In this sonnet, readers will encounter Payne’s short narrative in regard to some specific characters and emotions. He uses several literary devices in ‘Hitchhiker,’ like personification and an example of apostrophe, to create a compelling, if somewhat confusing, story of loss and sorrow.
‘Hitchhiker’ by John Payne is a poem about loss and what it feels like to long for the return of someone close to you.
The poem addresses several different characters, one of whom, Gee Gee, appears to have lost her life in April. She was sixteen at the time, and now, the speaker acknowledges, she won’t feel the pleasures of life any longer. She also won’t experience suffering. The poet’s speaker addresses other characters, including Brad and Leslie, likely raising more questions than answers in the reader’s mind. One will probably find themselves wondering what connection these people have with one another and what relationship the speaker has with them. The poem concludes with the speaker addressing someone, likely Gee Gee, asking if she’s heard their pleas for her to return to earth and have a better life.
Throughout this poem, the poet engages with themes of loss and death. They are well aware that someone has died and that there’s no way for them to return to earth. This doesn’t stop them from wishing that this wasn’t true and that there was an easy way for Gee Gee to come back and have a longer, better life. Her loss is one that strikes the speaker in a deeply human way. This is clear despite the fact that all the elements of their relationship are not.
Structure and Form
‘Hitchhiker’ by John Payne is a fourteen-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The poem is in the form of a sonnet. It follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG, the traditional pattern of a Shakespearean or Elizabethan sonnet. ‘Hitchhiker’ also (mostly) uses iambic pentameter. This means that the lines contain five sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and this second stressed.
Another element that’s crucial for Shakespearean sonnets is the turn or volta. Normally, this occurs between the twelfth and thirteenth lines or between the final quatrain and the concluding couplet. This is the case in ‘Hitchhiker’ as well.
Throughout ‘Hitchhiker,’ the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Caesura: can be seen when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. For example, “Your still life, limp and lifeless, lying there” and “Come back to dreams and laugher, schemes and fears.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sounds at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “life,” “limp and lifeless,” and “lying” in the third line and “has healed” in line thirteen.
- Personification: seen when the poet imbues non-human objects, forces, or events with human characteristics. For example, in the second line when the poet writes that “April stole your song of sweet sixteen.”
Gee Gee, your daddy told me how you fare,
Since April stole your song of sweet sixteen,
Your still life, limp and lifeless, lying there,
Another day of June no speech will bring,
In the first lines of ‘Hitchhiker,’ the speaker begins by addressing “Gee Gee.” This is an example of an apostrophe, as the following lines reveal. Gee Gee has passed away at the age of sixteen. The month of April was her last, and now, “Another day of June no speech will bring.” The speaker makes it clear that this person, whoever they are to him, is not going to live to see another day. Considering the name Gee Gee, which feels like a nickname, and the fact that the speaker talks about her “daddy,” it seems likely that the speaker is a family friend or perhaps a relative, like an uncle.
Nor another night of misery suffer
Brad’s intrepid journey to subside.
Men lay bare their faces for another,
In truth and love no countenance need hide.
In the second quatrain, the speaker adds that although Gee Gee will no longer enjoy the pleasures of life, she also won’t suffer “another night of misery.” It’s at this point that the narrator brings in another character, “Brad.” It’s not clear who Brad is or what role he plays in Gee Gee’s life or in the speaker’s. But, the speaker does say he’s been on an “intrepid journey,” and there may be some benefit in waiting until this ends. It may be related to the next lines when the speaker is talking about “truth and love.” This line brings in a feeling of alternative consequences as if there is more on the line than even someone’s life.
He’s speaking about how “men lay bare their faces for another” when there is love on the line. This suggests, perhaps, that the speaker is interested in what happens when one person loves another and the truth of their existence is revealed. It’s hard to hide oneself from the person you love.
Come back, dear Leslie, back to fill your years.
We hope you’ve heard our plea unconsciously.
Come back to dreams and laugher, schemes and fears.
We hardly knew you were what you will be.
Your sister’s wrist has healed, will you not too?
Will all out future memories be of you?
In the final quatrain, the speaker mentions yet another character, “Leslie.” Considering the fact that he’s asking Leslie to “Come back” and “fill your years,” it may be that Leslie is the same person as Gee Gee. The speaker, in combination with others who care about her, has been praying for her return. He adds that her time on earth was limited and that they didn’t know who she was or what she’d be. She died too young for any of that to be known.
Interestingly, one final twist occurs when the speaker refers to “Your sister.” Here, it becomes possible that perhaps Leslie’s sister has injured herself, just as Leslie has. Perhaps they were both suffering, and one died, and the other didn’t.
The tone is regretful, depressed, and solemn. The speaker is mourning the loss of at least one person and worrying about the future. He wants the best possible future for everyone he mentions in the text, but that may not be possible.
It’s unclear why Payne wrote ‘Hitchhiker,’ but it’s likely he did so in order to share a series of emotions that he found important. Readers may be left with more questions than answers at the end of this poem, though.
The mood is solemn and dark. Readers should walk away from the poem feeling as though they’ve experienced a loss similar to that described in the text. Even when all the details aren’t clear, it’s obvious that the speaker is suffering.
The speaker is unknown. They are someone who is close to all the characters in this poem and has a vested interest in their well-being. He (or she) could be a family member or a close family friend.
The meaning is that often life is lost, and afterward, there is nothing but regret. The speaker alludes to the possibility that the life lost was taken purposefully from the world, perhaps through suicide.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Hitchhiker’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘When Great Trees Fall’ by Maya Angelou – speaks about loss as a tragic yet inevitable part of the human experience. When it strikes, it leaves despair and misery in its path.
- ‘One Art’ by Elizabeth Bishop – centers around the theme of loss and the way in which the speaker – and, by extension, the reader – deals with it.
- ‘A Photograph’ by Shirley Toulson – is a powerful poem about loss, memory, and time that focuses on a speaker’s mother.