‘En Famille, 1979’ is one of several short, two-line poems written by Paul Durcan that speak simply, but poignantly on important topics. This particular poem engages with themes of childhood, knowledge, and aging.
The first line presents the speaker’s desire, that he be returned to the “dark school” that was childhood. In the second he explains that in his youth he felt that he knew how the world worked. Tiny things were tiny and massive things were massive, there was no crossover. There is also the title to consider, “En Famille” means, “with one’s family”. This fits in well with the desire to return to the simplicity of childhood. The date is likely a personal reference to the time period he’s interested in.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Poetic Techniques
‘En Famille, 1979’ by Paul Durcan is a two-line poem that does not conform to a rhyme scheme. The lines are conversational, using simple diction and syntax. A close reader will be bale to find a few poetic techniques in this very short poem though. These include repetition, enjambment, and caesura.
The former, repetition is another feature of ‘Madman’. It is defined as the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone or phrase within a poem. In this poem, the words “tiny” and “massive” are used twice each in the second line, as is “dark school” in the first. When a poem is short, any amount of repetition is noteworthy.
The first line in particular, with the use of “dark school” alludes to a deeper state of meditation on the past and an attempt to come to terms with one’s thoughts. Caesura emphasizes this attempt. It occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not.
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. The transition between the two lines of ‘En Famille, 1979’ is a perfect example.
Analysis of En Famille, 1979
Bring me back to the dark school – to the dark school of childhood:
In the first lines of ‘En Famille, 1979’ the speaker begins by making a request. It is one that’s impossible to grant and is clearly being asked of the universe rather than a specific person. The speaker wants to return to the past, to the time in which he was at the “dark school”. His reference to the “dark school” is a metaphor for, as the second half of the line reveals, “childhood”. It was a time of learning, but also of ignorance.
The second line of ‘En Famille, 1979’ makes the speaker’s thoughts a bit clearer. What he misses about the past is the black and white nature of the world. Things that were “tiny” were tiny, without any room for change. He misses feeling as though he understood the word. Now, as an adult, it seems as though he is pushing back against the complexities of reality. Nothing is just “tiny” or just “massive”.