The writer, who is well-known as New Zealand’s best Maori poet, was inspired to write this poem based at least in part on his time working in the Otahuhu Railway Workshop for five years.
He alludes to the fact that for some people, finding a job is harder than for others. His poetic persona knows that the job he has right now is temporary and that he should be looking for another before he is fired.
‘Monologue’ by Hone Tuwhare is an easy-to-read poem that describes one person’s working conditions and his fears for the future.
The speaker begins by describing how he likes to work near the door of the factory. As the poem progresses, it becomes clear that he always chooses this spot to work in because it’s far from the offices the managers shout from and close to where new, hopeful workers come in looking for a job. It’s also close to the exit, so he could get out of the building very quickly.
Structure and Form
‘Monologue’ by Hone Tuwhare is an eight-stanza poem that is written in free verse. The poem is divided into stanzas that range from two lines up to eight, with lines varying in length significantly. This poem is written in the form of a monologue, meaning that it’s one person’s perspective on a situation that is uninterrupted by anyone else’s thoughts or ideas.
In this poem, Tuwhare uses a few literary devices. They include:
- Personification: can be seen when the poet describes something non-human using human characteristics. For example, “the cold creeps in under the big doors.”
- Metaphor: occurs when the poet compares two things but doesn’t use “like” or “as.” For example, “I really ought to be looking for another job / before the axe falls.”
- Caesura: an intentional pause in the middle of a line of verse, for example, “conditions do not improve. Even so, I put up with it.”
I like working near a door. I like to have my work-bench
close by, with a locker handy.
In the first lines of ‘Monologue,’ the speaker begins by declaring that they like “working near a door.” It’s nice to have their working area close to the door and to their locker. Everything they need is within arm’s reach, including the exit. It’s unclear within these first few lines why the speaker feels so strongly about working near the door, but more details are added as the lines progress which helps this statement make far more sense.
Here the cold creeps in under the big doors, and in the
the big doors.
The speaker describes what is likely working near the door in the second stanza (five lines long). They say that it’s certainly far colder near the door than it is away from it. The cold “creeps in under” the doors (an example of personification), or in the summer, the wind swirls the dust around that collects on the floor. The speaker puts up with all the inconveniences of working near the door and has no interest in moving to another spot in the facility.
The description of the “big doors” opening to allow in “a lorry-load of steel” adds important context to the poem. It now seems likely that the speaker is working in a factory that deals with steel products and construction.
As one may imagine this is a noisy place with smoke
instructions in my ear.
Moving on, the speaker says that where he’s working is a very noisy place. There is smoke, people putting things together, and the sound of the machines “thumping and thrusting.” There is a constant noise that the speaker couldn’t escape from even if he did move to another bench.
He adds that his location in the building means that he’s the farthest “away from those who have come down to shout / instructions in my ear.” This line suggests a floor manager or overseer who works above the employees in an office or second level of the building. They come down and shout at those working hard and long hours, something that the speaker finds irritating. His position in the room means that he’s as far away from “those who have come down” as possible.
I am the first to greet strangers who drift in through the
worker signs to another.
The speaker finds a sense of community and added purpose in being able to help those who wander in through the doors. They are usually strangers looking for work, and he points them in the right direction and gives them information about the facility.
He feels a connection to these people, from one worker to another. This likely makes him, and those entering the building for the first time, feel less alone.
I can always tell the look on the faces of the successful
unlucky I know also, but cannot easily forget.
The fifth stanza is only three lines long, making it one of the shortest of the poem. The speaker says in these lines that it’s easy for him to tell by looking at the strangers’ faces who is successful when inquiring about a job and who isn’t. The “unlucky” ones he also recognizes, and they are far harder to forget. Here, the poet alludes to his speaker’s understanding of what it is like to struggle to make ends meet or even find a job.
I have worked here for fifteen months.
It’s too good to last.
I really ought to be looking for another job
before the axe falls.
The speaker goes on saying that he’s worked in this specific factory for “fifteen months.” It’s a job that he knows is “too good to last” and that surely something is going to go wrong, which means that there will be a reduction in staff. Here, he’s suggesting that he’s been through this before. He knows what it’s like to have a job and what the signs of an impending reduction in staff look like.
He knows that he should be looking for another job “before the axe falls” (this is a metaphor used to describe being fired). The line hints at how catastrophic losing one’s job can be.
One of the reasons he suggests that he’s struggling and that people around his city or even the entire country are struggling is because there are just too many looking for jobs. There are so many people looking for something “real, more lasting,” and not enough jobs to go around.
These thoughts I push away, I think that I am lucky
have no great distance to carry my gear and tool-box
off the premises.
It’s hard to do, but the speaker knows he has to set these thoughts to the side and remember how lucky he is to have the position by the doors that lead out to the main street. He has a job now and knows he shouldn’t dwell on what’s going to happen in the future.
The speaker tries to look at the bright side of things (in a slightly sarcastic way), saying that at least he won’t have far to walk when he is fired. He can take his “gear and tool-box” right “off the premises.”
I always like working near a door. I always look for a
occurs, and fire breaks out, you know?
The eighth stanza uses “I always like working near a door,” a reflection of the first line of the poem, “I like working near a door.” Now though, the readers know what it is about working near the door that the speaker finds attractive (despite the negatives also mentioned).
He always looks for a workbench in a similar position. It’s the best spot to be in if something goes wrong, like an “earthquake” or a “fire.” The poem ends casually with the phrase, “you know?” The speaker suggests that being prepared for a catastrophe is something that’s regularly understood by everyone. By using the images of an earthquake and a fire in these lines, the speaker is also connecting fatal disasters to losing one’s job/livelihood.
The meaning is that the struggle to find and keep a job is very real. The speaker also indicates how life-threatening losing one’s job can be, especially if there aren’t many options for other forms of income.
The purpose of this poem is to remind readers that finding and keeping a good job is a rare thing and that, for some people, this is far more true than others. It’s important to appreciate what one has but also be prepared for things to go wrong.
This poem is written in a causal and easy-to-read style. The poet used colloquial language and even some examples of slang that make his speaker very relatable.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Hone Tuwhare poems. For example:
- ‘Friend’ – a poem that depicts a friendship that has fallen into disrepair as time has progressed.
Some other related poems include:
- ‘I Hear America Singing‘ by Walt Whitman – depicts aspects of American life and everyday people working to make ends meet.
- ‘Hard Times‘ by John Ashbery – depicts the modern world and people’s ignorance of the most important issues facing everyday people.