‘Intermission’ occurs when a tree falls during a storm, causing a power cut. During the outage, Sheers and the woman he is with have time to converse and relax. The poem is a commentary on modern society and the reliance on technology providing a barrier to meaningful conversation. This moment of disconnection with technology is poignantly representing Sheers’ connection with nature. When completely given over to nature, true human connection is allowed to flourish. Sheers explores the need for a break from technology and embracing of nature to inspire a connection between people. The disconnection from technology also allows Sheers to concentrate, coming to realizations about his relationship.
Owen Sheers divides ‘Intermission’ into 7 equal stanzas, each measuring three lines. This form, known as tercet stanzas, is an ancient form of Welsh poetry. Drawing upon his identity as a Welsh man, Sheers presents both the physical power of nature and also its ability to help understand the world. The chosen form reflects Sheers’ ideas, with the form elevating concepts of nature.
You can read the full poem here.
A night-long easterly and a chestnut tree
has stilled the house to this:
Sheers centralizes ‘Intermission’ on the theme of nature right from the first line. The focus on ‘night’, the ‘easterly’ wind, and ‘a chestnut tree’ forming a triple repetition drawing from the semantics of nature. By elevating nature within this first line, Sheers suggests that everything that follows is a direct result of nature.
Indeed, the tree falls and ‘side-swiping the power lines’, shrouds the house in darkness as the power goes out. This is the central act that forces the poem into existence, allowing communication between the couple to flourish.
Sheers focuses on the lack of technology and the atmosphere it creates is suggested through ‘stilled’. He argues that technology creates needless movement, in an overly energetic world, this moment is one of stillness. Sheers appreciates this, with the moment providing time for him to talk to the person he is with.
wells of darkness in the hallway,
The darkness of ‘Intermission’ is originally unnerving to Sheers, the depth of ‘wells of darkness’ posing as a subtle threat. The profundity of ‘mine shafts of night’ echoes this initial image, with both culminating the present the extreme depth of the absolute ‘darkness’. Without technology, the night has taken over completely, leaving the two in eery darkness.
The third line of this stanza is considerably shorter than the rest. Sheer writes ‘and us’, drawing the focus away from darkness to its counterpart. The focus on ‘us’ is a moment of intimacy in this previously intimidating environment. By focusing on the human connection between the two, the fear of the darkness once instilled is reduced. This allows for their connection to be explored further in the following stanzas.
sitting by firelight,
against the flames and the dust.
After focusing on the aspects of human connection, Sheers then creates images of warmth and light. They are sat ‘by firelight’, using nature as a way to illuminate the scene of ‘Intermission’. Moreover, the heat from ‘the flames’ is echoed in their drink of choice, ‘whisky’ giving warmth from within. The scene has now changed from one of fear into one of warmth, an examination of an intimate moment of human connection.
An evening of unfamiliar obstacles,
the world lessened.
Now that the rush of technology has been eliminated, it forces the couple to talk to each other, instead of avoiding their problems. The ‘unfamiliar obstacles’ references the furniture they may bump into during the extended dark. Yet, it is also a suggestion of the problems they must now face in their relationship. Sheers suggests that their relationship has been sustained by their reliance on technology, and now they must face each other in the moment of disconnection. Without the distracting influence of modern technology, the couple must face their problems.
The ‘world lessened’ is a representation of the moment in which all technology is unreachable. The lack of power has drawn the greatness of international connection through technology to nothing, just what is before Sheers. He can only focus on the present scene, without external distractions.
The suggestion of ‘candle’s halo’ is an incredibly peaceful image. The flickering light connotes a sense of warmth, but also presents an underlying fragility. They are forced to discuss the problems in their relationship, the undulating flame of the candle a physical manifestation of their emotional conflicts.
You speak from the shore of the other chair,
long enough to be good at the oboe
The distance between the couple, once bridged by technology, is now the prime focus of ‘Intermission’. Sheers paints the two as ‘speak[ing] from the shore of the other chair’, the distance between them a representation of the emotional distance which has grown. They are not who they once were, and this moment of disconnection has made them realize their problems and differences. This metaphor stems from the semantics of nature, with Sheers using his Welsh identity and link with nature as a mechanism to tackle things he cannot understand.
The conversation becomes intimate and introspective. The woman in the scene focuses on her wishes and desires. She wants to ‘live long enough to be good at the oboe.’ Perhaps this focus on desires is reflective of the fact that their own relationship is failing, with the woman turning to a conditional future where things are fixed. The longing for something to change, for something to improve, is slightly tragic in the silence of the moment.
and remembering a fly I saw that morning,
towards the slip of space that was air not glass,
Sheers redirects the woman’s introspective desires into examining a tiny aspect of nature. Within ‘Intermission’, Sheers is contrasting the minute against the grand desires. He recalls watching ‘a fly’ trying to escape through a window. This complete reversal of what Sheers’ partner was discussing is another way in which Sheers fails to relate to her. When she focuses on the promise of future, Sheers is grounded into reality, focusing on the small intricacies of nature. There is a certain wonder to Sheers’ tone, using nature as a way of understanding the world around him.
I think I understand.
that are in the end, enough.
Sheers uses nature as a mechanism for understanding the world around him. After watching the fly repeatedly bump against the window, it has finally escaped. This coincides with Sheers’ ‘I think I understand’, with the end stop compounding this sense of epiphany. Nature and Sheers’ identity as a Welsh poet is intertwined, both symbiotically helping each other understand life.
It is not these grand moments of promise that are important, it is the daily achievements and ‘victories’ that ‘matter’. Sheers has a different view to that of the woman he is with. She focuses on the grand moments of life, of excellence and success. Whereas Sheers focuses on the ‘small victories’, the everyday wins that build up. There is a difference between them, Sheers now realizes. The relationship did not fit as he once expected.
‘Intermission’ forms a moment of realization, a representation of the gaps in their own relationship. This was achieved through the intervening of nature, with Sheers thanking nature for its help in his understanding. The final word of the people, grammatically isolated from the rest of the poem is a poignant elevation of this idea. The final ‘enough’ represents the end of his relationship, the epiphany of the differences between them finally compounding into a moment of tragic realization.
‘Intermission’ is softly tragic, reflecting on relationships, the link between man and nature, and the ‘small’, intimate, moments of human connection that are more important than we know.