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Both poems are about death and the acceptance of death although are written from different perspectives and are different for the fact that in “He loved light, freedom and animals” by Mike Jenkins the young boy’s death was quite a shock, but it could have been prevented whereas in “Pneumoconiosis” written by Duncan Bush the man’s death is inevitable, there is nothing he can do to change it. Both poems also have connection with coalmines. Pneumoconiosis is a disease caught from working down in the mines, and the background of “He loved light, freedom and animals” is about a mining disaster that happened in Aberfan where a slag heap on the side of a mountain collapsed and engulfed parts of the small town.
The first poem I studied was Pneumoconiosis, and as the title suggests, the poem is about the killing lung disease that many coalminers suffered and died from. “Pneumoconiosis” was renames “The Dust” by the sufferers because it was mainly caused by inhalation of a lot of dust. The dust would get trapped in the lungs and made breathing difficult, and eventually killed after many years of effecting collier’s lives.
Duncan Bush wrote in the form of an old retired coalminer who is slowly dying from the disease. The elderly man is now feeling the effects of the disease more than ever. He shows his feelings towards the disease and reflects to his past. The poor man worked down in the mines for thirty years without realising the fatality of his coughing and breathing difficulties but now he begins to see the truth, he’s now walking at a much slower pace and can not talk as fast and fluent.
The constant repetition of the line “I try not to think about it” gives us the impression that in the back of his mind he cannot help the feeling of ominous foreboding that his life will soon be coming to an end. He is worried about when his death will come but doesn’t want the remainder of his life to be a misery.
The opening line, “This is the Dust” is an introduction to the illness, it simply tells us what the whole poem and the title is about. The second line then describes it as “Black diamond dust”. It is a good way of describing the dust from the coal, as coal is similar to diamond in many ways. They are both valuable, and a fair amount of coal sparkles, as diamonds do.
We understand that the man came from the South Wales valleys; the poet shows this by adding “boy” at the end of the line and uses informal English to punctuate his accent which symbolizes the location of the industry. It is a personal poem, Darren Bush is writing in the first person as though he is the old man telling his story “I had thirty years in it”. This is affective because we can relate with his character better by understanding what he is going through and feeling.
The man was happy in his work back in the day; he didn’t have the slightest idea that one day working there would lead him to his death. “A laughing red mouth” He would be covered at work in black dirt, and his mouth would stand out, as it was the only clean part of him.
We realize the first symptoms of his illness when he used to “spit smuts black” but obviously, he was unaware and didn’t realize the cause of his spluttering. The poet uses alliteration to describe the young collier suffering, the hard constant “s” conveys the way the sound the man made and it stands out.
In the second verse, the man continues telling us about the disease he suffers from and points out the fact that he accepts it and he bravely admits he will die with it. The poet cleverly uses the line “it’s had forty years in me now” which follows the line “I had thirty years in it”. This shows that he is quite old, because he retired ten years ago. The disease isn’t only affecting his inside; his illness is visible – “like my blued scars”. The scars are a part of him that won’t go away, he can not erase them.
The sufferer tells us how he gets by from day to day and how things have changed since he’s been ill in the third verse. There are a few pauses in the third stanza which conveys the shortness of breath the man has. “One step at a time; especially the stairs.” It is quite jerky, as I can imagine his breathing and talking would be like.
He then goes on to talk about his past and his experiences. His own brother also died of Pneumoconiosis, so he knows what he is facing. He explains that he saw his brothers last moment, which I think is very emotional. Although he seems calm, he must be quite frightened that he will be going through the same thing. He doesn’t want to let the image of his brother that will always be with him scare him. The description the poet uses about the brother’s last moment are very good, and give us a vivid image of how much he struggled – “worse than a hooked carp drowning in the air”.
The last three lines of the poem are very emotional and sad, he emphasises his slow walk and the occasional cough he lets out involuntary by telling people to know him as that man. This shows that the illness has effected him so much, he is different to a lot people when he used to be as healthy as the rest. After reading the poem, I admire the character in the poem because he can handle and accept his death, rather than complain and give up all hope. He is trying to lead his life as normal as possible and trying not to make the last of his life a misery which I respect.
Another poem I studied was “He loved light, freedom and animals”. Mike Jenkins writes as if he is the father and he reminisces and remembers happy memories he shared with his son. He doesn’t believe that his son is dead and in his mind the boy is still as lively as ever.
