In ‘The Trouble With Geraniums’ Peake explores themes of self-perception, self-confidence, and appearance. This upbeat and amusing poem discusses these themes in a lighthearted way, only revealing its inner depth in the final lines.
The poem takes the reader through several amusing statements about the nature of very basic things. These include flowers, bread, and stars. He asserts that he is troubled by their nature. They are too red, too full of bread, and too bright. The obvious humour in these lines is made meaningful in the last stanza when he describes the trouble he has with himself. This is where the reader comes to understand the main themes of this piece and their commentary on one’s opinion of one’s self.
You can read the full poem here.
‘The Trouble With Geraniums’ by Mervyn Peake is a four stanza poem that’s separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a specific rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing end sounds as the poet saw fit.
This piece was aimed at a younger audience, therefore the sing-song-like rhythm of the lines is perfect. It is used to make the lines more pleasing to read as well as listen to. It also should help keep a child’s attention for longer. He also achieves this through the humorous nature of the content. The events of the poem should be relatable to the child hearing or reading it.
In addition to the standard rhyme scheme of the text, there are also examples of internal rhyme. These are thymes that occur within the lines rather than at the ends. For example, “there’s” and “where’s” in the fourth stanza.
Peake makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Trouble With Geraniums’. These include alliteration, enjambment, anaphora, and accumulation. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound.
Peake also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For example, Seven of the sixteen lines starts with the word “The”.
Accumulation is a literary device that relates to a list of words or phrases that have similar, if not the same, meanings. In a poem, story, or novel, these words are grouped together or appear scattered throughout a work. They collect or pile up, and a theme, image, sensation, or deeper meaning is revealed. In regards to ‘Trouble with Geraniums,’ the entire piece is a great example of this technique. The examples of things that the speaker has “trouble with” pile up as the poem progresses. By the end of the text, there is one large collection of this variety of items.
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 technique occurs throughout ‘The Trouble With Geraniums’. For instance, in the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza and three and four of the second.
The trouble with geraniums
it’s far too full of bread.
In the first stanza of ‘The Trouble With Geraniums,’ the speaker begins by making use of the line that became the title of the poem. He describes, very simply and humorously, that the “trouble with” the geranium flower is that it is “too red!” He doesn’t explain why he feels this way, but it is clear from the punctuation that he is very passionate about it.
The next couplet is equally amusing and asserts that toast is no good because it “far too full of bread”.
The trouble with a diamond
and the electric light.
In the second stanza of ‘The Trouble With Geraniums,’ there are more funny statements. “Diamonds,” the speaker says are “too bright”. The same, he adds, is true for “fish and stars / and the electric light”. All of these are too much themselves. If you read this poem literally, which you shouldn’t, the speaker is asking for the impossible. For things to change their basic nature.
The troubles with the stars I see
self-centred in the eye.
The third stanza brings in stars and the way they fly through the sky. Then, finally, gets to the speaker himself. He says that the “trouble with” himself is “all / self-centered in the eye”. Whenever he looks at himself or thinks about himself he finds “trouble” or things that seem wrong. But, it is clear from this statement and the fourth stanza that he knows it’s all in his head. There’s nothing really wrong with him, just as there’s nothing wrong with toast being made of bread.
The trouble with my looking-glass
where it should never be.
In the last lines, the speaker concludes by referring again to his own appearance and the perception of his appearance. He is troubled by his own reflection in the mirror, something that he can’t change. The speaker knows this is the case but is still fighting to internalize it. The last line alludes to the fact that someone might interpret “trouble” to be in many places where it doesn’t exist at all.