with the poet over the years. Nowadays commercial supermarkets have ruined the personal relationships Glaswegians had with the street traders who sold “apples and oranges on an open stall”. Through this use of the theme of change it can be seen that in the past the stall sellers were a significant part of everyday life. The poet’s memories are “opening and shutting like a parasol” as these memories come and go as things stimulate his mind. This establishes that aspects of the past can still be found in the city of Glasgow.

The poet feels that his mother is a “constant tenant of my tenement”. The harsh tone used by this alliteration suggests the harsh fact that his mother’s presence still exists; this shows the importance of her past. The theme of change is continued through the use of the “pleasant Wildes” which “have now gone in the building programme”. The poet is almost mourning the past sense of community spirit which was destroyed by the changing of the suburban landscape. This reference made to the theme of change shows the significance of Glasgow’s past. The poet stands “in a cleaner city, better fed”, which shows the city’s progress. Another reference is being made to the significance of the past through the poem’s theme of change. Glasgow’s past will always be remembered, as comparisons will always be made with its present state.

The poet is wearing a tweed, “diced coat” and is therefore a Lewis boy in city clothes. This use of imagery shows that his Calvinist past is so significant, that although he can attempt to forget it through changing his clothes, it will always be a part of him and will always be remembered. The “latest book” he carries is another example of imagery-this shows the significance of his Calvinist past as it was another failing attempt for him to forget his rejection of his mother’s faith.

The poet directly addresses the “dear ghosts” which reinforces the theme of the temporary nature of life that he is attempting to accept. The past of these people is important as their presence can still be felt. The poet sees Glasgow as a “divided city of green and blue”. The theme of continuity is being used as this dichotomy still remains in Glasgow to this day and is therefore a vital part of the city’s history. During his search for his mother the poet looks “for her in you” showing his longing and that he is pleading for a sense of closure-another theme of the poem. He still feels guilt for the previous rejection that he made of his mother’s culture showing it is very significant to him. The poet’s “constant aim to find a ghost within a close who speaks in highland Gaelic” is fading. This can be seen through the use of imagery, as the line is fading away with the poet’s hope. The poet is experiencing difficulty to forget his mother’s past and gain a sense of closure, as he will always remember her.

The poet uses a harsh tone when he tells us that “the bulldozer breaks raw bricks to powder”. The resurrection of the city during the building programme was not achieved without pain, which comes out in the use of the word "raw". Glasgow’s previous state is clearly significant as it will always be missed by the inhabitants of the city. Towards the end of the poem Iain Crichton Smith finally accepts that “buildings sail into the future”, and the tone becomes more upbeat showing he has finally accepted that things change. The use of the word “sail” shows confidence and therefore also establishes the optimistic tone. The poet remembers the “old songs you sang”, a symbol of Gaelic culture, which shows that although trends change, the past will always be remembered. In the last line of the poem, the poet reflects on the changes music has experienced over the years, “scale on dizzying scale”. This line is a pun as it reflects on both the pop music that is around at the moment due to the changes music has been through during the years, and also the sheer scale of changes that have occurred. The poet is accepting the changes Glasgow has experienced over the years, and how significant this has been.

In conclusion, “You lived in Glasgow” successfully presents to the reader how significant the past is to everyday life through the poem’s many themes (especially the theme of change and the poet’s struggle to accept this), imagery, and in some aspects, tone. The poet creates a very convincing argument of the importance of the past to readers who cannot help but realise its sheer significance.


I got given comments and aims from my teacher but don't know how to achieve what he is suggesting. He wants me to analyse fully the "dregs" in para 2 and explain fully "now everything is brighter"-both should be ok. Also, in the fourth para I have to "refer to the past directly" and have to explain in what sense the sights of the "flat capped" etc have remained with the poet in para 5. In the second last para Mr Semple has written "destroying past?" which I completely do not understand. His overall comments were:

Your knowledge and understanding of the poem is a strength. Credit is due for remaining focused on the three aspects-theme, imagery and tone-identified in your introduction. Detailed reference to the text has been made too.
· Refer to the past directly at the beginning of each para to show that you are focused.
· Stress the honesty and emotion conveyed by Crichton Smith more.
· Does the past haunt the poet?

But how do I refer to the past at every para without sounding repetitive? Also, I don't know how to do his other suggestions!
Sorry if I am asking you too much, I just want to try and get a higher mark if possible.

