by John Montague
Upon analysing a poem, I find it useful to decode it in a particular way. I like to read the poem as if it were a story. This helps me to generate an understanding of both the poet and the poem’s context. The following notes outline the story of ‘The Cage’. Once an understanding of this poem’s story has been established you will then be able to more effectively create your own opinions and observations.
The Story of the Poem
- The metaphor = the grille/the cage (perhaps represents how caged in the father is in relation to his addiction or the barrier that separates Montague and his father)
- The poet describes his father as the ‘least happy man’. His father has spent many years working in the underground in NY. He is said to have had a pale face (‘pallor’), a consequence of his working conditions (lack of sunlight – lack of sunlight represents lack of happiness in his dark world/emotional state ).
- Montague also describes the harsh sounds of the train (linked possibly to memories of his father).
- These years were regarded as the father’s ‘lost years in Brooklyn’, miles and miles apart from his family.
- The poet’s father was a ‘traditional Irishman’. This meant that he lived for the drink and used it to escape his reality. It was only when he reached a drunken condition known as ‘brute oblivion’ was he ever comfortable with himself.
- ‘…picked himself up most mornings and to march down the street extending a smile’ – Montague acknowledges how his father would mask his alcoholism both in the workplace and in the neighbourhood. (Typical Irish? Afraid of judgement?)
- The poet and his father were eventually reunited ‘we walked together across fields of Garvaghey’. It was as though his father had never left him, for a brief moment at least.
- ‘But we did not smile in the shared complicity of a dream’ – the poet here suggests that an awkwardness was present in their relationship – they had become strangers.
- Montague uses an allusion to explain his fathers return and his own departure. He references characters from Homer’s Illiad (Odysseus – who left for ten years before returning home and Telemachus – looks after the family home and assumes the role of the ‘man-of-the-house’ while his father was away). This allusion helps Montague to express how he felt about the return of his father to Ireland and back into his life.
- The poet is reminded of his father whenever he is on the subway. The poet describes his father as ‘ghostly’ – perhaps an acknowledgement to the fact that he is now deceased. He compares him to a memory that comes and goes.
Themes: ‘Hardship and Suffering’, ‘Memory’ and ‘Love’
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