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‘Hide and Seek’ by Vernon Scannell and ‘Half-past Two’ by U. A. Fanthorpe Essay

‘Hide and Seek’ concerns a boy hiding cautiously whilst playing hide and seek with his peers. Gradually, he realises he has been abandoned, and fear overcomes him due to being isolated in the dark surroundings. The tone is incredibly certain and positive at the beginning. However, his confidence gradually fades away as the realisation of his abandonment occurs. The mood is analogous to the tone. At first, we can sense the excitement. This modifies to anxiety and nervousness towards the end. The poet uses language features to portray the tone. On the first line, exclamation marks are used to show the enthusiasm of the boy. Scannell uses personification and the senses to describe the surrounding atmosphere in a vivid way. Therefore, the reader gets a clearer image. Occasional rhyme is used to add a sense of rhythm to the poem.

The poem is one continuous stanza. It is like dramatic monologue in that it creates character, but it is actually second person. The structure emphasises the unbearable length of waiting time. The adult speaks to his childhood self in second person, explaining feeling and thoughts. There are short sentences to build up tension and create stillness. The themes explored in ‘Hide and Seek’ are childhood experiences, reflection, isolation and abandonment. These themes are also explored in ‘Half- past Two’. This poem also explores various other themes such as time restriction and criticism of teaching methods.

Half-past two is about a child who has been naughty. The punishment given by his teacher is to stay in the room until half- past two. She forgets that she hasn’t taught him time. He only understands his routines and throughout the poem we see how the child escapes time because he doesn’t know it. The poet uses tone and language methods to portray the way the child is treated. The mood for the majority of the poem is quite dreamy and we get the feeling that the boy is confused. In terms of language, personification is used effectively to show the child’s view of time.

The use of senses creates the surrounding atmosphere like in the previous poem, ‘Hide and Seek’. Compound words are used to show the routines of the boy and the only time concepts he understands. Rhythm is produced by the repetition of compound words and by the fact that they are said in a child’s sing- song voice. Half-past two is divided into eleven three lines stanzas. Irony is expressed through the organised structure, as it contrasts with the boy’s feelings.

In ‘Hide and Seek’ the child is hiding carefully, checking ‘feet aren’t sticking out,’ and taking precautions such as not risking ‘another shout.’ Gradually, we realise his friends have purposely abandoned him, but the child is very naive and thinks he is ‘the winner.’ He realises in ‘the darkening garden’ that he has been neglected.

The poem is written in second person. ‘They’ll never find you in this salty dark.’ This gives us the impression that the narrator is an adult looking back on the experience.

The senses are used in order to describe the surrounding atmosphere in a more vivid way. ‘The sacks in the tool shed smell like the seaside.’ Scannell also uses personification, which causes us to imagine how the child is feeling at that particular point. ‘The cold bites through your coat.’ Personification is effective at portraying the child’s feelings as it is easier for us to understand something if it is described to us in a more physical way. The majority of personification is used towards the end to give a sense of foreboding. ‘The darkening garden’ watching emphasises his isolation in a scary place whereas ‘the bushes hold their breath’ can show what the child may be doing because he is scared. In extreme circumstances when people are very scared, they hold their breath without knowing.

Scannell applies punctuation to portray the tone and mood of the poem. ‘I’m ready! Come and find me!’ The exclamation marks highlight the excitement of the child. We detect a positive attitude and certainty due to the use of the imperative rather than taking orders. A question is used at the end to portray the uncertain and anxious emotions the child is feeling. ‘But where are they who sought you?’ This is the voice of the adult reflecting on a bitter experience. It is symbolic that the poem begins with the imperative and exclamation marks and conspicuously ends with confusion and question marks. It emphasises the gradual change from having a positive attitude to realisation of isolation.

An alternative point that proves that the mood is positive at the beginning is that the child compares the current situation to a typical, happy one the majority of children’s experience. ‘The sacks in the tool shed smell like the seaside.’ This gives the impression of a dazzling, sunny beach with a lot of happy children playing without constraints and restriction. This is ironic as the child is isolated in a dark, begrimed place with restricted space.

The poem is one continuous stanza. The dramatic monologue symbolizes the unbearable length of waiting time. The character is speaking directly to us, explaining his different feelings and thoughts. The poem can be divided into two parts. They are positivity and certainty, and negativity and realisation. The first line of the second part is, ‘it seems a long time since they went away.’ Previously, the child attempts to convince himself they are still looking for him. ‘They must be thinking you’re very clever.’ The effect of this is to emphasise the naivety and innocence of the child. For the majority of the poem, the child is positive, but only for a minority is he negative. This can accentuate the fact a child may spend more time with fallacious ideas than in actual reality.