SS

3 comments:

Chris said...

Aaagh! No, not too much, though maybe a bit much for 11.15pm, so I'll just focus on a few things first.
Mainly, I am hampered by not having a copy of the poem. I put it in google and the only thing that came up was your blog! So I'll be restricted to generalities unless you get one to me.

OK. End of Para. 1:"This is achieved by the use of theme, imagery and also tone."
I don't like simply listing attributes in this way. It's clumsy, and doesn't tell us anything, really. You've already told us the main theme, so why not try something like this:
"He develops this theme by an early shift in tense from past to present as he embarks on the search for the past."
This looks to me like the start of the second para - but that's ok. Leave the other two aspects till you have occasion to elaborate on them. Right now, you're looking at theme.

Second para: Don't say "The “dregs” which the poet mentions create a sense of imagery" - same mistake as last time. Think: what is it about "dregs"? What are they? Usless left-overs, the bits that get stuck in a drain or a seive or at the bottom of a glass. No-one wants them. "Fag-ends" are the same - with the added layer of having been sucked until the fag was finished and then discarded. Now you are really looking at the imagery because you are thinking about what is represented by these words. We talk about the "dregs of society" - is there a feeling of that here? (I don't know - I'm asking) Certainly these two dismal pictures tie in well with The Depression, and begin to create a dreary, depressed tone - so you can point that out too. But don't just say "Through the imagery and tone here..." because you're not doing that any more; you're making it come alive for each word or phrase you're examining. So, more like "The image conjured up by the words "dregs" and "fag-ends" is of poverty and hopelessness, of people rejected by society and struggling to survive on what little they have." And then you can remind us that maxi-skirts (long skirts) remind him of his mother who, presumably, didn't ever wear the mini-skirts which had preceded longer skirts as a fashion.

Right. That's enough for tonight. Tell me if it helps at all and I'll do a bit more tomorrow before I leave for the frozen north - back on Sat. night. Meanwhile, see what you can do to reconstruct the first two paras using this and anything else you now feel you've left unexamined. don't go beyond the end of para 2 till we've discussed things.

OK??

Chris said...

· Refer to the past directly at the beginning of each para to show that you are focused.
· Stress the honesty and emotion conveyed by Crichton Smith more.
· Does the past haunt the poet?

I thought I'd look at these this morning.
Both of the first two of these can be done in a one-er, so to speak. You have to do the refs to the past, 'cos that's the question you've chosen. So in each para, begin with a detailed examination of a word/expression/image which conjures up something of the past (the way "dregs" did, for example) Make sure you dig deep, so that you uncover as many resonances as you can. Don't bother to think about the list of features - you'll WANT to refer to tone or imagery or rhythm or whatever because that's how you talk about language. Just remember: poetry is a very *dense* form of expression, and there may well be more than one idea/image lying behind the use of a particular word. Take time now - for this is when you *have* time - to dwell on the poem, to enjoy it, to let it sink in so that you begin to see things for yourself. If you're not confident about what you come up with, ask me - tho' I really need a copy of the poem!

There is a comma splice at the start of para 3 - in fact, the second sentence is very weak syntactically and needs a complete overhaul.
You don't make sense at the "now everything is brighter" reference - I'm lost there. Think about what you're writing - I should be able to get it, even without the poem.

What comes into your mind with the reference to "flat caps"? Think social class, dress codes ... and forms of entertainment, now vanished. Why?

"The poet directly addresses the “dear ghosts” which reinforces the theme of the temporary nature of life that he is attempting to accept. The past of these people is important as their presence can still be felt."
Think about this. Tone? I'd say the word "dear" introduces a tender note - he feels so warm towards these past figures.

The poet sees Glasgow as a “divided city of green and blue”. The theme of continuity is being used as this dichotomy still remains in Glasgow to this day and is therefore a vital part of the city’s history.
You need to explain this. There's the football reference, and there's the acknowledgement of Glasgow's name, which has led to the city being called the "Dear Green Place" (Gaelic "Glasghu")

Right. That's enough for now or you'll get indigestion. Post to let me know how this helps (or not!) ad I'll pick it up on Sunday. But keep plugging away - for you want to master the technique of writing this sort of stuff. Once you've got it, you can do it about anything.

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