Both poems have a connection with coal mines. Pneumoconiosis is a disease caught in the mines by many coal miners, which affects the lungs. The background of “He loved light, freedom and animals” is about a mining disaster in Aberfan. A slag heap on the side of a mountain gave way and engulfed parts of the small town.
“Pneumoconiosis” is written by Duncan Bush and is written in the first person,
“But it’s had forty years
in me now”
He talks as if it’s happening to him. This is affective because we can relate with this character better by understanding what he is feeling and going through.
Mike Jenkins wrote “He loved light, freedom and animals” as if he were an eyewitness to the disaster. Throughout the poem Mike Jenkins uses past tense to recall back to the moments like memories.
“His scream was stopped mid-flight!”
This gives us a clue about the father’s denial throughout the poem, as he constantly recalls back to that day.
“Pneumoconiosis” is an old man talking about the effects of the disease on his life. We know he’s old man because he talks about this life.
“I had thirty years in it, boy.” and
“But it’s had forty years in me now.”
The first line means that he’s spent thirty years working in the coal mines and the second line means that he’s had the disease for forty years, therefore he must be over seventy five years old at least. He also talks like an old man by saying “boy” at the end of the sentence; this makes the old man more realistic to us.
Unlike “Pneumoconiosis”, “He loved light, freedom and animals” is about a young boy’s life instead of an old man’s. A man whom I believe to be a father is looking back in denial of his son’s death, which was lost in the disaster.
Both poems have different themes. I found that the theme of the poem “Pneumoconiosis” was about sympathy towards the old man and how he’s covering up his true feelings.
Throughout the poem the poet repeats this line,
“I try not to think about it.”
The old man tries to be brave and not to take notice of it but it’s obvious that’s all he thinks about because he keeps repeating it. This creates sympathy for the old man.
There is a very strong imagery created in the seventh stanza, where he looks back at his brother dying from pneumoconiosis.
worse than a hooked carp
drowning in air.”
This simile tells us how you die from pneumoconiosis, not being able to breathe. It’s sad because the old man knows how he’s going to die, again this creates sympathy.
Similar to “Pneumoconiosis”, I found that the theme of “He loved light, freedom and animals” had also a little bit of sympathy, towards the father. We feel sympathy towards the father because he is in denial of his son’s death and can’t stop thinking about the day that he died. In every stanza there is contrast between things associated with death and then things associated with life and happiness. Take stanza three for instance.
“When the tumour on the hillside
burst and the black blood
of coal drowned him,
he ran forever
with his sheepdog leaping
for sticks, tumbling together
in windblown abandon.”
Notice that the first three lines are associated with death, “tumour”, “blood” and “drowned”. The last couple of lines are about freedom and happiness, “ran forever” and “leaping”. Therefore I find that the poet is trying to hide the fact that this boy died by remembering times while he was alive. This is affective because by trying to be positive it highlights the sadness of the father and the poem thus creating sympathy.
To me the title of “Pneumoconiosis” makes me want to read the poem. I was curious to know what pneumoconiosis is because I never heard of it. The opening line immediately wanted me to read on. It is a short, blunt line, spaced out from the rest of the poem,
“This is the dust,”
The “the” makes it more than just ordinary dust – something far more powerful. The following line also had an impression on me.
“Black diamond dust.”
All of these words start with a hard sounding letter, giving a bitter sound to it. Diamond is also a hard material, adding to the affect. Black diamond is also another word for coal because of the money coal brought to poor Welsh communities. There is also repetition with the word dust at the end of the first and second line. This reminds me of the words said at a funeral, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” which is associated with death.
There is contrast between stanzas three and four.
“I had thirty years in it, boy,” with
“But it’s had forty years in me now.”
The first line he was in charge of it, but by the second line its taken control of him.
The last line is a metaphor,
“and my lungs full of budgerigars.”
This contrasts with the rest of the poem because budgerigars are happy birds. They’re free and loud. On the other hand it might be comparing his lungs with the cage, in which budgerigars were kept in the mines. He can’t escape the mines. This adds to the affect of sympathy.
At the end of that poem I felt great pity for that old man because he wants to forget about pneumoconiosis but it won’t let him. I found that the mood of the poem was quite light, although it was graphic. Perhaps the old man is trying to cover his true feelings with humour thus creating sympathy towards him.
Unlike “Pneumoconiosis”, “He loved light, freedom and animals” failed to draw me into the poem. I think it was the fact it gave too much away in the title. The word “loved” is past tense so he must have died, and it must be all about “light, freedom and animals”.
The opening line partly agreed with the title.
“No grave could contain him”
Someone’s dead and he loves freedom because the grave can’t contain him. Similar to the opening line in “Pneumoconiosis” I wanted to read on. I was curious to know how the boy died and why the grave couldn’t contain him.
There is a good use of repetition at the beginning of the second stanza.
“Buried alive –
alive he is”
This emphasises that he hasn’t died. I get the feeling that the poet is in denial of this boy’s death. Also the first line is almost a contradiction in terms. With “Pneumoconiosis” the poet brings up thoughts of death instead of life. Unlike “Pneumoconiosis”, “He loved light, freedom and animals” has a lot more personification. This brings a descriptive element to the poem, which helps us understand it better.
“Tumour on the hillside”
This is effective because everybody knows that tumours are connected with death, and tumour is being used instead of slag heap.
At the end of the poem, Mike Jenkins uses far more poetic techniques than Duncan Bush. He uses more personification, alliteration and run-on lines. To me this makes it a better read because it’s more enjoyable and creates better imagery in my mind.
After studying both poems I preferred “Pneumoconiosis” to “He loved light, freedom and animals” because I felt more sympathy towards the old man than to the father. Although “He loved light, freedom and animals” had more poetic techniques and descriptive writing, I found that the lack of them in “Pneumoconiosis” added to the affect of sympathy to the old man. I also found that Duncan Bush had conveyed the character of an old man extremely well and affective.