Ghosts (Homage to Burial) by Emily Berry explores human connection, making an impact, and being important to others. The poem is based on an interview that Burial gave with Wire. Berry recreates moments of the interview in the poem, echoing the voice of Burial.
Explore Ghosts (Homage to Burial)
The poem takes words used by Burial in an interview, then putting them into a longer context. The poem reads like a story, Berry commenting on her own mental state.
Berry creates a sense of melancholy, discussing being apart from someone. The physical sensation of missing someone is the key here, Berry exploring loss. The poem then progresses to discussing situations in which she feels unsafe. Following this, images of nature comfort the poet. The final few lines of the poem point towards memory. Being reminded of someone brings them to the forefront of your mind. Yet, Berry suggests that if you try and ‘talk about it’, they disappear all over again.
You can read the full poem here. The interview with Burial can be read here.
Form and Structure
Emily Berry writes Ghosts (Homage to Burial) with a very particular structure. The poet uses free verse, not abiding by any common forms of poetic technique. Instead, Berry creates a distinct rhythm and meter in the narrative poem. Ghosts (Homage to Burial) is one stanza, reading just like a page of a book. Considering Berry has drawn inspiration from an interview, this could be to reflect the realism of her writing.
The structure is also incredibly important when creating a tone of the poem. Berry creates a nervous, haunting, and slightly melancholic atmosphere to the poem. Much of this is established early, the use of short sentences creating a truncated rhythm. This fractured meter reflects the uncertainty of the poet, stumbling through the verse.
One of the key themes that Berry explores in Ghosts (Homage to Burial) is human loneliness. The poet feels empty, having ‘invest[ed] everything in someone’ and lost it all. The severing of their relationship leads the poet to feel empty, her loneliness intensifying. This content blurs into the tone, Berry conveying a deep sadness. A sense of desperation is established, Berry turning to ‘Ghosts’ and visions to keep her company.
Another theme that Berry touches on in the poem is memory. The poet wants to be remembered. She desires to be ‘Someone in your head’, making an impression on someone. To be kept in someone’s memory creates a sense of connection. Although you would never know if they think of you, the possibility is enough for Berry, the poet yearning to be remembered. She faces her own trouble with memory, trying to recall the ‘image’ of her lover as the poem fades out.
One of the key poetic techniques that Berry employs in the poem is pacing. By inserting caesura into her narrative, Berry controls the speed of the poem. In having more caesura, she creates a larger quantity of short sentences. This both stunts the poem, creating a tone of uncertainty, while also slowing it down. This slowness could reflect the melancholic tone of the poem, Berry trying to describe the feeling of loneliness.
Another technique that Berry uses in Ghosts (Homage to Burial) is a personal pronoun. Throughout the poem, Berry uses the direct address of ‘you’. This suggests a personal nature to the poem, the poet communicating this directly to one person. This person is her love, the one she has lost. The outlandish attempt at connection furthers the suggestion of solitude, writing being Berry’s final hope.
Ghosts (Homage to Burial) Analysis
You can invest everything in someone. This one feeling chopping you up. Anyone can go into(…)Someone upset on the other side of the world. It’s like a Ouija board, it’s … the devil’s face in their
The opening line creates a tone of deep melancholy. Berry uses short sentences, interrupting the flow of the meter through the employment of caesura. The opening phrase, ‘You can invest everything in someone.’ is blunt and foreboding. The use of ‘everything’ relates to giving yourself over to someone, both romantically and spiritually.
But, this process of sharing yourself with someone else doesn’t always go to plan. Berry writes that the ‘feeling’ is ‘chopping’ her up. Berry’s use of ‘chopping’ draws upon the semantics of destruction, the poet suggesting love is something that can level a person. This is extended into wanting to be alone. After being emotionally depleted due to her loss, Berry retreats, ‘I just want to be gone. I want to be unknown’. This self-minimalization reflects emotional dilapidation, the poet not wanting to be seen in this emotionally damaged state. The reference to ‘storm’ could be understood as a metaphor for depression, an oncoming downpour about to wash over Berry.
Berry pulls away from her emotions, trying to focus elsewhere, indicated by the ellipsis after ‘vial…’. The poet moves towards detailed a past adventure, ‘once in these mountains’. Berry can take refuge in memory, ‘the middle of nowhere’ providing her with the isolation she yearned for.
Yet, even in memory nothing is correct. Berry uses asyndeton to create a sense of being overwhelmed, ‘wrong, cold things, bad things’, this aligning with the repetition of ‘things’. Both these techniques culminate in a derailing of the support memory provided, Berry being subjected to the brunt of her emotional pain.
eyes, that feeling like a ghost touched you, like finding a body in a lift shaft on the other side of the
of where you just were still on your retina. If you talk about it, it just sort of disappears
The second half of the poem returns to discussing ‘you’. A sense of panic, dread, and uncertainty begins to unravel. Berry describes the feeling of ‘a ghost’ that ‘touched you’ or ‘finding a body in a lift shaft’. These situations inspire a great deal of emotional stress, Berry likening those to how she feels in her loneliness.
She wants the unnamed ‘you’ to have her from her sadness. If she cannot flourish in her own memories, as shown by lines 1-5, perhaps she can survive in someone else’s. She wants to be ‘Someone in your head’, joining her love in memory and recognition. If they cannot be together, Berry wants to believe that her lover will still remember and think of her.
After everything, Berry just doesn’t want to be alone. Even if fleeting, she can focus on ‘the image of where you just were’, diving back into the past. But this state of transient happiness is not easy to maintain. As soon as ‘you talk about it’, everything ‘disappears’. The final word is not followed by a punctuation mark, signaling that this emotional trauma has not come to an end. Berry will continue to feel a sense of longing and loneliness.
Carol Ann Duffy creates a similar melancholic tone when describing loneliness in her poem Death and the Moon. Both poets focus on a slow and purposeful rhythm that gives an eery quality to the verses. Duffy is directing her poem at an ex-lover who has recently died, tapping into similar ideas as Berry.
There is a great deal of stillness within Ghosts (Homage to Burial), the poet anticipating an oncoming ‘storm’. This sense of an oncoming change is also present in Movement Song by Audre Lorde. Yet, while Berry is melancholic, Lorde is optimistic about her future. Both poets respond to the same events but in an opposing manner.