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Written by Lina Christoph
“Those boys manacled to freedom”
In the poem the narrator remembers how they, as a child, said goodbye to a crew whose ship set sail. The narrator apparently never saw the crew again, as they can only imagine what happened on those journeys and the boat they sailed away on is described to have just “come home at last” (l.1), more than fifty years after the goodbye (cf. l. 13). The narrator describes both the sailors and the journey they were about to embark on as something to be envied.
In this quote, however, there is a slight contradiction to this perceived positivity, as the sailors are said to be “manacled” (l.12) thus chained to the liberty of travel. This implies that these sailors were either literally chained to the boat (perhaps as an alternative to a prison sentence) or, which is more likely, forced by economic reasons (no other employment opportunities) or their own inner longing for travel and adventure that led them to leave their home never to return again. Given the thoroughly positive attitude of the narrator towards the crew and their journeys, the last alternative seems the most likely as the narrator displays a similar longing and would have gladly joined the crew had it not been for the narrator’s young age.
“Now life has past me by and its such a crime,
Said Mr Ifonly who had run out of time.”
The quote is comprised of the last two lines in a poem about a man close to death who is regretting wasting his life. These lines perfectly summarize the structure, theme and general atmosphere of the poem: Mr Ifonly, true to his name, never did anything in his life, which is now nearing its end, and truly regrets this as he is longing for more time, which he will not receive.
The first line is still part of Mr Ifonly’s inner monologue, whereas the second line is the commentary of the narrator, who frames Mr Ifonly’s thoughts. The narrator’s emotionless distance towards Mr Ifonly is portrayed very clearly here as they react to Mr Ifonly’s mournful exclamation with cold facts.
“But a lesson he never knew he taught
Is with me to this day.”
In the poem the narrator is reflecting about their late geography teacher who had grand travel plans that he never managed to live out. The narrator describes how their teacher spoke very passionately about foreign, exotic places that were full of life and color, different to the school and the place they lived at. Through the teacher’s influence the narrator claims to have learned to love these places as well.
However, even though the teacher longed to visit these places he never did, which is something the narrator states not to understand. The teacher stayed where he was until close to his apparent retirement when he fell ill and potentially died. Witnessing this inspired the narrator to actually live out their travel plans, which is the lesson they are referring to in this quote. While the teacher sought to teach mainly geography and a love for foreign places, what he ultimately taught the narrator with his own life and death as an example was not to waste one’s life but to live out dreams while one still can.
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