‘Glasgow Sonnets (i)’
Edwin Morgan
Context
The Gorbals is a district in the south side of Glasgow. One of the oldest
settlements in the city, it grew on the south bank of the Clyde across from the
city centre. This led to a mish-mash of unplanned housing which soon
descended into slums.
In the 19th century, the Victorians tried to resolve this problem by building a
tenement community that contained pubs, shops and schools. However, the
population of the Gorbals grew to around 60,000 which caused unprecedented
overcrowding and the area once again descended into a slum.
The problem was first addressed by Glasgow City Council as early as 1919 in a
Royal Commission. The area was referred to as Hell's Hundred Acres in several
newspapers and contributed greatly to the city's grimy No Mean City image
with its extraordinary socio-economic problems.
Context
In the aftermath of World War 2, the Gorbals was the first district in Glasgow
to be granted Comprehensive Development Area status. This would mean that
the tenements would be completely demolished and new housing experiments
built on the cleared land. It was the largest project of its kind in the UK and
construction began in 1958 and ended in 1975.
Morgan wrote the poem ‘Glasgow Sonnet (i)’, which describes a decrepit
tenement block, in 1972.
So, what was life like in these tenements before they were demolished?
Photos from urbanglasgow.co.uk
The back-court behind the tenements on the west side of Crown Street, Glasgow 1973
46-50 Abbotsford Place, December
1975.
It was probably not formally
occupied at this late date - were
they squatters at the top floor
window? or urban explorers?
McKinlay St and Turriff St. Elgin St U F Church. September 1973
Gorbals Street, November 1973
Albion Place. The Gorbals December 1973
Oxford St, north side between Bridge St and S. Portland St. Tenement dated
from around 1815. November 1973
Herbertson St, or what remained of it. April 1973
1975 – new high-rise being built in the background and semi-demolished
tenements in the foreground.
The building of Queen Elizabeth high rise plus the old buildings in Lawmoor St, Mathieson St and
Cumberland St.
Abbotsford Place, east side.
July 1973
Abbotsford Place, more than anywhere else in the Gorbals, anywhere else in the city,
had an air of faded grandeur. It was a ruined, down-and-out aristocrat of a street. Built,
without uniformity but harmoniously enough, between 1820 and 1830, it was to be a
douce New Town for professional people, just a step across the river from the city. The
width of the street was generous, each flat had an interior wc and a bath, which was an
exceptional luxury in these days, and generally five spacious apartments, the dining
room around 22ft by 16ft.
For 30 or 40 years it was a ’good’ address, but the coming of the railway gave the middle
classes the freedom to move further afield, to leafy suburbs far from the city slums, and
the decline of Abbotsford Place (and Cumberland St and Nicholson St and others) was
rapid. The size of the flats meant they were highly suitable for multiple occupancy, and
successive waves of immigrants, Irish, eastern European Jews, Italians, and more
recently Asians found in them a foothold on the property ladder.
These tenements were soundly built, and could have been refurbished. The lack of
imagination which led to their removal was shameful.
urbanglasgow.co.uk
Interior of miner's tenement
Photograph: E. Smith (1954)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library
Photographs Collection
This interior of a Glasgow tenement (1954).
The architectural elements of this room are hardly
distinguished. The walls, unadorned by pictures,
are decorated only by distress: spreading cracks
and patches of damp can easily be spotted.
Ramshackle shutters keep some of the light and
cold out from this miserable room. The only
distinguished feature is the fireplace, the lit fire
enjoyed by the cat. The rest is mean, the flooring
and furniture tired.
http://www.architecture.com/howwebuiltbritain/historicalperio
ds/scottish/housing1600-2000/interiorofminerstenement.aspx
If you want to find out more about life in the Gorbals at
the time that the poem was written, click on the
following links:
Short film about The Gorbals 1930-2011
BBC - Glasgow - Nana's memories of tenement life
Glasgow in the 1970s - Last days of the Old Gorbals
The tenement slums were demolished and replaced by new high rise homes
that were intended to provide satisfactory, cheap housing on the south bank
of the Clyde.
