In the Snack Bar Edwin Morgan
The Title • ‘Snack Bar’ – familiar setting from everyday life ~ not what we would usually associate with poetry • As with ‘Good Friday’ and ‘Trio’: – Realistic details – Present tense – sense of immediacy
Themes / central concerns • Old age • Empathy (an understanding of how other people feel) • Adversity (difficulties) / overcoming adversity
Form • Free verse – Stanzas of different lengths – Lines of different lengths – No regular rhythm – No regular rhyme scheme
Symbolism • The old man’s climb up the stairs symbolises all of humanity’s struggle against adversity (difficulties) • The old man is an archetype: – His weaknesses and disabilities represent human frailty (weakness) that could apply to any person living 2021/3/9
Stanza 1 Lines 1 -6 A cup capsizes along the formica, slithering with a dull clatter. A few heads turn in the crowded evening snack-bar. An old man is trying to get to his feet from the low round stool fixed to the floor. Slowly he levers himself up, his hands have no power. • attracts the author’s attention; uses hard sounds ‘c’: emphasises the noise • Only a few turn their heads because a) it is a crowded noisy place b) The people don’t know or care what it is • Word order reversed to emphasise slowness / difficulty of motions. • Hyperbole – implies weakness and physical incapacity
Stanza 1 - Lines 7 -10 • The hump cannot be dismal. The man is depressed and He is up as far as he can get. sad (transferred epithet) The dismal hump • Threatening appearance; looming over him forces his suggests oppression / head down. menace He stands in his stained • Poor and shabbily dressed. beltless gaberdine Homeless? like a monstrous animal caught • Simile. Trapped in wretched, in a tent deformed body; grotesque; cannot escape – negative view of disability?
Stanza 1 - Lines 11 -17 in some story. He sways slightly, the face not seen, bent down in shadow under his cap. Even on his feet he is staring at the floor or would be, if he could see. I notice now his stick, once painted white but scuffed and muddy, hanging from his right arm. • Drunk? Ill? • No face - sense of mystery • Evokes sympathy from reader. Attitude to the old man changes -- we learn reason for his appearance (he’s blind). • Scruffy appearance of stick makes man a more pitiful figure • Revisits idea that he is physically weak
Stanza 1 - Lines 18 -22 Long blind, hunchback born, half paralysed he stands fumbling with the stick and speaks: ‘I want – to go to the – toilet. ’ • Long alliterative line – many ‘b’ sounds – this, along with 3 misfortunes (blind / hunchback / paralysed) = dramatic. Emotional impact on reader. Horror / sympathy. • Short line – builds up to action. Appears heroic / admirable. • Difficulty of everyday life • Short line – tension • Commonplace, yet for him a great challenge. Dashes emphasise difficulty of speaking and of moving
Stanza 2 - Lines 23 -25 It is down two flights of stairs, but we go. I take his arm. ‘Give me – your arm – it’s better, ’ he says. Inch by inch we drift towards the stairs. • Old man wants to take narrator's arm (rather other way round) – allows the old man to have some control / independence • hyperbole - emphasises slowness of movement • Suggests a lack of direction
Stanza 2 - Lines 26 -32 A few yards of floor are like a landscape to be negotiated, in the slow setting out time has almost stopped. I concentrate my life to his: crunch of spilt sugar, slidy puddle from the night’s umbrellas, table edges, people’s feet, hiss of the coffee-machine, voices and laughter, • Simile. Floor is busy / difficult to cross • Emphatic position (end of line) -- enjambment (to next line) -- trying to imagine what it is like for the old man • Lists hazards • Imagines old man's senses - touch and hearing (no sight!)
