‘Peckham Rye Lane’ by Amy Blakemore is a twenty-five line poem that is separated in stanzas of various lengths, many of which are only one or two lines, or one or two words. There is no structured rhyme scheme to the text but there are moments of rhyme scattered throughout the poem, these include half and full rhymes.
For example, lines two and three rhyme fully with the words ‘desperation” and “perspiration.” This kind of rhyme can be compared to that which exists between “Primark” and “pink” in the seventh and eighth lines. This is known as a half or slant rhyme, and due to the correspondence between the consonant sounds, it is also an example of consonance.
There is another example of this kind of rhyme towards the end of the text, this one is particularly impactful as occurs as the images trail off. It exists between “Blake” and “radiate.” These words are connected due to their vowel sounds, therefore this pairing is an example of assonance.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that she is on a bus riding down “Peckham Rye Lane” in London. It is an especially hot day and everyone is sweating. When she looks outside the bus she can see into a Primark store. Blakemore uses an extended comparison to the sea to describe the “flaccid” underwear and the way it is displayed on a rack.
Outside the window, she can also see a variety of different people. She takes a special interest in different hairstyles and mobile phones. There is a poignant moment in which the bus stops in front of a KFC and she can see the screaming children inside. The poem ends on a more peaceful image, that of angels in the trees above the street. They, like the angels Blake claimed to see throughout his life, are gazing down on the scene.
You can read the full poem here.
Rhythm and Structure
In regards to meter, there is also no single pattern that unites the lines. In fact, the lines vary greatly in length. Some stretch out to nine or ten words, while others are only one or two. This variation gives the poem a rhythmic interest, as well as a visual interest on the page. Another aspect that a reader should take note of is the way that the lines are organized.
They come in bursts, some shorter, some longer. It is likely that Blakemore organized them this way in order to mimic the start and stop of the bus. She has just a few moments to take note of things she sees before the bus moves on. This becomes especially important in the last parts of the text in which the lines and stanzas get shorter and shorter and the subject matter becomes more ephemeral.
Analysis of Peckham Rye Lane
The sun, today –
it leaks desperation,
I take the bus – through Peckham.
In the first lines of ‘Peckham Rye Lane’ the speaker, who is very likely Blakemore herself, begins by giving important details about the setting. She is in “Peckham,” a district of South London in England. The weather is hot and sunny and everyone is sweating. She personifies the sun by saying it is leaking “desperation.” This influences the overall tone of the poem, there is something oppressive and “crammed” about the scene.
The perspiration that gathers on everyone’s face and neck is compared to “Gunmetal.” This could refer to how hot the day is, or perhaps the general sheen is comparable to the shine of gunmetal. The speaker is on the bus, and the next lines describe some of the things she sees as she travels down the lane.
Knickers lie flaccid
Peckham Rye lane is tight
as damp and crammed as a coconut shell
One of the first stores she comes across is “Primark.” This is a low-cost clothing store located throughout Europe and North America. It would not have been an uncommon sight for the speaker. When she looks inside she can see the underwear sitting on various tables.
They appear “flaccid,” as if they’ve been deflated. She goes on in the eighth line to use a simile, comparing them to “salted jellyfish.” They come in all sorts of colors and the two most prominent are “tentacle pink,” a connection back to the jellyfish simile, and “grandmother mauve.” There is an age range that she sees within their designs.
The connection to the sea continues as she describes them as “briny.” They are stacked, like fish for sale on “racks of rainbow,” each priced at “£2.” The speaker brings in images of the sea, or at least the seaside, again in the next lines.
The whole lane feels “tight” to her as if the sides are pressing in. The sun and the number of stores and people contribute to this feeling. She uses another simile to compare it to “a coconut shell.” It is as if everyone is stuck inside something confining, but rather than a shell, it is the sides of the street and the towering buildings.
afro combs and mobile phones in the white heat –
punctuated cornrows and seed beads,
children, plaid-dressed children,
wailing, clutching drumsticks like weapons.
The next lines are lists of other items and kinds of people that stick out to the speaker as she rides the bus down the lane. They come one after another, without being properly formatted within a sentence. Because there are few instances of end-line punctuation, the feeling of oppressive is stronger. The lines and images they contain focus heavily on the people around her.
She can see “afro combs” in people’s hair and “mobile phones in the white heat” of the day. There are a number of different hairstyles she takes note of, including what she refers to as “punctuated cornrow” and “liquorice weaves.”
In the next three lines, she takes note of the children inside KFC. They are dressed in “plaid” and some are “wailing, clutching drumsticks like weapons.” These scenes are very ordinary, but still important enough for Blakemore to take note of. She sees them as representing the larger ecosystem.
the pavement is a gruesome meat,
The last lines of ‘Peckham Rye Lane’ are even more poignant than those which came before. She compares the people walking on the sidewalk to “sturdy hairbrush bristle[s].” They are walking on what seems to her to be “a gruesome meat,” as if the whole lane is, or was, a living thing.
In the final four lines, the tone changes. This contributes to an overall balance of the ordinary, strange, oppressive, and light in the text. She speaks on the few treetops in the area as holding William Blake’s angels. They gaze down on the crowds and “radiate / comfort.” This is a reference to Blake’s personal life and his consistent claims that he saw angels.
Blakemore ends the poem on a more optimistic note, alluding to the fact that everything is not in the same chaotic state. There is something peaceful to the scene as well, and Blakemore represents that peace through the image of angels.