The daring initiative was the largest project of its kind in the United Kingdom.
At the heart of these plans were to be spectacular towers designed by
acclaimed architect Basil Spence.
However, the areas surrounding these tower blocks lacked basic amenities,
and they were poorly designed and cheaply built. As demonstrated elsewhere
in the UK, such buildings gradually deteriorated, attracting crime and fostering
a reputation for being undesirable low cost housing.
Built
in the
1960s
Built in
the
1900s
the last
remaining
tenement
in the
Gorbals
‘High-rise’ buildings like these replaced tenement blocks in the 1960s / 70s.
Although a daring and unprecedented 'adventure' into social housing, the
regeneration of the Gorbals in the form of new high-rise buildings proved to be
unsuccessful in the long term.
Queen Elizabeth Square is one of the most famous high rise experiments in the
history of British housing projects. Located in Hutchesontown in Glasgow's
notorious Gorbals, it was meant to be the flagship for an exciting new dawn.
QES under
construction
In 1984, the flats were found to be asbestos ridden and had to be stripped of the
dangerous panels of asbestos over the next year. The problems for QES were to get
worse.
In 1987, all the flats were evacuated after being flooded.
Glasgow District Council spent £2m over the following 2 years on new lifts, new
pitched roofs and a concierge station in an effort to cut crime which was rising to
uncontrollable levels as problems in the Gorbals increased. Brutal rapes, assaults and
muggings were becoming all to common in the damp dark corridors.
These measures were to prove futile as QES was once again flooded in 1989. Many
residents had had enough and opted to be rehoused rather than face returning to
their homes.
This ‘flagship’ housing turned out, once again, to be an icon for poverty and
deprivation.
http://ukhousing.wikia.com/wiki/Queen_Elizabeth_Square
Many of these high-rises have been demolished in recent years to be replaced by better planned,
lower density housing with better amenities. It is generally accepted that the original tenements,
like the one described in the poem, should have been renovated rather than destroyed.
‘Glasgow Sonnet (i)’
Edwin Morgan
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
First of all, we are going to look at the form
and structure of the poem.
This poem is written in the form of a SONNET.
The sonnet is a poetic form with a particular STRUCTURE.
Although there are different forms of sonnets, they all have 14 LINES.
This is a PETRARCHAN Sonnet, originally created by the Italian, Francesco
Petrarch in the 14th Century.
In Petrarchan sonnets:
The first 8 lines are known as the OCTET. The octet has the rhyme scheme
ABBA ABBA
The last 6 lines are known as the SESTET. The sestet has the rhyme scheme
CDCDCD
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
5
10
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
A
B
B
A
A
B
B
A
C
D
C
D
C
D
The rhyming
scheme does not
create a rhythm
due to the mixture
of run on lines
(enjambment) and
end stopped lines
in the poem.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
5
10
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
A
B
B
What is the effect of
the use of regular
rhyme in the poem?
A
A
B
B
A
C
D
C
D
C
D
The poet uses rhyme to
make a point about
poverty.
It will never change.
Those who experience
it are stuck.
In Petrarchan sonnets:
The OCTET presents a PROBLEM –
this is a series of statements that make us think about a CERTAIN TRUTH.
The VOLTA – the beginning of the sestet – marks a CHANGE IN TONE.
The SESTET– makes a COMMENT ON THE PROBLEM.
There are 10 syllables in each line (but in this poem it is not regularly iambic
pentameter, which means 1 stressed + 1 unstressed syllable x 5)
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
The OCTET presents a
PROBLEM – this is a
series of statements
that make us think
about a CERTAIN
TRUTH.
What is this
problem?
The VOLTA – the beginning
of the sestet – marks a
CHANGE IN TONE.
The SESTET– makes a
COMMENT ON THE
PROBLEM.
What comment
is Morgan
making?
What other division is there between the Octet and the
Sestet?
Think about the subject matter of each one.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
The first quatrain
(lines 1-4) describe
the backcourt.
The second
quatrain (lines 5-8)
describe the
building.
