The poet uses some interesting examples of figurative language, including imagery and metaphors, throughout ‘Hold Your Own.’ These are used in tandem with their more direct language to inspire readers to live the best possible life. This kind of life is focused on living fully and completely and not on acquiring objects or improving one’s social position in life.
Explore Hold Your Own
‘Hold Your Own’ by Kae Tempest is about the purpose of life and how one should pursue and spread happiness over everything else.
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker acknowledges that life gets hard. When it does, one needs to focus on their immediate moment and what they can touch and change. This will make life easier to deal with than worrying about every eventuality would. The poet’s speaker also emphasizes the importance of love and happiness in one’s life. These things are the true purpose of life rather than the acquisition of material wealth.
Listen to Kae reciting ‘Hold Your Own’ at Glastonbury here.
But, when time pulls lives apart
Hold your own
When everything is fluid, nothing can be known with any certainty
But stop for breath and you will know it’s yours
Swaying like an open door when storms are coming
In the first lines of ‘Hold Your Own,’ the poet’s speaker begins by suggesting what one should do when life starts to spin out of control. When things get difficult, it’s of the utmost importance to “hold your own” against the currents of life. One has to focus on what they know and “feel what you are feeling.” They suggest that one should ask “your hands to know the things they hold.”
These figurative lines emphasize the importance of living in the moment and paying attention to what’s happening around you, rather than worrying about what one can’t change. The first-person pronoun “I” is used in the next lines. This suggests that the speaker is talking to someone they know and care about, offering these pieces of advice as a family member or friend.
Time is an onslaught, love is a mission
We work for vocations until, in remission
We wish we’d had patience and given more time to our children
Feel each decision that you make
Know the wolves that hunt you
In time, they will be the dogs that bring your slippers
Love them right and you will feel them kiss you when they come to bite
Hot snouts digging out your cuddles with their bloody muzzles
The next lines provide readers with examples of repetition through the use of “Hold” and an emphasis on living life to the fullest. Time, the speaker says, is an “onslaught” and “love is a mission.” It’s something one must continue to work towards, ensuring that it stays at the front of all choices. Again, the speaker emphasizes physically and emotionally holding onto a moment and the people you’re therewith. It’s important to feel the bad and the good and embrace them both.
There is an interesting metaphor in the following lines that uses wolves as a symbol for the dangers and fears one fights throughout. If you “Love them right,” then they’ll “kiss you when they come to bite.”
Nothing you can buy will ever make you more whole
This whole thing thrives on us feeling always incomplete
Wearing the ring you dreamed of all your life
And some part of you will still be unsure that this is what you really want
Hold your own
The following lines remind the reader that purchases and the temptations of the contemporary world are never going to satisfy you. They might for a moment feel right, but they aren’t going to make life better. The speaker cites a “car you sweated years to buy” as a prime example. Stop craving, they add, and “Hold your own” against the pains and sorrows of life.
But if you’re satisfied with where you’re at, with who you are
You won’t need to buy new make-up or new outfits or new pots and pans
Taste the salt of friendship
Notice the movement of a stranger
Hold your own
And let it be
The following lines provide more information about life and give the reader more advice. If the speaker says, you’re happy where you are. Then you’re not going to need to buy new things. Happiness is possible for everyone no matter what “they” think. The “they” in these lines refer to the forces, corporations, and companies that attempt to make us think that we need things in order to be satisfied with our lives. The poem ends with the speaker asking that you take a breath, enjoy your friendships and let one’s happiness “be / Catching.” Meaning, one should, as the speaker is, try to spread happiness whenever possible.
Structure and Form
‘Hold Your Own’ by Kae Tempest is a sixty-one-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. It is written in free verse. This means that the lines do not conform to a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. But, this doesn’t mean the poem is entirely without structure. Through the use of literary devices, the poet provides this piece with a certain structure.
Throughout ‘Hold Your Own,’ the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: occurs when the same word or words begin multiple lines. For example, “Hold,” which begins numerous lines throughout the poem, as well as “Every.”
- Refrain: can be seen when the writer uses a line more than once. For example, “Hold your own,” which appears several times in its entirety throughout the poem.
- Personification: when a poet imbues something non-human with human abilities, they’re using personification. For example, in the first line when the poet describes “time” pulling “lives apart.”
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. For example, “When everything is fluid, nothing can be known with any certainty” and “When we behave like idiots, it becomes our problem.” This can be done through the use of punctuation or meter.
The tone is determined and helpful. The speaker is trying to give the listener important pieces of advice. They’re determined to do so, as seen through the length of the poem and the repetition, but they also aren’t demanding.
The mood is inspiring and uplifting. Readers should walk away from the poem feeling revitalized and interested in pursuing a strong and happy life.
The themes are happiness, the purpose of life, and consumerism. The poet is interested in discussing how the latter is used to make people feel like they’re never going to be happy until they have material wealth. But, the purpose of life is quite different, and happiness is achieved through far simpler things.
The meaning is that happiness comes from within and from the friendships one forms throughout life. It can’t be achieved by purchasing things that one doesn’t need. It’s important to hold this in mind as one moves through life.
Tempest likely wrote this poem as a way of exploring the nature of life and what the contemporary world prioritizes. By discussing and dismissing material wealth, they were likely hoping to inspire readers to do the same.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Hold Your Own’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Essential Beauty’ by Philip Larkin – deals with the gap between the advertising world and the real world.
- ‘The Woman Who Shopped’ by Carol Ann Duffy – explores the stereotype of a shopaholic woman.
- ‘The Psalm of Life’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – is a thoughtful poem about life’s struggles. The poet addresses the best way to confront these difficulties on an everyday basis.