Stanza 2 - Lines 33 -34 smell of a cigar, hamburgers, wet coats steaming, and the slow dangerous inches to the stairs. • More senses - smell
Stanza 2 - Lines 35 -38 I put his right hand on the rail and take his stick. He clings to me. The stick is in his left hand, probing the treads. I guide his arm and tell him the steps. • Long line two caesuras (pauses) - emphasises slowness and hesitancy of old man's movements • 'Clings' suggests dependency or fear • The narrator = now surprisingly gentle / helpful with old man
Stanza 2 - Lines 39 -43 And slowly we go down. White tiles and mirrors at last. He shambles uncouth into the clinical gleam. I set him in position, stand behind him and wait with his stick. • Repetition: emphasises slowness and repetitive motion. • Contrast 'uncouth/shambling' with 'clinical' toilets. Old man is out of place. • Old man needs constant help, even to urinate. Narrator wants to give him some privacy.
Stanza 2 - Lines 44 -48 His brooding reflection darkens the mirror but the trickle of his water is thin and slow, an old man’s apology for living. Painful ages to close his trousers and coat – I do up the last buttons for him. • Age, as well as disability, makes the old man's life harder • Metaphor - thin 'trickle of his water' is an apology. Narrator feels great distress at the old man's situation • Hyperbole
Stanza 2 - Lines 49 -56 He asks doubtfully, ‘Can I – wash my hands? ’ I fill the basin, clasp his soft fingers round the soap. He washes, feebly, patiently. There is no towel. I press the pedal of the drier, draw his hands gently into the roar of the hot air. But he cannot rub them together, drags out a handkerchief to finish. He is glad to leave the contraption, and face the stairs. • Normally soap is softer than hands but not in this case -- a surprise considering his appearance? • Suggests monsters / something threatening. Old man is uncomfortable with the dryer • More realistic detail narrator relives the moment
Stanza 2 - Lines 57 -62 He climbs, and steadily enough. He climbs, we climb. He climbs with many pauses but with that one persisting patience of the undefeated which is the nature of man when all is said. And slowly we go up. • Repetition reveals the slowness of the motion • Alliterative plosive (p) sounds - underline how determined the old man is. • The old man's climb up the stairs becomes an uplifting symbol of human resilience -sudden change in the tone of the poem - now hopeful and life-affirming. • More repetition - old man's task is huge
Stanza 2 - Lines 63 -67 The faltering, unfaltering steps take him at last to the door across that endless, yet not endless waste of floor. I watch him helped on a bus. It shudders off in the rain. The conductor bends to hear where he wants to go. • Oxymoron - steps cannot be both faltering and unfaltering. Contradiction: old man is at the same time weak (physically) and strong (mentally). • Another oxymoronic statement - the floor is endless to the old man, but not to the narrator. • Realistic detail - sound and movement of bus. • Even the weather is against the old man
Stanza 3 - Lines 68 -72 Wherever he could go it would be dark and yet he must trust men. • Can be taken metaphorically or literally – blind, therefore it’s dark. Also – dark = unknown / frightening Without embarrassment or • Basic human needs; private things that must be done shame with aid. he must announce his most • Suggests either: pitiful needs in a public place. No one sees his face. 2021/3/9 – no one can see his face because of hunchback – Or: people cannot see beyond his disabilities to his personality
Stanza 3 - Lines 73 -77 Does he know how frightening he is in his strangeness under his mountainous coat, his hands like wet leaves stuck to the half-white stick? His life depends on many who would evade him. 2021/3/9 • Rhetorical question – narrator reflects on how the old man thinks of himself • Simile. Returns to idea of old man as grotesque figure • Alliteration – emphasises idea that stick is almost a part of him • People avoid him out of – *guilt*? – *laziness*? – *refusal to see the world as it is*?
Stanza 3 - Lines 10 -13 But he cannot reckon up the chances, • Alliteration – enormity of the task he faces (everyday life) • Glasgow weather – sounds having one thing to do, almost biblical • Sympathetic plea. Comparison to haul his blind hump between Christ (suffering) through these rains of and old man August. • Dramatic exclamation to end Dear Christ, to be born for poem this! 2021/3/9