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How Owen Sheers presents coming of age in Border Country

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‘Border Country like other poems in the Skirrid Hill collection, suggests that coming of age is sudden and tragic’ How far, and in what ways, do you agree with this view?

The narrative of Border Country describes the relationship between the two boys one of whom has to make the jump into adulthood before he is prepared. Sheers presents coming of age as sudden and tragic and puts forward the idea that this period is delicate and is something requires time.

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The title of the poem might serve different functions. ‘Border could represent the separation between childhood and adulthood and the division between the two of these worlds. ‘Country’ characterises a new beginning, something completely different and daunting – this is how the speaker’s friend ultimately feels about becoming an adult.

The poem begins in the present tense, showing that the speaker has gone back to a place that seems important to him as he’s looking upon a scene that brings back vivid memories.

He says that ‘nothing marks the car quarry now’, this could mean that that the narrator is claiming that nothing about the place is the same, it isn’t what it used to be in the past. The first image is compared to a ‘graveyard’ with words ‘headstone’ and ‘epitaphs’ also used. This creates a dark and ominous tone which foreshadows the forthcoming events in the poem. The character seems to use a form of personification with ‘wind written epitaphs’, this is giving human-like qualities to an almost inanimate object. He does this to infer that nature has been corrupted by death just like the innocence of the speaker’s friend. The persona also makes a comparison between nature and machinery as he describes the scene as an ‘elephant graveyard of cars’. This links to the idea of how when elephants are old and dying, they go to a quiet place to die alone. This adds to the ominous tone that was presented in the earlier stanza and again foreshadows the events that are to come in the poem.

The stanza puts forward imagery of death, which contributes to the idea of sheers presenting coming of age as disastrous. The speaker then moves to the past in the second stanza as he begins to reminisce. He presents some childish imagery such as ‘gap-toothed’ and ‘playing’. There is juxtaposition between ‘playing’ which represents youthful events and ‘shouldering the kick of your father’s shotgun’ which uses more sinister and destructive imagery that again adds to the idea of Sheers presenting coming of age as disastrous. ‘Playing at war’ contrasts between adulthood and childhood as it shows that there is a big jump between the two worlds, which contributes to Sheers presenting coming of age as something that’s delicate and requires time. In the third stanza the persona compares him and his friend to the ‘buzzards above us, conveying the freedom and carefree nature of childhood. However the comparison could also be negative because buzzards are birds of prey and the ‘buzzards above’ the children are waiting for the moment to scavenge on the remains of the childhood. The use of ‘flint sky’ conveys a grey and ominous tone, possibly foreshadowing forthcoming events in the poem. The character illustrates that the two boys are attempting to become a part of the adult world as they are ‘sat in the drivers’ seats’ and ‘operated on engines’ suggesting that there is a need to be a part of the adult world. In the fourth stanza, the persona describes the colours of the cars as ‘rusting to red’ this is possibly suggesting how the childhood of one the boy is eroding and rusting away. This also presents a vivid imagery of blood and death, which foreshadows the later events in the poem. The character tells us how the boys’ youth comes to an abrupt end and ‘without notice’ as it forced the speaker’s friend through ‘the windscreen of [his] youth’.

This metaphor suggests a very sudden and also quite violent painful ending. The climax of the poem is the death of the boy’s father that was ‘found at dawn’. This is the reason of his childhood been brought to an end also adding to the idea of Sheers presenting coming of age as sudden and tragic. Border Country links to a poem by Owen Sheers called Joseph Jones; this puts forth the idea of lost potential from the character Joseph Jones. In the poem it mentions how the character had ‘a trial once with Cardiff Youth’, this creates the impression that he had an opportunity to do something with his life and possibly move away from being a small town legend and become a figure of importance but instead became lost. Joseph Jones’ story is described as ‘the making of a small town myth’, this infers that his story’s insignificant and his coming of age was tragic because he never became something of importance or meaning. In the fifth stanza of Border Country, the speaker moves back to the present and describes what the car quarry looks like now and how the place has been ‘diminished to steel and stone’ this indicates that the place that meant a lot to him in his childhood is not the same anymore and has lost its meaning There in an enjambment used to go from the fifth stanza to the last stanza, the sense of the last line in the fifth stanza spills into the beginning of the last stanza. The speaker says that he disturbed a buzzard and it flew like a rag ‘shaken out in the wind, before spiralling upwards’, this shows there’s a continuation of expression of the persona’s feelings and shows emphasis on the buzzard.

The final stanza is presented from the point of view of the buzzard as it is ‘spiralling upwards’, the persona adds this to recreate the movement of the buzzard, it’s possible that the buzzard ‘spiralling upwards’ suggests that the damage has been done and there’s nothing left to scavenge from the childhood. The speaker mentions a boy ‘meandered between the hedges… trying once more to find his way home’. This infers that the boy who lost his childhood also seems to have lost his meaning, he moves around without purpose, almost as if he’s trying to make sense of his life. The last stanza also links in with another poem by Owen Sheers called Hedge School, this presents the idea of a boy that is trying to find out who he is and make sense of his life. In the poem the character seems to be coming of age, his isn’t tragic, but confusing. In the poem the character picks up blackberries and doesn’t know what to do with them, doesn’t know whether to hold them ‘or to hoard them’. This conveys a sense of confusion and also presents coming of age as something delicate. When the character is ‘emerging from the hedge and tree tunnel’ this could suggest that coming of age is a journey and that he’s finishing his journey and he’s discovered who he is. In conclusion the poem puts across to the audience that coming of age is necessary but at the same time it can also be very sudden and tragic.

Cite this How Owen Sheers presents coming of age in Border Country

How Owen Sheers presents coming of age in Border Country. (2017, Jan 30). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/how-owen-sheers-presents-coming-of-age-in-border-country/

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