Brian Patten: Poems Characters

Brian Patten: Poems Character List

Mr Ifonly

Mr Ifonly is the titular character of a poem about a man, close to death, who regrets wasting his life away with his passivity.His name is already telling of his personality: Mr If-Only spends the poem lamenting what he could have done if only there had been more time or more courage. It is established that his life is nearing its end, that he “ha[s] run out of time” (l. 12) and now the only thing left to him is wondering how his life would have been had he actually followed up on his dreams. His name is also structurally important for the poem, as the phrasing “If only” appears in almost every line.

In essence, Mr Ifonly is characterized only by his inability to act upon his wishes and desires. The reader never learns anything more about him than this and Mr Ifonly, whose inner monologue makes up a significant part of the poem, seems to have no other thoughts than his regret either. The blame for his regret and unhappiness at the end of his life is solely directed at Mr Ifonly himself, which makes him an almost tragic character.

Geography Teacher

The geography teacher is the teacher of the narrator in the poem “Geography Lesson”. Through his tragic example the narrator is inspired to travel, see the world and follow his dreams. The reader never learns his actual name, in fact, in line 18 the narrator specifically states that the teacher’s name has been forgotten and all of his actual teachings (the maps in his classroom) destroyed.

Throughout his life and during his classes, the teacher spoke with great passion of all the exotic places that he wished to visit, frequently telling his students that he would leave one day. However, in his last term (which implies that he was close to retirement) the teacher fell ill with an unspecified sickness (and it is implied that he died) without ever having actually travelled. Why he never travelled is not mentioned, as the narrator wonders about this point as well. There seemed to have been no obvious obstacles apart from the teacher’s own passivity.

The character is ironic in the sense that although he taught geography, he never actually travelled in life but was yet capable of installing a love and longing for different countries and places in at least one student. The narrator however mainly remembers the teacher for the unintentional lesson of following up on one’s dream while one still can.

The Minister For Exams

Though the titular character, the minister of exams is only mentioned and never appears himself in the poem “Minister For Exams”. In the poem, the narrator is claiming that said minister is to blame for the narrator’s unsuccessful life as he used to be a highly imaginative child whose fantasy was crushed by the unimaginative and downright soulless school exams (apparently set up and corrected by the minister) that the narrator kept failing.

However, whether or not the minister of exams even is an actual person is questionable. For one, it seems unlikely that such a position would exist and that the power over all school exams would lie in the hands of a single person. What is more likely is that the narrator who, even though ostensibly an adult, is still displaying a child-like mentality, made the character of the minister up in order to shift the blame of his unsuccessful and unhappy life onto a perceived villain.

In this interpretation, the character of the minister says more about the personality of the narrator and characterizes them as unable to take responsibility for their failing in school and instead taking the easier route of blaming a distant someone.

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