Short sentences are used to build up tension. ‘Don’t breathe. Don’t move. Stay dumb.’ These sentences are said slower than the rest of the poem, creating a tense stillness. The pace slows down.

Occasional rhyme is present in ‘Hide and Seek’. ‘Out, shout,’ ‘coat, throat.’ A sense of rhythm is added to the poem.

I think there are four main themes explored in the poem; childhood memories, isolation, abandonment, feeling unwanted and reflection.

Reflection and childhood memories can be connected as the whole poem is about an adult reflecting on a childhood memory. This is proven by the fact that the whole of the poem is written in second person. ‘You’ve never heard them sound so hushed before.’ This is more personal than using ‘he’ or ‘him.’

Isolation is another theme. The innocent child doesn’t think so, but for the whole of the poem, he is alone. In the positive part of the poem, he believes that his friends are outside, but close to him. ‘They’re moving closer, someone stumbles, mutters;’ The child believes his friends are so close, he can even hear they’re discreet actions, usually unnoticeable. Like the last theme, it emphasises the naivety and innocence of the boy. An alternative point to verify that the boy is in isolation is the fact that he is in ‘the darkening garden’ as he emerges from ‘the tool shed.’

There is emphasis on the amount of darkness in his surroundings. This can be interpreted as a symbol of loneliness. This brings about fear, especially in young children. The fact that ‘the sun is gone’ is another symbol for darkness being present. For children, the sun and brightness are indications of happiness and contentment within a group.

The theme of abandonment can be associated with isolation because he is alone. It is clear to us that his friends purposefully abandon the boy. ‘Their words and laughter scuffle, and they’re gone.’ We realise this a considerable time before the boy does. This emphasises that most of the time, children are left in the dark, and elders know beforehand.

Feeling unwanted is another major theme of ‘Hide and Seek’. This is how the child feels when the realisation of his abandonment occurs to him. ‘Yes, here you are. But where are they who sought you?’ It is likely that the child feels his peers abandoned him because they do not like him. This action and the subsequent emotion are common with children. The child is left confused thinking that there is something wrong with them. I can tell by the bitterness of the adult’s tone that this is how the child feels. ‘You’re legs are stiff, the cold bites through your coat.’ He is trying to show that all the pain he went through was not worth it because he was unwanted.

Similarly to ‘Hide and Seek’, ‘Half- past Two’ is about a young child. He has done something naughty in school and is told by his teacher to stay in the room until ‘Half- past Two’. In her rush, she forgets that ‘She hadn’t taught him Time.’ The only time concepts he is aware of and understands are daily routines such as ‘Gettinguptime,’ ‘Timeyouwereofftime.’ Whilst waiting, he escapes into a ‘clockless land’ ‘out of reach of all the timefors.’ The teacher returns, slots ‘him back into school time’ and tells him to leave, or else he’ll be late.

Contrasting with ‘Hide and Seek’, ‘Half- past Two’ is written in third person. ‘He did Something Very Wrong.’ I think the narrator is the adult looking back on a childhood experience. The poet doesn’t make it very obvious by using first person, or second person like ‘Hide and Seek’.

Fanthorpe uses personification to portray the child’s view of the clock. ‘The little eyes, and two long legs for walking.’ This view is a child’s typical perception and establishes how naive a child can be, a comparison to ‘Hide and Seek’. Personification is used further when Fanthorpe uses the pun, ‘He couldn’t click its language.’ She is progressing further from the point that a child views a clock as a living object. A clock produces a ticking noise. To the child, this is how it talks. The pun stresses the point that he can’t understand a clock, and therefore time. Personification is used in ‘Hide and Seek’, but for different purposes. It is to give a clearer image, rather than show a child’s perception of an object.

A comparison to ‘Hide and Seek’ concerning language is that the senses create a clearer atmosphere for the reader. ‘The smell of old chrysanthemums on Her desk.’ Another reason for the use of senses differing from ‘Hide and Seek’ at this particular point is to show how people, especially children notice insignificant things when they are alone. Their concentration increases due to minimal distraction. ‘Into the silent noise his hangnail made.’ The senses are used when he escapes into the ‘clockless land of ever’.

A significant stanza of the poem is where ‘she slotted him back into schooltime.’ An image of this is created in our minds of a mechanical action. It is as if he is being taken out of one zone and put back into another instantly. The alliteration on this line causes the poem to be more rhythmic.

Subsequent to escaping the timeless world, the teacher’s words are in italics. ‘I forgot all about you.’ I think this is to make her lines prominent. These lines are important because they emphasise the fact that the child was neglected.