The disaster of Aberfan happened on the 21st of October in 1966. The slagheap was balancing on a mountain overlooking the small village. The flood of waste had slipped and rushed down the mountain shattering homes, farms and the village school, which killed 116 young villagers. Critics say that the disaster should never had happened and young, innocent people’s lives such as the character in the poems son shouldn’t have been lost.
The poem contains many good descriptions that create strong images of both the child and the slag heap. This creates a good balance of positive and negative emotion in the poem. The images of the slagheap and the child are a complete contrast to one another; the descriptions of the boy are happy and beautiful foe example “his eyes gleamed as gorse-flowers do now” whereas the slagheap is described by the use of dark, depressing phrases such as “tumour on the hillside burst and the black blood coal”. The unpleasant phrase of the tumour growing on the top of the mountain reminds us of illness and gives us the thought people would want to stay as far away from it as possible. But tumours can be detected and defused, like the slagheap, it could have been manually moved but nobody had thought of the consequences until it was too late.
The poet refers to the characters son throughout the poem, almost in every stanza which I believe makes the poem very interesting. It also shows that he will always think of his son, and will not give up the happy thoughts. He remembers the things he used to do when he was happiest. His son would be “in the classroom waving an answer like a greeting”. This emphasises how very enthusiastic and eager the boy was and obviously he was a pupil who enjoyed school, but it was there where he had died.
When the poor boy was pulled out, the poet writes that his son must have been “like a child collier, dragged out of one of Bute’s mines.” A child collier would have been in a very dangerous job, and often lost their lives. They would come out of the mines hurt and covered in black dust but his son wasn’t a collier, he was at school. School is meant to be a safe place, but not for the pupils on the day of the disaster.
A good example of a simile in the poem is the one about the son and his mother shown in the last stanza. “Ears attuned as a ewe’s in lambing.” The connection the boy had with his mother was like no other, his mother can still hear his laugh and like and ewe and a lamb, she was attuned to her son. This is a good way of showing that they were close, and his mother is lost without him. She will always recognize his laugh, and can still hear it clearly in her head. The parents of the boy will always remember him as they last seen him, young, healthy and happy. They will be hearing his “laughs springing down the slopes” for a long time.
Mike Jenkins uses personification in his poem to make it more alive and colourful. An example of him using personification is shown in the fourth verse, he creates a character out of the slagheap when the poet describes it s if it has a “greedy belly” that ate up all the children and villagers.
The tone of the poem is conversational, the father tells us as the reader about his son, and about his son’s death. It’s a dramatic poem, and is very emotional. Both negative and Positive feelings are shown in the poem. Although the theme of the poem is sad, the lines about the boy are happy; they are lines that bring a smile to the reader’s faces. In a way this makes us feel even sorrier for the father and makes it more emotional.
The lines about the slag heap are bitter, expressing the father’s feelings towards it. In my opinion, the fact that the poem begins with a line about the grave “No grave can contain him” and then ends with a line about the grave “I try to foster the inscription, away from its stubborn stone” is clever. It emphasizes the fact that he is in his grave and will not do the things that were mentioned in the middle of the poem, he will not be “climbing a tree” again or “calling out names”.
I personally enjoyed reading this poem because I felt I could relate to the father, as it was from a personal point of view and can relate to the loss of someone special. It was very emotional and made me sympathize for the mother and father. It was unfair for the innocent, fragile boy to die in such a horrific accident and it made me angry that people had not thought of the consequences they were facing by putting the slagheap on top of the mountain.
Both poems are very successful in creating sad emotions, and also anger and frustration. In He loved Light, Freedom and Animals, anger is created because the boy and his classmates were so young when they died, and they didn’t deserve to have their lives taken away. In Pneumoconiosis, anger is created because the old man had been affected by the dust silently, and is expecting his death. This is very frustrating, as there is nothing we as the reader can do to change what has happened and what is going to happen.
In my opinion, He love Light, Freedom, and Animals made the biggest impact to my emotions. As the child was only young, it is easy to relate to, and it makes the reader realize that life can be cut so short, although Pneumoconiosis is also very emotional, as the reader acknowledges the long term effects miners suffer. He has been, and is still fighting bravely but he knows he can’t hold on forever.