Both “on a portrait of a deaf man” and “Brendon Gallacher”, are about a narrator who grieves the loss of the person they love. In “on a portrait of a deaf man”, the narrator mourns the loss of his father conveying his bitterness towards god for the mistreatment of his father. In Brendon Gallacher, the narrator loses her best friend who she feels possessive towards. Both poets use language to help the reader visualise their characters feelings and personality.
In on a portrait of a deaf man, images of decay as well as words associated with death is used to help the audience visualise the physical reality of his father’s death. “His mouth is wide to let the London clay come in” conveys his anger towards the mistreatment his father had received by God as well as shocking the audience to highlight this reality. Phrases such as “maggots in his eyes” can be seen as shocking and vivid and this further emphasis the image the narrator sees in connection with how his father who “smiled and looked so wise” has now turned out.
In Brendon Gallacher, childish language and description is used to help the audience visualise the narrator’s childhood. “He had six brothers and I had one” can be conveyed as quite childish and this might have been used to emphasise that the narrator is talking about her past when she was younger. In on a portrait if a deaf man, the first seven stanzas are written in first person and are about his father in whom he contrasts between both pleasant and horrible images and memories.
”he smiled and looked so wise that now I do not like to think of maggots in his eyes” links together the two themes of this poem which contrasts against each other- life and death and this structure of the poem may convey that he is so affected by death that every pleasant though has be tainted with the outcome of his father. In the last stanza, this pattern changes” you, god who treat him thus and thus”.
The stanza became a direct speech towards god in which he accuses as well as questions his faith and this effectively helps us to understand the narrator’s viewpoint and well as his thoughts on father- the structure may symbolise that he so far is not over his father’s death. The poem is also written as an elegy- a mournful funeral poem about the dead and has a repetitive rhyming scheme which runs throughout the poem making the narrators thoughts seem more ordered. The rhyming being so regular may convey to the audience that he is trying to keep his emotions under control.
Similarly in Brendon Gallacher, the events are described in order but this technique is used to create and share the fantasy the narrator has in believing he is real also. The poem also has a regular rhyme scheme which coupled with the usage of his name in a song like refrain makes the poem seem more child-like. At the start, “he would hold (her) hand and take (her) by the river” and these description of orderly event makes us feel the way the narrator saw and feel the way she felt until the end in which “he died then”. Both poets have created characters who grieve the loss of the ones they love.
In on a portrait of a deaf man, the narrator conveys his love through the reminiscence of his father in which describing how his father liked the “rain-washed Cornish air” and the “landscape” shows his love and affection for his father. “And when he could not hear me speak he smiled and looked so wise” shows the admiration the narrator had for his father. John Betjeman might have purposely portrayed the father through his character to further emphasis the contrast between loves and grieve portrayed in this poem- love for his father but bitterness and angry towards god.
Similarly, in Brendon Gallacher, love is conveyed through the relationship between the narrator and her imaginary friend. “He would hold (her) hand” and confide in her and Jackie uses their relationship to emphasis the love and affection they as the narrator feels Brendon confides in her. Also the usage of “he” and “I” further emphasises the connection both characters have. Betjeman purposely makes his character describe his father as “the kind old face, egg-shaped head” painting a portrait of a lasting loving memory.
This makes the poem seem more like a tribute towards the narrator’s father conveying grief as he tries to come to terms with his father’s death through the writing of the poem. As the poem progresses, it becomes evident that the narrators grief and sadness is also mixed with horror and anger. “He would have liked to say goodbye shake hands with many friends…….. His finger bones stick through his finger-ends” at the start of his thought, it is a positive memory of his father but later it changes into grotesque imagery of his father’s decaying body.
The poet may have mixed both grief and horror to convey the contrasting fight of his emotions between the happy and pleasant thoughts of his father and anger and bitterness towards his faith and primarily God. In Brendon Gallacher, the last stanza portrays that due to being told there were no Gallacher living at 24 Novar, she felt grief due to her best friend dying on her floor. In admitting there was no Brendon Gallacher, “his spiky hair, his impish grin, his funny, flapping ear…… died then” Jackie Kay uses the direct, unequivocal dialogue to convey the shock that later turned to sadness.
In the characters losing someone they love, their grief further mixes with other negative complex emotions such as possessiveness and bitterness. In on a portrait of a deaf man, the narrator’s grief which is evident in the first seven stanzas turns to bitterness and the structure of the paragraph changes in which he directly addresses god, accusing him for treating his father “thus and thus”. Betjeman effectively ends the poem with “you ask me to believe you, and I only see decay” which portrays how the narrator sees.
This could refer to the decay of his father’s body as well as his own faith and due to his struggle to hear god and have faith, he battles with his bitterness. Similar, in Brendon Gallacher, the last line conveys that her grief is mixed with her possessiveness in which she repeats that “oh Brendon, oh my Brendon Gallacher”. This implies that due to her possessiveness, she still has not fully accepted he was imaginary as he was hers. Jackie Kay may have purposely ending on her possessiveness to show that he was real but only to her. Both poets explored the emotions of their characters through language and form.
The characters describe their loved ones and examine why they loved them. For characters, love and happy memories and contrasted with grieve and pain. This makes them seem even more affected by their deaths because of their evidence reminiscence and wanting their loved ones to come back, however, it could be argued that the narrator in on a portrait of a deaf man accepts the death of his father but wants him to come back whereas the narrator of Brendon Gallacher still has not accepted that her best friend was not real but had died.