Elizabeth Jennings’ poems often focused on the difficult personal experiences of her life. She suffered mental breakdown by the age of forty, and recovered by writing poems based on many themes. Family, suffering and loneliness are some of the main themes in ‘My Grandmother’. Her sad, depressing life is reflected in the poem through the life of her grandmother, as she would often watch “her own reflection in the brass” showing that she was lonely, and received no business.
Harrison grew up in Leeds, and there are some examples in the poem that show his Yorkshire dialect. Aside from the rhyming of “gas” and “pass”, another example is the use of “popped out” which is a colloquial use of language in Yorkshire. . He also grew up in a working-class childhood which is evident because he uses colloquial language such as “dad” to refer to his father. This could also show that Harrison had a better relationship to his father than Jennings did to her grandmother, as Jennings quite simply calls her “My Grandmother” and not names such as “Gran” or “Grandma” which would show that the child has a strong relationship with their grandparent.
The use of language in ‘My Grandmother’ creates a sad and depressing atmosphere. Jennings uses words such as “old” and “frail” to describe the vulnerability of her grandmother. She also uses dark, mysterious words like “shadows” and “absences” which also create negative imagery in the readers’ minds. The rhyme scheme in Long Distance follows ABAB for the first 3 stanzas and ABBA for the last. The first three talk about his past and we learn about his emotional state, while the final stanza concludes that he suffers from the same dilemma as his father. The rhyme scheme of My Grandmother is ABABCC and has 4 stanzas, starting by setting the scene, then becoming personal in the next stanza with her regret and guilt, while the last two talk about the retirement & the death of her grandmother.
Throughout ‘Long Distance’ Harrison tells the story of how his father was obsessed with his deceased mother. Harrison then becomes obsessed after his father’s death which shows the irony as he becomes the same man he used to describe his father. Even though both his parents had passed away, he still kept their numbers which he “still calls”. This shows that he has become just like his father, and the use of “new black leather phone book” creates a sad mood as ‘black’ is associated with death, and also creates a sense of pathos in the reader, as we feel sorry for Harrison for falling into the same emotional state.
The irony is also evident in ‘My Grandmother’ as Jennings felt guilty when she “once refused” to go out with her, however she based her whole poem on her grandmother, perhaps showing that somehow, she did have some attachment to her. However, unlike Harrison, she does not fall into the same emotional trap as she “felt no grief at all” when she died. The use of “no” and “at all” adds conviction to her statement, as if it was her final decision.
In conclusion, the themes of family and death linked in both poems. Each poem is about a family member who died, and how they felt after. The authors also include similar emotions, such as obsession, however the obsession is focused on different topics. They also share the same feelings towards the members of their family because both authors stayed distanced from them; however it could also be argued that Harrison still felt a slight obsession to the “disconnected number” of his parents.
The difference between the authors’ is that they have different views towards death. Harrison clearly states he “believes life ends with death” perhaps showing us that he is an atheist. In contrast, Jennings is not an atheist, as many of her poems talk about religious experiences. Because of the points above, I believe that both these poems shared similar views on family and death, but they were expressed in different ways.