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Forgive My Guilt - Literature Notes
Please note that the information given on this poem is not meant to replace any material given in the classroom setting. It is a very BASIC giude to enable a literal understanding of the poem. Metaphorical interpretations should be sought in the classroom.
The physical structure of this poem has been altered from the original layout in the text.
Not always sure what things called sins may be, I am sure of one sin I have done.
It was years ago, and I was a boy,
I lay in the 1.frost flowers with a gun,
2.the air ran blue as the flowers; I held my breath, 2.two birds on golden legs slim as dream things 2.ran like quick silver on the 1.golden sand, my gun went off, they ran with broken wings into the sea, I ran to fetch them in, but they swam with their heads high out to sea, They cried like two sorrowful high flutes,
With 1.jagged ivory bones where wings should be. For days I heard them when I walked that headland, crying out to their kind 4.in the blue, The other plovers were going over south on silver wings leaving these broken two. The cries went out one day; but I still hear them over all the sounds of sorrow 5.in war or peace I ever have heard, time cannot 6.drown them, 1.Those slender flutes of sorrow never cease, 3.Two airy things forever denied the air! I never knew how their lives at last were split, but I have hoped for years all that is wild,
Airy, and beautiful will forgive my guilt.
Coffin, R.P.T. 'Forgive My Guilt' in A World of Prose. Edited by Mark McWatt and Hazel Simmonds McDonald. Pearson Education Ltd, 2005.
This is the OPINION of one individual, which might not coincide with the views of others.
An adult is reminiscing about a traumatic childhood experience. The persona went hunting and shot two birds, plovers. He suffers extreme guilt about this action in adulthood. The poem describes the event, the actions of the bird, how he reacts, and, by the last line, asks the birds to forgive his guilt.
- Line 8: The sand is being compared to gold, the colour. It is emphasizing how beautiful the setting was.
- Line 12: This metaphor emphasizes the injuries that the birds sustained. The bones are compared to jagged ivory, which is a direct contrast to the smooth feathers that existed before the injury.
- Lines 20-21: The birds are compared to a flute, an instrument that plays beautiful music. This emphasizes the sadness that is related to their death.
- Line 5: The air and the flowers are being compared, both are blue.
- Lines 6-7: This simile offers a beautiful visual image of the birds. Dreams are beautiful, and the birds are compared to this.
- Line 7: The speed of the birds is being highlighted, while also maintaining that beautiful visual imagery.
The pun is between the words 'airy' and 'air'. 'Airy' means light and beautiful, while 'air' refers to the sky and flying. The poet is lamenting that these light and beautiful things can no longer fly and feel the pleasure of air rushing past them.
IMPORTANT WORDS/ PHRASES
4. 'the blue'
This literally translates to the sky. The birds were crying out to the other birds that were flying away.
5. 'in war or peace'
This phrase highlights the fact that the persona feels extremely guilty about killing the birds, so much so that he thinks about it all the time. Their cries went out for literally one day, but he thinks about the birds all the time.
It is important that the poet chooses to use the word drown, because it means death. He cannot get rid of the sounds of sorrow that the birds made while they were dying.
The mood of the poem is nostalgia and guilt.
The tone of the poem is sad. The poet's response to his guilt is sadness.
Death, childhood experiences, nature, guilt, loss of innocence, desire/dreams.
Contributor: Leisa Samuels-Thomas