1st 3 lines of the
sestet (end stopped)
describe the flat.
2nd three lines of
the sestet (run on)
describe the man.
The OCTET
describes the
OUTSIDE
VIEW.
The SESTET
describes the
INSIDE VIEW.
Why does Morgan use the sonnet form for this poem?
• We usually think of sonnets as having a beautiful form, and they are
normally associated with the subject of love.
• However, Morgan has chosen to use this form in order to create a
stark contrast between what we expect in a sonnet, and what can be
seen as the extremely shocking content of this sonnet about poverty.
• This has the effect of forcefully emphasising the poem’s content.
Now we are going to look at the use of literary
techniques in the poem.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
Word Choice
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Description of the tenement itself
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
Words associated with decay
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
Words associated with rubbish
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
Description of the tenants
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
Words associated with disease
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
You need to think about the CONNOTATIONS of
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
each word/phrase , but overall the word choice is
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
very negative , suggesting THEMES such as
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
neglect, poverty, ill health and decay.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Personification
What is the effect of the
personification in the poem?
It is used to dramatise the
setting , creating a mood of
THREAT (‘mean wind’,
‘hackles rise’ etc) or DESPAIR
(‘puff briefly’, ‘whimpers’ etc)
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Metaphor
What is the effect of the
metaphor used in the poem?
The images suggest decay
spreading , adding to the
sense of threat.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Sound Techniques
Sound techniques
emphasise the words /
ideas they are attached
to.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Sound Techniques
Alliteration
What is the effect of
alliteration in the poem?
The soft ‘w’ highlights the
aimlessness of the wind.
The plosive ‘b’ highlights the
harsh, sinister description of
the block of flats and its
surroundings.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Sound Techniques
Onomatopoeia
What is the effect of
onomatopoeia in the poem?
It dramatises the sounds.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Sound Techniques
Assonance
What is the effect of
assonance in the poem?
‘Roses of mould grow’ suggests mould spreading
‘too poor to rob’ highlights poverty
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Sound Techniques
End rhyme
What is the effect of the use
of end rhyme in the poem?
It emphasises decay and
destruction.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Enjambment
One line runs on to the next
with no end punctuation.
What is the effect of
enjambment in the poem?
It creates the sense of
more and more signs of
decay building up.
Analysis
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
The opening line establishes the
THEMES of poverty, decay and
hopelessness.
The wind is described as ‘mean’
rather than simply ‘cold’.
Personification is used to refer to the
wind as if it were a cruel / unkind /
unwelcome person seeking out
people to torment.
This emphasises how hostile the
environment is and contributes to the
unpleasant atmosphere of the poem.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
Personification: as with the air, the
puddles are given a personality. In
this case they are angry / aggressive.
The description ‘hackles on puddles
rise’ suggests that the ripples in the
puddles caused by the wind look like
the hairs standing up on an animal’s
neck when it is angry.
This suggests violence and danger.
The setting is wholly unwelcoming
and even intimidating.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
Personification is used again.
The mattresses are worn out /
finished.
They appear to take their last breath
before giving in. They are trash:
discarded.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
The ‘trash’ of the opening line is explored.
The landscape is punctuated with a
jumble of rubbish.
Imagery: The piles of bricks and old
rubbish (‘bric-a-brac’) are described as
‘play-fortresses’.
This suggests that the children’s games
are connected to violence and
aggression, possibly suggesting the
beginnings of gang warfare.
This implies that the people on the estate
are under siege.
Alliteration: The harsh sounds of ‘brick’
and ‘bric-a-brac’ reflect the violence they
are used for.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
Word choice: ‘smash’, ‘ash’, ‘trash’ and
‘crash’ all rhyme and relate to one
another.
They all have connotations of
destruction and decay.
Together they represent something
that is broken.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
Word choice: “buttresses” is the
first instance of something
supportive / strong in the poem.
(A buttress is a structure of stone or
brick built against a wall to
strengthen or support it.)
The women of the next line appear
as something standing despite the
decay.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
The poet describes the mother and
daughter who live on the fifth floor
as ‘the last mistresses’ of the
tenement. This has connotations of
castles, chivalry, security.
