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In their use of a storytelling narrative both ‘The Lammas Hireling’ and ‘Giuseppe’ explore the concept of mythology, its corruptive ability in those it indoctrinates, and the way in which it can be exploited to veil and justify immoral actions. The poems also offer a sustained ‘myth’ alongside this folklore - that of religion, and in doing so offer a critique as to convey the similarities to the myth that has died out and that which has been preserved.
Both poems incorporate mythology – the speaker in the ‘Lammas Hireling’ speaks of a “warlock” (i.e. a male sorcerer), and ‘Giuseppe’ involves a “mermaid”, a hybrid of both fish and human. The two poems explore how the presence of such mythology within a storytelling narrative distorts the way in which immoral actions are seen. In ‘Giuseppe’, we are given an image of barbarity, that of “[the mermaid] butchered on the dry and dusty ground”. However, this harrowing image is justified by the speaker in that the “doctor said the [golden roe] was proof she was just a fish” despite her screams being “like a woman[‘s]”. This, alongside the fact that this story stems from “World War Two”, calls to mind the way in which Jews were depicted as cockroaches by higher authority as a way to veil their genocide as more humane and less barbaric. Thus, the poem, in displaying such parallels, appears to suggest that morality is not subject to manipulation just by means of mythology, but also that of false-truths enforced by higher authority.
A similar notion is found in ‘Lammas Hireling’. However, this manipulation comes not from authority, but a conjunction between indoctrination and a deteriorating psyche. Duhig presents a similar menacing image, that of the “[hireling] stark-naked but for the fox-trap biting his ankle” with a bullet “[blown] through his heart”. However, the certainty with which the storyteller declares the hireling as something unhuman (evident in the use of the auxiliary verb ‘knew’ within the declarative “I knew him a warlock”) is similar to ‘Giuseppe’ in that it distorts the immorality of such brutality into something just; as the mermaid’s slaughter is justified in that it was “just a fish”, so too is that of the hireling being a warlock. Due to ‘Lammas Hireling’ being a dramatic monologue, the reality we are given is that of the storyteller’s, and thus the accuracy of events comes into question when it is revealed that he is “disturbed from dreams” which led him towards the “pale form”. The ambiguity of this event occurring within reality or fantasy (his dream), and the way in which the speaker fails to distinguish the two, reflects the way in which those indoctrinated by a myth or idea see reality through its lens, and how, as is the case in the poem, this can lead to the manipulation of their reality itself, causing immoral actions to seem justified in their eyes. This indoctrination is reflected in the irregular metre, caesura and enjambment within a strict structure of 6-lined stanzas; the speaker believing their actions to be just (structured appropriately), and yet the fabric of their reality has been disjointed.
Image Credits: AS English Blog