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Lines one and three also have more beats in them than lines two and four. (If you want to get a bit more technical, one and three are tetrameters, two and four trimeters! Tetrameters have four stresses, trimeters have three stresses).
As a reminder of ballad metre, think of the Christmas carol O Little Town of Bethlehem. Using ballad metre means that the poem lends itself to being read aloud and has harmony, rhyme and rhythm that are quite lyrical.
The language used creates extremes of mood. A pattern develops whereby Betjeman uses positive, warm images to evoke happy memories: The kind old face, the egg-shaped head,The tie, discreetly loud,The loosely fitting shooting clothes And then he brutally undermines all this with an image related to death in the following line:
This also happens in stanzas two, four and seven.
In these stanzas the death imagery is even worse, bordering on horror: But now his mouth is wide to letThe London clay come in.
maggots in his eyes
…now his finger-bonesStick through his finger-ends
Although the narrator speaks warmly about his late father he doesn’t use euphemisms. (A euphemism is something said to avoid an unpleasant or offensive word or phrase.) Usually the subject of death is full of euphemisms such as ‘passed on’ or ‘gone to a better place’. Betjeman is more direct about the nature of death, although this can be upsetting.
Loss: Betjeman has to come to terms with the loss of his father.
Lack of faith: the poet has no faith in God.
Death: Betjeman is open and even brutal in the physical descriptions in this poem of the effects of death.
One central idea, hinted at throughout the poem but then clearly revealed at the end, is that death is definitely the end of life. We do not go to heaven or anywhere else because there is no God. “I only see decay”. There is, however, the more positive proposal that one should cherish the time we have with the people we love, as Betjeman obviously did with his father.
* Both poems deal with a before-and-after scenario. The present Alison is in some ways an entirely different character from the pre-accident version. Betjeman views the past and present versions of his father in very different ways. * Readers will perhaps experience sympathy in both poems. One might feel sorry for the post-accident Alison who has suffered brain damage. One might also feel sympathy with Betjeman because he has lost his father. * Both poems deal with death in one way or another: Betjeman’s father has died (as has his faith in God, if it ever existed); Alison is still alive but the Alison of the past is dead.
How does Betjeman present the character of his father in On a Portrait of a Deaf Man? Answer
Betjeman’s father has died and the poet writes this elegy to pay tribute to him. In doing so, he does two distinct things. Firstly, he creates an image of the living father as a warm, nice man. Secondly, he talks of the present state of his father – dead, buried and decaying. The first image is usual in an elegy, the second certainly is not. Betjeman creates a warm, positive image of his father in the opening lines: The kind old face, the egg-shaped head,The tie, discreetly loud,The loosely fitting shooting clothes The first adjective he uses to describe his father is “kind”, setting a pleasant tone. He then paints a picture of how his father looked and dressed. The following line is the beginning of the technique Betjeman uses to create a different character, his father as he is now, a corpse: A closely fitting shroud.
Betjeman contrasts the cold image of death with warm memories of life and as a result, it has much more impact. This technique of juxtaposition continues throughout the poem and as we get to know and like Betjeman’s living father, we’re exposed to more graphic imagery of death: And when he could not hear me speakHe smiled and looked so wiseThat now I do not like to thinkOf maggots in his eyes.
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