This suggests the poet’s admiration,
respect, sympathy and concern for
the women.
Structure: the mother and daughter
appear in the middle of the poem
and are surrounded by decay in the
poem, as they are in life.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
The poet uses sound effects and
word choice to help to create a
particularly bleak impression in this
line.
Sound:
• alliteration of ‘bl’ and ‘ck / c’ harsh sounds are bleak and
contribute to the tough /
unforgiving picture.
• assonance – repeated ‘a’ sound is
gloomy.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
Word choice: ‘Condemned’ and
‘block’ have connotations of
execution.
‘Condemned to stand’ – oxymoron
suggesting that the block is
sentenced to the protracted agony
of a living death, rather than a
merciful end by execution /
demolition.
For the ‘block’ the fact that it
remains is seen as a negative
situation: it would be better just to
fall, to give in.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
Structure & Imagery: after the brief,
hopeful idea of something holding out
against the decay, the volta (turn) of
the sonnet, returns to pessimistic
hopelessness.
Those who remain are surrounded by
creeping decay and vermin.
The observer sees that their eventual
destruction in inevitable.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
Ambiguity: The ‘cracks’ are
ambiguous.
They are both literal – cracks in the
building – and metaphorical – cracks
in society.
The ‘rats’ could also be both real and
metaphorical (representing social
problems / disease / poverty).
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
Personification & Onomatopoeia:
‘Whimpers’ suggests a person or animal
crying out in pain, contrasting with the
angry and aggressive personalities given
to the air and the puddle.
The use of the word ‘whimpers’ helps to
contribute to the description of the
room and its occupants; it suggests that
the kettle is expressing the misery of the
room’s occupants.
This adds to the dreary, pathetic
impression of the room and emphasises
the vulnerable / sad condition of the
occupants, suggesting hopelessness /
helplessness.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
Imagery & Juxtaposition: Roses
represent life and are considered
beautiful.
This image creates a juxtaposition /
contrast between beauty and decay.
The fact that they are ‘roses of
mould’ highlights the absence of
anything positive / pleasant.
‘Mould’ obviously shows the decay
that is present.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
Imagery: The poem ends by focusing
on one man in bed who seems to
resemble his surroundings:
• ‘coughs fall thinly’ - the man is
weak and decrepit, like the
crumbling building he lives in.
• He is out of work / is not being
used , therefore is poor like the
building.
• He seems depressed / is of no
value , like the building.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
Alliteration: ‘lies late…lost’ - draws
attention to his sadness and lack of
purpose.
The picture we are given of the man is
one of hopelessness / lifelessness.
The man has ‘fallen’ as he no longer
stands against the decay.
From Glasgow Sonnets (i)
A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.
Analysis
Personification: the air itself
becomes something pathetic /
destitute.
The speaker’s observation concludes
that the scene is indeed one of utter
poverty, hopelessness and decay.
Enjambment of this last line (‘coughs
fall / thinly into an air too poor to
rob.’) suggests continuity of
situation.
Tone
– the voice of the poet
Bleak
Sombre
Despairing
Themes
- Poverty and the effect it has on the psyche of those
who experience it:
• Deprivation
• Hopelessness
• Isolation
• Alienation
• Urban decay
• Slum life
Imagery and figures of speech in the poem support these themes:
harsh alliteration, personification, onomatopoeia, symbolism,
connotations, paradox.
Mood / Theme
• Pessimistic - sense of hopelessness created through effective imagery /
language.
• The tone is sympathetic – the harsh details reflect the harsh realities of life
for the poor.
• Social comment – he is showing us the REAL Glasgow. It is not the
sentimental, romantic, ‘poetic’ city of culture. He is showing us the irony of
the unseen reality.
• The poem was written to highlight social problems. It is a political critique of
an uncaring system / policies.
• The man has no name: he is anonymous, sub-human, invisible and does not
count. He is symbolic, he could be anyone, he represents ‘everyman’.
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`Glasgow Sonnets (i)` Edwin Morgan