What perspectives do Harrison's poems open up on his relationship with his parents and family background in general?
Tony Harrison's family background and his relations with his parents is one that both confuses and overwhelms us. I use the present tense because I believe that Tony Harrison still has a relationship with his parents even though they both pasted away some times ago. Like all great poets, Harrison reflects his life and emotions in his poetry, his poetry, is very much like his life. The double sided life that he leads, the literary poet and the Leeds boy whose father was a baker. Therefore this double sided life style is reflected within his poetry, which is often coarse yet emotional. The indelicate side of his poetry reflects the life with his father and general Leeds background, this is reflected in his in his poem 'Book Ends II'
'You're supposed to be the bright boy at description
and you can't tell them what the fuck to put!'
This is the general reflection of the poets family life, behind these two lines there is great love, for both the mother and the poet, yet the father is unable to show this love, he feels the obligation to be the emotional rock of the family, his role as the father. Harrison's father had great love for him, however Harrison resented the way that he put him down, however the father was proud of the son but had no way of conveying this emotion. In later life Harrison did not think of his father as an illiterate wreck, who had no chance of glory. The father could not keep the same social ground as the son and this was what divided them, he could understand the beauty of literature. The fathers emotions on the lose of the mother were great and life could not continue in the Harrison household without her. The mother was in a no mans land when she was alive, she was the one that kept the bond between the poet and father alive. She was wedged in the middle between ignorance and literature.
'You're like book ends, the pair of you, she'd say,
Hog that grate, say nothing, sit, sleep, stare''
Harrison and his father were dissimilar and were only able to achieve small talk, there was no general ground or common interests, the only that makes them similar is the silence in which they sit. Unable to communicate, the mothers death bought them together for a short time, the tense silence, had to be conquered for a short time. The idea of book ends, the same object, similar in every way apart from one, they were on opposite ends. They could have been exactly the same, however one thing parts them, books. The idea of literature, in the middle of the relationship between father and son. 'We chewed it slowly that last apple pie.' Adding a sense of finality, the idea of the last pie, the home atmosphere has gone and the love in the house has also gone. There is a sense of something missing, in the home, in their life's, and even while eating the apple pie.
'Back in our silences and sullen looks,
for all the Scotch we drink, what's still between's
not the thirty years or so, but books, books, books.'
This shows us that books and literature torn the father and son apart and family brought them back together. The death of the mother was a great shock on both the father and son, drink played a large part in their lives, resorting to this after the apple pie. Life as they both know it has changed and the family is on longer a family, the departure of the mother has brought Harrison and father together, yet has made them drift apart. He no longer has no reason to go home, there is no pleasure in going home, and there is a responsibility, yet no love.
'You said you'd always been a clumsy talker
and you couldn't find another shorter word
for 'beloved' or for 'wife' in the inscription,'
This is from 'Book Ends II', where both father and son are discussing what to put on the mothers grave stone. Again they have resorted to drink, the eternal remedy, helping them to bear each others presence. Again the death has brought them together again, if only for a short, they began to talk to each other and admit things to each other. Harrison, the educated poet cannot think of what to put on his mothers grave stone. He is emotional yet emotionless, at this point he not a poet because nothing is suitable, he could never know what to put on his mothers grave as nothing could be enough to eulogise his mother. ' I've got to find the right words on my own'
No words could be the right words as he is unable to express emotion at this time.
Through Book Ends I and II life and literature had come between Harrison and his father however in the last verse of 'Book Ends I' Harrison realises that his father does really care.
'But I can't squeeze more love into their stone'
Harrison uses the ...