To what extent does the structure, language and form of ‘The Swing’ by Don Paterson explore his ideas about guilt within the context of his collection, Rain?
Don Paterson has described his 2009 collection, Rain, as ‘wall-to-wall death and divorce’. Rain is written in response to the death of his friend, Michael Donaghy, and the collection has an elegiac tone with guilt as its major theme. An analysis of Rain gives an understanding of Paterson’s feelings about peoples’ response to guilt. Such a reading is usefully applied when considering the poem ‘The Swing’. Paterson begins by describing the construction of a swing for his twins before using the toy as a metaphor to describe his guilt ...view middle of the document...
His guilt arises from his inability to avert the dark, melancholic events.
Paterson uses the idiom ‘here-and-here to stay’ which allows him to avoid the self-examination involved in writing an original phrase, and delay coming to terms with the true extent of the situation. This is developed when he refers to the child as ‘it’ to dissociate it from the same status as himself. By creating this psychological distance, he can justify the choice of terminating life. The concept of abortion is explained when Paterson uses the metaphorical conceit of a ‘radar-arc’ to allude to the circle of life, which is incomplete due to the child’s potential for life being denied.
The alternate line rhyme mimics the motion of the swing. Some of these are half-rhymes such as ‘here’ and ‘hour’ which reveals his unresolved guilt through dissonance. Paterson also employs half-rhymes in his poem ‘Two Trees’, where ‘up’ and ‘crop’ show how Donaghy’s death has left him incomplete, without ‘the other’s empty, intricate embrace’. Half-rhyme suggests the sense of unrest that Paterson feels as he is plagued by survivor guilt. This conflict within the subjective poetic persona and swinging motion is also shown through the iambic tetrameter. Again, this is used in his poem ‘Rain’ to phonologically mimic raindrops. However, in ‘The Swing’ there is metrical variation such as the anapaest in the second line, ‘for the-here’. This metrical disturbance conveys a sense of fragmentation in the poet’s persona as he is troubled by feelings of guilt.
The reader is asked to empathise with Paterson’s troubling position through the use of the simile ‘like a rope over a stream’, where the rope symbolises life as a line that is inherently perilous and fragile. This reflects his unstable mental health caused by his feelings of guilt.
Although Paterson is atheist, he makes a religious allusion in the phrase ‘before we sent it home’. Here the noun ‘home’ represents the place where the child will go after death. Some people rely on religion to assure themselves that God will forgive them and relieve them of their guilt. Therefore it could be interpreted as a metaphor for heaven. Paterson uses this same word in ‘The Circle’ where ‘one inch from home’ refers to ‘home’ as the land of the living rather than the afterlife.
This reassurance is reinforced when he uses sibilance in ‘so solemnly’ to create a phonologically soothing lullaby as if calming a crying baby. People often do things to console others in times of need, but take as much comfort from the actions themselves. Equally, people have a tendency to release their...