Whilst Brothers is laden with nostalgia it does evoke sadness at the emotional distancing between the narrator and his sibling. The poem is effectively in three parts, represented by the three different stanzas. The first stanza describes what is going on and about how the narrator has been stuck looking after his brother. The second talks about the action that put a scupper on that day, as in brother losing his bus fare money and the final stanza talks about running to catch the bus and ends with the distancing between the two brothers. Whether or not this is purely a physical or an emotional distance is almost certainly left deliberately ambiguous.
Form and Tone
The poem, Brothers, is very reflective and can invoke a sort of nostalgia for memories of spending time with siblings and childhood relationships. In some ways the poem has an underlying sadness as it details the degradation of these siblings relationship with one another. Brothers is presented in three stanzas of varying length. The first and second are five lines long and the last stanza is four lines long. This may be for effect. There is no discernible rhyming pattern used in Brothers, although rhyme is used in the first stanza once again this is probably for effect.
You can read the full poem of Brothers here.
One can see from the tone of the narrator that he clearly isn’t happy about having to look after his brother, referring to himself as being “saddled” with him. It’s also clear that the narrator is addressing their brother in this stanza (So as the reader you take on this role). The football references are interesting here and give the poem a feel of locale. They also point to the poem being at least partially autobiographic as Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham are both Yorkshire teams. Yorkshire is Forster’s home county. The first stanza is quite obviously told in a manner that highlights how the narrator is irked by their brother. He calls his dress sense “ridiculous” this dates the poem somewhat as tank tops are no longer really fashionable. The narrator also disparages his brother’s views on football.
This entire stanza of Brothers really creates an image of a brother that isn’t best pleased about having to go out with his ostensibly younger sibling. Who the character paul is seems unclear. Is it a friend? Perhaps another brother? This is left ambiguous. But he does have an important role in the narrative as the poem progresses. It would appear the end-line rhymes in this stanza are to give the poem an initial flow to make the end line about Rotherham seem jarring. As if the narrator’s brother even mentioning Rotherham was enough to kill the flow of conversation between the narrator and Paul. The brother is portrayed as being excitable, perhaps immature. In addition his views being described as “six year old views” there is a strong chance the brother is actually six, but either way this begins to construct a mental picture of the child.
In the first two lines of this stanza we see the narrator’s brother encounter an issue and it is obvious the narrator simply doesn’t want to deal with it and rather dismissively sends his brother to try and get money for the bus from their mother. The description of the brother making his way home is interesting. He uses the term “windmilled” This could be used to describe how his brother has a carefree manner about him, this would certainly be consistent the previous descriptions of the brother that have given him a rather effusive quality but windmills have other connotations too, perhaps the narrator is suggesting that his brother is “hard work”?
The narrator of Brothers creates a nice image here of the two older boys looking at one another and acknowledging what they need to do seemingly without any verbal communication. What is interesting here is how Forster creates a hierarchy of sorts. Age is mentioned throughout and it clearly an important factor for the narrator. It’s as if he respects Paul because he is older but has no such respect for his younger sibling. It would seem in many ways this stanza illustrates how the narrator wants to be adult-like. It would seem that is the significance of the “age-dropping” the narrator wants to feel older, to feel superior.
It is notable that this stanza is a line shorter than the other two stanzas of Brothers. Could the missing line mirror the younger brother missing the bus? Quite possibly, it wouldn’t be the only time that Forster has used this device. He uses it in his poem Horse Whisperer as well. There is a nice image in this stanza as the narrator talks about the boys “chasing Olympic gold” this really makes us think about how “epic” everything seemed when we were young and highlights the sense of importance of trivial things that are the hallmarks of your average 9-10 year old. It also emphasises the boy’s sense of competitiveness. Although only a year younger, perhaps the narrator feels he needs to prove something to Paul? Or perhaps this line is meant to emphasise the imagination of children? Either way it is very thought provoking.
The last two lines are underpinned with a sadness as the narrator sees his brother trying to make it to the bus in time and clearly failing. The last line is particularly evocative as it is unclear as the whether the distance he is referencing is a physical distance or if he is referencing an emotional divide. It is possible that the narrator looking book at this memory sites it as a point where his relationship with his brother became irrevocably strained? It’s possible that the poem is a parable, showing how a lack of willingness to help ones brother can lead to separation.
About Andrew Forster
Andrew Forster is a contemporary British poet. Born in Yorkshire he was raised and resides in Scotland where he works for the Wordsworth trust. Forster often chooses to write poetry based around being a young person. Sometimes he writes from the perspective of a young person. Other times he writes from the perspective of an adult that is looking back and reflecting on their childhood experiences. Brothers seemingly falls into the latter category as it look back at a specific incident. Forster has several poems that are studied by English GCSE students.