Brian Patten: Poems Summary

Brian Patten: Poems Summary

There Is A Boat Down On The Quay

In the poem “There Is A Boat Down On The Quay” the narrator is reminiscent about an old boat that they are watching on the quay.

At first the narrator is describing the boat, focusing on its old appearance and imagines where the small boat has sailed. They then disclose that they remember the boat from their childhood and knew the crew that once sailed on it. Describing the moment the boat set sail in great detail, the narrator wonders what the crew experienced on their journeys and remembers desperately wanting to be a part of it.

The narrator at this point is well over fifty years old, as they recall watching the boat leave the harbor “over half a century ago” (l. 13) when the narrator was a child. Yet this situation left a lasting impression on them as they can still remember their feelings from this moment and state how this memory has accompanied them throughout their life.

Mr Ifonly

The poem “Mr Ifonly” portrays the inner monologue of the titular character as he expresses regret about his passiveness in life.

He repeats how he should have made use of his potential or followed his dreams and expresses a wish for more time and more courage.

However, the last lines of the poem reveal that Mr Ifonly has “run out of time” (l12), implying that he is either very old or very sick, but in either case close to death and now has to come to terms with the fact that he wasted his life away.

Mr Ifonly’s inner thoughts are framed by a narrator who sets the mood and describes Mr Ifonly's state of mind.

Geography Lesson

In the poem “Geography Lesson” the narrator remembers his old Geography teacher and the influence he had on the narrator’s life.

They describe how their teacher would passionately speak about foreign, colorful places that he dreamed of visiting, leaving his own colorless home and job behind. However, close to his apparent retirement, the teacher got ill (and presumably died) and never got to follow up on his travel plans.

The narrator admits to never having understood his teacher’s passiveness, but states how his sad example led them to visit all those places the teacher never could, in fear of a similar fate.

Party Piece

The poem “Party Piece” describes the brief sexual encounter of a man and a woman at a party.

The first two stanzas are the direct speech of the man as he tries to convince the woman to sleep with him. He sets the scene, remarking how the party they are both attending has peaked and most guests have left or are about to leave, as morning is approaching. He urges the woman to let go of thoughts and simply enjoy a passionate encounter.

The last stanza describes how the woman was convinced by his speech, slept with him and how they left separately afterwards, apparently never to see each other again.

Minister For Exams

In the poem “Minister For Exams” the narrator remembers being at school, taking a test they describe as “so simple [t]here was no way I could fail” (l. 2-3).

The narrator recalls several very abstract questions of said test and how they answered all of them in a very creative and imaginative way.

However, in the last three stanzas the narrator comes back to present day and confesses how they kept failing exams (presumably including the one described in the poem) and how this has led them to lead a very unsuccessful life of menial jobs.

In the last stanza the narrator poses the question of why they failed their exams to the reader, although they immediately answer it and put the blame on a Minister for exams who didn’t understand or reward a child’s fantasy.

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