Forge by John Montague

Within ‘Forge’ Montague explores themes of farm life, creation, and labour. He creates a peaceful, contemplative mood that asks the reader to explore the spaces he has described and consider the meaning of the verb to forge. 

 

Summary of Forge

‘Forge’ by John Montague is a short poem that depicts a commonplace scene that includes a horse, a forge, a worker, and the speaker himself. 

The poem takes the reader through a sense-based description of the land, the tools that are used to work it, as well as the animals who labour there. Montague focuses on one labourer fixing a new shoe to a horse’s foot and then expands out to describe the forge, the sound of the bellows in the chimney, and his speaker’s presence. 

 

Structure and Poetic Techniques in Forge

‘Forge’ by John Montague is a five stanza poem that’s separated into sets of three lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, but there are examples of rhyme and half-rhyme in the poem. The latter, half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, “whole” and “harrow” in the first stanza and “hoof” and “wood” in the second and third stanzas. 

Montague also makes use of several other poetic techniques. These include alliteration, enjambment, and anaphora. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “sang” and “seeping” in the third stanza and “dead” and “dented” in the first. 

Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. The first stanza is a great example. Here, the poet starts each line with the word “The”. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. This is one of the most important techniques in the poem, seen numerous times. For instance, the transitions between lines one and two of the second stanza and one, two, and three of the fifth. 

 

Analysis of Forge 

Stanza One 

In the first stanza of ‘Forge’ the poet begins by making three statements, all of which begin with the word “The”. By using anaphora in these lines, he creates a list of features. He speaks on the smell of the shed, the look of the “harrow,” and the “pathos” of the donkey’s shoes. The first line refers to a shed, somewhere the speaker or those around him store what they need to work the fields. It has the smell of “dead iron”. A visitor can detect the history of the place through its scent.

Next, the word “harrow”. It refers to an implement dragged across the land to break up soil and cover seeds. It has “dented teeth”. Again, the speaker is alluding to history and work. Workers have used the harrow many times over a number of years. 

Last, there is the donkey. Its shoes have a “feminine pathos”. Montague juxtaposed this complex phrase against the simplicity of what it is describing. In this case, the shoes evoke pity of a feminine kind. 

 

Stanza Two 

Next, in the second stanza of ‘Forge,’ the poet turns to describe a horse—a Clysdale. This creature is “fretful” and big. Its feelings and reactions can be interpreted through its dilated nostrils. Rather than working at this moment, the horse is getting fitted with a new shoe. Montague enjambed the third line of the stanza. It takes a reader down to the first line of the third stanza to finish the phrase and find out what’s happening. 

 

Stanza Three 

It turns out that a labourer is holding onto the horse’s foot, “wrestling it” to calmness in his apron. Through the use of caesura, the next phrases come quickly. A reader finds out that he’s shearing “the pith” from the bottom of the horse’s hoof to get it to the right shape. The pieces fall like “wood-chips” to the ground. 

 

Stanza Four 

Montague expands the scene in the fourth stanza of ‘Forge,’. Now, the speaker describes a sound, that of the bellow, ringing out in the “tall chimney”. Here, the reader finally gets a look at the forge that’s referenced in the title and alluded to throughout the previous three tercets. The forge is personified, as is the metal that it wakes. 

Additionally, the speaker brings himself, through the first-person narrative perspective, into the poem. Montague uses enjambment again to transition into the final stanza. 

 

Stanza Five 

In the last three lines of ‘Forge,’ the speaker brings the reader back to the “curve” of the horse’s foot and the shape of the metal. As the sound rang out, the speaker described how he was “slowly / beaten to a matching curve”. He is being transformed, as is the horse, the land, and any metal in the space. Montague emphasized this in the final line with the reference to “the verb to forge”. 

By concluding the poem this way, and putting “to forge” in italics, the poet is asking the reader to consider the various ways the verb can be used. He is interested in its implementation in regards to the metal, the land, and his own presence and state of being. 

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