Compound words are used to portray the child’s routines, the only time concepts he understands. ‘Gettinguptime, timeyouwereofftime, timetogohomenowtime.’ I think his parents and other carers in his life say these. The repetition of compound words creates a sense of rhythm. They seem to be said in a sing- song tone, emphasising the patronizing tone to the child because of his age. A patronizing tone is used previously towards the boy. ‘He did Something Very Wrong.’ The title case states the words that are emphasised. She thinks that if she uses a normal tone, the message won’t get through to him.

In the last stanza, we can sense the wistful tone of the narrator. ‘Where time hides tick- less waiting to be born.’ He wishes he could escape into this land where he isn’t restricted by time, like most adults. The narrator shows bitterness by using a satirical and sarcastic tone. ‘(I forget what it was.)’ This mocks the teacher by trying to show that she was making a big deal out of something insignificant.

The mood in the poem is dreamy, especially when the boy escapes into the timeless zone. ‘Beyond onceupona.’ The mood emphasises his confusion by the unfamiliar concept of time. The dreamy mood is also indicated by the fairytale references. ‘Once upon a schooltime.’ The word ‘time’ is substituted for alternative words or none at all. Not only do fairytale references portray the mood, but also the fact that fairytales are childish and contain fantasy aspects. The moods in ‘Half- past Two’ are a contrast to the mood in ‘Hide and Seek’.

The poem is divided into eleven three-line stanzas, showing organisation. Irony is expressed through the organised structure, as it contrasts with the boy’s feelings.

This is a very noticeable difference to the structure of ‘Hide and Seek’. A further distinction is that occasional brackets are used in ‘Half- past Two’ as opposed to none in ‘Hide and Seek’. One stanza is dedicated to criticizing teaching methods and sarcastically mocking her. ‘(Being cross, she’d forgotten she hadn’t taught him Time. He was too scared of being wicked to remind her.)’ The brackets represent the insignificance of the teacher’s actions.

The themes explored in ‘Half- past Two’ that are also explored in ‘Hide and Seek’ are childhood memories, isolation, abandonment and reflection. Also, restriction of time and freedom of childhood.

Like in ‘Hide and Seek’, the themes of childhood memories and reflection can be closely tied together because in my view, the poem is about an adult looking back on a childhood experience. Unlike ‘Hide and Seek’, this isn’t indicated by the use of second person as the poem is written in third person, a less personal approach. It is indicated by the tone in the final stanza. ‘But he never forgot how once by not knowing time…’ The tone is pensive and regretful. The adult wishes he had the power to escape into the ‘clockless land of ever.’ This brings me to my next point that restriction by time is a theme explored in ‘Half- past Two’, but not ‘Hide and Seek’. The last stanza is the adult reflecting. ‘He escaped into the clockless land of ever, where time hides tick- less waiting to be born.’ The quote emphasises the fact that an innocent child isn’t restricted by time as opposed to adults.

An additional theme is isolation. Contrary to ‘Hide and Seek’, the child is aware of his isolation, but confused at how to escape it. ‘So he waited…’ His child like qualities are emphasised by the fact that he needs an older responsible figure to help and guide him. Abandonment, another theme, occurs when his teacher as opposed to friends in ‘Hide and Seek’ deserts the child. In both poems, the child is abandoned, but the teacher and the friends have different intentions. The friends do it as a joke and assume the child will find his way back, whereas the teacher ignored and forgot the boy. ‘Stay in the schoolroom till half- past two.’

In conclusion, I think the differences outweigh the similarities. An important similarity is that both are about adults reflecting on childhood experiences. In ‘Hide and Seek’, the adult is regretful and despises the experience, whereas in ‘Half- past Two’, the adult wishes he could relive the experience. Another difference is the structures of both poems. ‘Hide and Seek’ is one continuous stanza, whereas ‘Half- past Two’ consists of eleven three line stanzas. Regarding language, both poems use personification and senses to vividly describe the surrounding atmosphere. Unlike ‘Half- past Two’, ‘Hide and Seek’ uses punctuation to portray the change in tone and mood. Regarding themes, all themes explored in ‘Hide and Seek’ are explored in ‘Half- past Two’ as well as more. A noticeable difference is the content of both poems. The experiences are totally different as are the reactions and personal opinions of them.

I enjoyed reading ‘Hide and Seek’ more than ‘Half- past Two’. This is because I thought ‘Hide and Seek’ was more effective at vividly portraying the experience. In ‘Half- past Two’, it was harder to get a grasp of the content and symbolism within the poem.

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