Casehistory : Alison (head injury). Read the poem. Things you should know. Autocratic = an autocrat is someone who is a dictator and who rules by his own power. An autocratic knee means that before her head injury she could control her physical movements. Things you should know.
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The title and subheading are vital for the reader to understand what is happening
(She looks at her photograph)
By looking at the photograph we can see that Alison’s memory has been affected.
She can’t remember the person she used to be
Alison is talking about herself. The use of the third person makes it clear to us that she is different to how she was
I would like to have known
My husband’s wife, my mother’s only daughter.
A bright girl she was.
‘was’ in the last line sounds awkward. This is so that we recognise that Alison is struggling to remember the past and her own identity.
In the present, Alison is fat. In the past, it is clear in this stanza that she was dainty and that her joints did what she wanted. The mention of the autocratic knee suggests that Alison is not in control of her body
Enmeshed in comforting
Fat, I wonder at her delicate angles.
Her autocratic knee
Simile to compare the way she looks now to before
Like a Degas dancer’s
Adjusts to the observer with airy poise,
That now lugs me upstairs
Now that she has put on weight, her knee struggles to get her upstairs
The word hardly is delayed with enjambment until this stanza. This shows how her injury has affected her thought process too
Hardly. Her face, broken
By nothing sharper than smiles, holds in its smiles
What I have forgotten.
Alison has forgotten why she is smiling and has forgotten everything else too.
Alison talks about her father’s death. It seems to have happened before her own injury because she detects in the smile in the photograph a sense that she had ‘digested mourning’, or got used to the sadness she felt
She knows my father’s dead,
And grieves for it, and smiles. She has digested
Mourning. Her smile shows it.
The speaker needs reminding every morning who she is and what has happened to her
I, who need reminding
Every morning, shall never get over what
I do not remember.
She will never get over – or be healed from her accident – which she can’t remember
This could suggest that she has to live a heavily structured life now because she can no longer think for herself
I should like to keep faith with her lack of faith,
But forget her reasons.
Faith is a word we associate with religion. This seems to suggest that Alison’s younger self did not believe in God. This is appropriate as this kind of injury is what forces us to question our belief in God.
Alison says she would like to have faith with her younger self’s lack of faith but can’t say why because she can’t remember what she lacked faith in when she was younger
The speaker is clearly aware of her former talent as she discusses her achievements before the accident and that she had a future to look forward to.
Proud of this younger self,
I assert her achievements, her A levels,
Her job with a future.
The future Alison looked forward to
This stanza is ironic because the one thing the speaker does know is that her former self will have to live with a head injury.
Poor clever girl! I know,
For all my damaged brain, something she doesn’t:
I am her future.
The future she now has
She will remain trapped like this forever.
The last line stands isolated at the end of the poem like Alison is isolated from life by her brain damage
A bright girl she was.