Simon Armitage is great at using humour in his poetry and it shines through in I’ve made out a will; I’m leaving myself. Although the poem could be considered quite morbid the metaphors used are not at all bleak and lend themselves to the sense of fun that resonate throughout this piece. The underlying meaning to this poem is unclear and is open to interpretation (I’ve attempted this myself!) I think it is about the importance of love above everything else, but I could be wide of the mark. I have read several poems by Armitage lately and this little one is probably my favourite. I always like a poem that leaves a lot of unanswered questions, and whilst, on the face of it, this is a silly nonsense poem, it is not too big a leap to suggest there is a deeper meaning. I think the fact that the narrator doesn’t just stick to one theme for his comparisons throughout the poem is pertinent to the meaning of the poem itself. I think that the narrator cannot really see the point in his body and therefore doesn’t even know what to compare it to. It’s as if he is thinking about the different parts of his body and saying ” I don’t need you, I don’t need you” but when it comes to the heart the narrator clearly doesn’t want to part with it. It is never made explicit why that is, although the suggestion is that it is important as the narrator, as such he likens the heart to a pendulum a key component of a clock.
Form and Tone
I’ve made out a will; I’m leaving myself takes the form of a jaunty sonnet, albeit with a slightly skewed and inconsistent rhyming pattern. This is an unusual choice as a sonnet is a form most often associated with love poems. The poem is highly comical and full of amusing comparisons and colourful metaphors. It employs several tricolons, a poetic device whereby three adjectives are used in quick succession. Perhaps this repeating pattern of description is supposed to symbolise a heartbeat? One thing is for sure the poem “zips along” at a breakneck pace. The subject matter is a person giving up their organs to the national health service, although as I have asserted I think there are deeper levels to this poem. Whilst I have assigned this poem a title it doesn’t actually have one. It is taken from a collection called Book of Matches. In this collection all the poems are supposed to be able to be read in the time it takes for a match to burn to its end.
I’ve made out a will; I’m leaving myself Analysis
The very first line of the poem, which you can read in full here, is very striking and impactful. The use of a Will to document his exclamation is very formal. Most people would just have settled for carrying a donor card and this emphasises how important this decision is to the narrator. The narrator is very flippant in their description of their body and what parts could be used; this is a theme that continues throughout the poem. In this first stanza most of the comparisons they use are food related likening their body parts to jellies and soup my personal favourite is the “loaf of brains” comparison, drawing inspiration perhaps from the Cockney rhyming slang “use your loaf” this is an example of Armitage using the colloquialisms for which he is renowned and although this saying isn’t associated with the north of England it is so commonly used in English slang as to rarely be associated with its cockney origins. But there is a mix of comparisons. When the narrator comes to describe their ribcage there is a lack of certainty over which descriptor fits best. As if the narrator is trying to decide which is the correct way to describe that body part. they begin by likening it to a car, then change to a cage and finally a cathedral of bone. Is there any significance to these descriptors? One would tend to associate a cage with captivity. Is this the narrator’s way of saying that their heart is captive? The stanza closes with the narrator stating that they cannot have their heart. This is not put in the same fun and playful way as the rest of the stanza which makes it stand out. Quite why that’s the only part that he seems intent on keeping is mysterious although I have some theories as to the reason for this.
In this stanza, once again we can see how amusingly disenfranchised the narrator is with their own internal organs. The chuckle-worthy comparisons continue: first with industrial metaphors in the second and third lines and comparisons to the internal working of a clock in the final line of the stanza. The clock is a good choice for a comparison as lots of the pieces of a clock are named after body parts to begin with. The constant listing of different body parts in this way is both frantic and amusing.
Sticking with the clock theme, the narrator refers to their heart as the pendulum, ostensibly the most important part of the clock and then as a “ticker” which is a slang word for a heart that could also be associated with a clock. The mystery of this poem is how the narrator can be so dismissive over the rest of their body but then want to keep their heart intact without ever explaining why this is the case. Personally I think this is because the heart is representative of love. While the narrator clearly doesn’t value their own body (or at least if their descriptions of their body parts are a true reflection of how they feel they don’t) perhaps love is still something that holds value to the narrator. Although interestingly they still objectify the heart, just like all the other body parts. I think this is why a sonnet was used for this poem, because a sonnet is usually associated with romance and love. Perhaps in this case the love is of love itself.
About Simon Armitage
Simon Armitage is a talented English Poet with a large body of work. Amongst his distinctions are his position as the Oxford Professor of Poetry and a prestigious lecturing position at one of the world’s best universities. He tends to use regionalised words and slang in his poems lending a northern twang to many of them. His poems often explore contemporary issues and challenge the reader to explore issues, often from an alternative point of view. Amongst his other works are translations, play scripts and even songs for his band.