Critical Commentary of "Book Ends" by Tony Harrison

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Book Ends by Tony Harrison – Critical Commentary

Book Ends by Tony Harrison is a poem about the death of the writer’s mother, and the effect this has on the complicated relationship between father and son, who are unable to relate to each other or communicate emotionally. The tone of the poem is melancholic, reflecting on the theme of death and the breakup of family, with a bitter edge in the description of the unbridgeable rift between father and son which widens following the mother’s death.
The poem is separated into two parts, each with sixteen lines, and is loosely based on an iambic pentameter metre. The rhyme scheme is ABAB throughout the poem, with the noticeable exception of the last four lines of part II, in which it changes to
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He describes the blue gas flame as being ‘too regular each bud, each yellow spike’, and this criticism is perhaps evidence of his inner turmoil and a need for a chaotic emotional outlet.
The next couple of lines portray the idea that it is only through the mother that the father and son are united. In life, her presence and assurances that they are alike linked them, and once she is gone, there is little to bring them together except their shared grief, which as they are so emotionally divided they find impossible to communicate. Up until this point, the narrator of the poem has clearly been the son, but it is unclear who is speaking in the line ‘Your life’s all shattered to smithereens’, or indeed whose life is being referred to in this highly effective image of broken glass, smashed into tiny shards. It could be the son talking to the father or vice versa, or the mother talking to either one of them, but equally the shattered life in question could be the mother’s, in that her life, which once combined her husband, her son and herself in one family, is now fragmented into separate pieces following her death as the father and son drift apart.
Earlier on in the poem we are told that the son and father come from very different cultural backgrounds, but it is only in the last three lines of the part I
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