Tony Harrison sets out to equalize a historical and cultural wrong – the success of the establishment in identifying itself with great artists throughout history, who really came from the lower and average classes, and spoke a dialect language. The title “Them and [uz]” symbolises the different social classes, with ‘them’ representing the higher classes, and [uz] represent the people below them. Looking at both sonnets, it is possible to see that both have similar structures.
You can immediately see that Harrison has not used the traditional fourteen line structure for his sonnets, but instead has changed it, creating sixteen line sonnets. I think that he did this because the traditional structure of a sonnet is quite old, and he had decided to modernise it slightly. The first sonnet is made up of rhyming couplets, making it have a speech-like rhythm. The second sonnet begins with six rhyming couplets, but the last quatrain has alternating rhyme. This is quite effective, as half way through; the Volta is turned on, showing the contrast between the past and the present.
Both poems use the same type of language, and Harrison uses a lot of colloquial language in his sonnets, e. g. “uz”. I think that he does this to make his sonnets seem more personal, to show how his accent and language got in the way of him achieving his best at school. In the first sonnet, Harrison talks about his school days. We are told that his teacher put him down because of his accent, and was given the part of the “Drunken Porter” in Macbeth, because of his background. I think that he felt excluded, because the part he was given was “the comic bit”, and would have camouflaged his way of speech.
The teacher however does not seem to know that Keats spoke with a Cockney accent. Later in the sonnet, Harrison shows how Wordsworth spoke with an accent that rhymed “matter” with “water”. In the first line, he uses the name “Demosthenes”. After looking carefully at the word, I noticed that it was an anagram of ‘these demons,’ a rather weird phrase to use in such a context. I think he may have used this because he was being haunted by his past, and how he was tormented at school.
It talks of a tough background, whereas the other sonnet talks more about his growth, and how he got out of that barrier. This growth can be shown between the linguistic changes between the sonnets, as he changes from “Tony” to “Anthony” between the two. In the first sonnet, the teacher is talking about how poetry was the speech of kings. It seems as though Harrison felt as if poetry was a field closed to him due to his accent, however, this is quite ironic because years from then, he has become an excellent poet.
The sonnet is full of puns and wordplay – “chewed up litterchewer”, is a visual and auditory verbal gag, but also records a non-standard common pronunciation of “literature”. In “ending sentences with by, with, from”, Harrison perhaps goes against the rules stated by the Oxford dictionary, forbidding the placing of the preposition at the end of a clause or sentence. This goes back to Tony Harrison using colloquial language to make his writing more personal, as he may have believed that the way in which he spoke was correct, and the way in which other spoke was not.
There is much focus on the last line of the second sonnet, as it is obvious that Harrison has let go of his past and is concentrating on the present and future. I think that Harrison’s sonnets are remarkable in how he is able to capture the reader’s attention with his own style and language. The subjects of his sonnets are different to those I normally read, and I think that the way he managed to put his emotions into words was simply amazing.