Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.
U.A. Fanthorpe and a Summary of 'Half-Past Two'
'Half-Past Two' is U.A. Fanthorpe's poem on schoolboy misbehaviour, childhood psychology and time, set in a classroom or, as the first line suggests, in a fairy tale 'schooltime.'
The main themes are:
- Childhood perception
- Time and place
- Isolation and escapism
- Relationship to reality
On paper, this free verse poem is a formal looking set of tercets (three-line stanzas), 11 in total, a narrow column. But the reader is taken on a curious syntactical journey involving enjambment and parentheses—alongside compound words and personification.
In addition, the speaker appears in both third and first person, in the opening two stanzas, which enhances the idea of time and place being warped. The narrative seems to be both distant and intimate, and there is a touch of mystery about it near the end.
A late starter (her first book was published when she was close to 50 years of age), Fanthorpe became extremely popular during her lifetime. Her poetry tends to be quiet, compassionate, humorous and reflective but can also become surreal and quirky.
According to Alan Brownjohn and Anthony Thwaite, writing in the Guardian, May 2009, Fanthorpe had in her poetry a knack 'for catching the atmosphere of embarrassing, tense or awkward situations.'
Hers is a very English English poetry: humble, clever, ironic, bursting with something indefinite, full of longing and tongue-in-cheek wisdom of the garden, churchyard and quiet library corner.
In an interview for The Poetry Archive, she stated:
'Poetry is important because it reaches the places that other kinds of writing can't reach. I became aware of this myself when I was working as a receptionist in a hospital, and saw how much the doctors and nurses had to leave out of the queernesses and sadnesses of the patients because they were confined to prose. … Poetry has all the voices—wit, sincerity, pastiche, tragedy, delight, and most importantly it's with us from the start of our lives to the end: at the start of our lives, with lullabies and mothers crooning to babies, at the end of our life, with hymns over a grave.'
'Half-Past Two' was first published in the book Neck Verse, in 1992, from Peterloo Poets.
'Half-Past Two' by U.A. Fanthorpe
Stanza-by-Stanza Analysis of 'Half-Past Two'
The fairy tale opening sets the scene for the reader, suggesting that this will be no ordinary poetic journey. We're in a school of some kind and someone has been naughty—note the capital letters in the second line, reflecting a dark deed or antic of note.
It's third person for the opening two lines and first person for the third line, which seems odd because of the parentheses or brackets. The speaker forgets just what the misdemeanour was.
So it seems that the teacher told the boy to stay in the class-room till half-past two. Again, there is this odd narrative in third person. Could this be someone who was in the class-room when the boy did something very wrong? Another student? A fly on the wall?
Maybe the speaker is the teacher herself and the narrative style is a way of distancing? Or the speaker is this disembodied persona?
Three lines all in parentheses suggest that this stanza is an afterthought of the speaker. The teacher, because she got cross, forgot that the boy did not know about time—she hadn't taught him.
And he didn't remind her for fear of being wicked. So here we have teacher and student both at a loss. They've created a sort of timeless vacuum between them.
Time is here given a capital T, which is curious. Does it relate to the importance of time?
Compound words feature in this stanza—single words joined together, glued as it were, to make a whole new word (with lots of syllables!).
This is where the reader gets to learn of the boy's life schedule, what he is used to. The compound words could almost be spoken words. For example, could his mother or father use Gettinguptime and timeyouwereofftime, both reminders of a school day.
A comma separates these two stanzas. The first line continues with the boy's certain familiarity with categories of time. In this case, it's gran kissing him. These various 'times' are a part of his domestic life and must be strongly imprinted—he knows them well. They are not however related to numbers on a clock. The boy knows nothing of them.
Personification rules this stanza. A clock has a face, two eyes, and two long legs (actually these legs are the hands of the clock that point to the numbers on the face . . . all quite confusing potentially).
The boy has heard of the words clockface, eyes and legs but hasn't a clue about the numbers and telling time. He hasn't learnt the language, 'he couldn't click its language' . . . that word click suggesting the movement of the hands as they tick around the clock.
The boy could do nothing but stay there, waiting, because he had no idea of the time. Note the compound word again onceupona which resonates with the opening line. Only this time, the boy is beyond schooltime, he's out of reach—he's essentially in an alien place, unfamiliar.
The last line of this stanza implies that he is aware of his situation being unusual. That word escape suggests being free of the routine time, free of the familiar clock time.
Stanza seven flows into stanza eight with enjambment (no punctuation at the end of stanza seven) because the two need each other to make sense.
The boy is now aware of things—chrysanthemums (flowers), his loose bit of skin on his nail, the air outside. But his relationship to these is extraordinary—he's forever into them—implying that he is in a completely new and strange timeless zone.
The reader now realises that the speaker is narrator (and not the actual teacher), telling a story, revealing a mini-drama. The teacher rushes back into the classroom where the boy has been in detention and confesses that she had forgot about him.
We're not given the clock time but by telling him that he'll be late both are brought back into real time, schooltime.
The boy returns to his familiartime—note the verb to slot which compliments to click from stanza 6.
These are verbs of action and reflect the mechanistic nature of clock time, the actions of a clock.
The end stanza gives an insight into the boy's mind, of how he escaped into that curious time-free world one afternoon, which must be like living on a desert island, isolated, with no idea of numerical time.
This 'land of ever' is a place where time waits in gestation.
When two or more words begin with the similar sounding consonants, as in stanza 6:
long legs . . . couldn't click
Repetition of lines such as those in stanza 8:
Into the (x3)
A break or pause in a line, caused naturally or by punctuation:
So he waited, beyond onceupona
When a word sounds like the action:
scuttling in . . . tick-less
When a figure of speech which has contradictory words:
- Fanthorpe, Ursula Askham (1929–2009), poet | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- Poetry Foundation
- U. A. Fanthorpe - Literature | British Council
© 2021 Andrew Spacey