The poem “Richard Bartlett” by Seamus Causley discusses Causley’s grandfather’s death and, what effect the event had on him and his family. The fact that his death was ninety years before the writing of the poem, tells us that the incident certainly had a big impact on Causley. The poem does not only tell us about this man’s death. Clever use of language allows him to also tell you something about the way in which he writes poetry.
The poem is written from the voice of the newspaper and Causley’s thoughts. The poem does not have and does not need an introduction – it immediately starts at the point when he reads the newspaper, which he describes it as being “singed”. The fact that it is discoloured and that it is “ninety-year-old” tells us that it has been ninety year since this newspaper was published. Causley is talking about his “shadowed grandfather”. He uses the word “shadowed” very cautiously, giving it two meanings. The shadow tells us that he didn’t know him but, on the other side, also gives us the feeling that there is something not quite right about this and, in this case, it is because he died and he will be “greatly missed”.
The simple factual list of ways to describe his grandfather’s occupation and personality, tells us that this was a hardworking man, working as a stone-cutter. He was also very strict in his lifestyle – he for instance is describes as a “teatotaller”. The idea of the grandfather being dead by the word “shadowed” is confirmed when he reads the article in the newspaper: “Leaves wife and family of seven children” and “He will be greatly missed”.
In the second strophe, Causley gives us a detailed description about the cause of death. The fact that it happened on a “July morning” contrasts very cleverly with what follows; a “quiet sting of slate” that “nags” “through the skull”. We know that this was the cause of death because he “never spoke after he was struck”. He was “lugged” to the “Dispensary”, where he was told that there was never “a chance of life” – showing you the availability of medical treatment in that time. The fact that it took him three hours to die tells you the pain and agony this aged man had to go through as well as confirming the underdeveloped medical availability.
The last stanza gives us an idea of the effect the death had on the family – the children “safely fled like beads of mercury” over the “scattered map”. We know that this grandfather was an important man because at the funeral there was not one minister, there were “Two ministers”. The churchyard is described as being a “checkerboard” because of all the black clothing that was worn, showing respect to Richard Bartlett. The grandfather is also described as having a “leper’s life” – someone outside society. The grandmother also had a “sober dip of fear”, which didn’t rest “Till her death”. You might even say that she was so sober that she didn’t want to run away from the “Revolution” whereas the children did. Causley describes the “print” as “mild milk-cholocate”. The paper appears to tell a mild story but the truth of how it happened and the consequence on the family were horrific.
The poem is written in iambic pentametre, giving the poem a certain amount of irony as the iambic rhythm contrasts with the depressing subject. It also is used to portray the poet’s emotions about the subject. The depressing tone is emphasised upon by the blank verse. The structure of the poem is very clever and deliberate. The poem is written in three strophes, including several quotations from a newspaper with flat language which contrast very cleverly with the emotional language, even though it is used very infrequently. The news article quotations also help to show the limited amount of information Causley knew about his grandfather as that he has to read everything from the newspaper. The poem has a circular structure as the last line refers back to the first line, suggesting that Causley is reading it all again. The fact that the quotations are not just in quotation marks but are shown in italics really supports the fact that Causley is reading this newsarticle carefully.
There are several voltas in the poem, mostly before and after a quotation from the newspaper as the vocabulary and style change as the source changes. The use of language switches from being as if he’s trying to find out something to a more formulaic style. There is also a volta after the first strophe as there is an elapse of time and there is a change of focus from the description of the man to the cause of death. There is also a volta after the second strophe as there is an obvious time elapse and another change of focus.
The word “singed” does not only tell you that it is discoloured, it also gives the feeling of a very old newspaper, created by the long vowel. The list Causley gives to describe is very factual, flat sounding and has no emotion whatsoever. The article in the newspaper solidifies that idea as it is even more factual and holds even less emotional.
The second strophe starts with something very contrasting to the rest of the poem, in order to show how dreadful the death actually was. The use of consonance and alliteration in “to split a stone” gives it a very sharp sound, causing imagery of this stone. Even though Causley still uses simple phrases, it does contain some emotion because of words like “nags”, which tells you how dreadful the killing was because of the long vowel. It also creates imagery when it is used in combination with the enjambment as it creates the necessary pause.
The alliteration in “blood and brains” amplifies the idea and, creates imagery of blood and brains that “kept coming” out of the body. Causley’s lack of emotion is compared to the fact that “His mate” “Searched for” “the killing stone”, which shows that that person did feel the urge to do something thus showing that he did have feelings about the incident. The word “killing” is used very cleverly as a description of the stone as it personifies the stone, which is exactly how “Melhuish” saw the stone. The simple quotation from the newspaper contrasts very well to the use of emotional language from Melhuish, intensifying the emotionality of Melhuish’s action.
The final strophe creates a conclusion to the subject-matter and, tells you about the effect of the death on his family. The funeral is describes as being “Pieced with huge black”, which carries a double entendre as it not only suggesting that a lot of people were dressed in black, it also refers back to the death as black is often seen as a depressing and dreadful colour. The alliteration used in “nudged nearer” creates not only emphasis but also creates imagery of a lonely family moving towards “where the Workhouse was”. The poet even compares Richard Bartlett’s life to a “leper’s life”, which is a dramatic metaphor for someone outside of society.
Alliteration is used in both “where the Workhouse was” and “leper’s life” to emphasise on the effect of the family. Causley uses the simile of “beads of mercury” when describing the way the children fled as it must have been very rapid and sudden. In the last few lines, Causley gets back to the newspaper as his thoughts carried away a bit. The alliteration used in “mild milk-chocolate” is very deliberate and makes you think about what he actually says. It makes you think of something very soft and tender, which is exactly how the newspaper describes it – with no emotion.
The circular structure of the poem is very clever as it intensifies and supports the amount of information about Causley himself that can be found in this poem. The last line is very thoughtful and carefully chosen and it makes you think. It refers back to the grandfather “trying to find a place to insert the wedge” but, this time, he is talking about himself and how he “Bend[s] to the poem”. It tells you that he does not see himself as a simple writer or poet.
Instead, he sees himself as a craftsman, performing a task that requires a specific skill and hard practice. He is trying to find a place to “insert the wedge”, trying to find a way to put a specific word, idea or structure into his poem. Just like something went wrong with the stone-cutter, there will be times when there are things going wrong with the poet. He therefore is trying to get the message across that it is very hard work as a poet and, that the way to make a poem is by trial and error and, most importantly, hard practice.
Even though the literal meaning of the poem is the grandfather’s death, the idea of his grandfather is used to describe something more about himself. At the end of the poem, a direct link is made between Causley and Bartlett, telling the reader that a poet is just like a craftsman; hard work has to be implemented and frequent modifications have to be applied in order to get the ultimate result.
As the poet reads more of the newspaper, the amount of emotion involved increases and so does his understanding of his grandfather. In the end of the poem, clever metaphors such as a “leper’s life” are used to create this idea. This poem is very cleverly put together and, we should understand that this poem is not intended to give us more information about his grandfather but, to inform the reader about himself and the way in which he writes poetry.