Madman by Paul Durcan

‘Madman’ is one of several short, two-line poems written by Paul Durcan that speaks simply, but poignantly, on important topics. This particular poem engages with themes of childhood, fear, madness, and memory. 


Summary of Madman

‘Madman’ by Paul Durcan speaks on the difficulties and fears of childhood and how for some children those fears were ever-present. 

The two lines of ‘Madman’ suggests a universal truth: that every child has a madman living near their house. Durcan’s speaker feels this to be true but then adds onto it, saying that in his case, the madman was his father. 

You can read the full poem here.


Structure and Poetic Techniques in Madman

‘Madman’ 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 able to find a few poetic techniques in this very short poem though. These include enjambment, repetition and assonance. 

The latter, assonance, is the repetition of vowel sounds within words. For example, the “o” sound in “about,” “our” and again, “our” in the second line. Repetition itself 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 word “madman” appears in both lines. In another longer poem, the use of a word twice might not catch a reader’s eye, but in this case, since the text is so minimal, it becomes a prominent feature. 

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 ‘Madman’ is a perfect example. 


Analysis of Madman

Line 1

In the first line of ‘Madman’, the speaker makes a simple statement. It is enjambed at the end, encouraging the reader to move quickly to the second, and last, line of text. The first line speaks to something the speaker sees as being universal, a “madman” on every child’s street. Or, at least the perception of a “madman”. Through this phrase he is asking the reader to consider their own childhood and whether or not they felt the same. 


Line 2

The second line picks up where the first left off. Here, the speaker reveals that he, and perhaps his mother and siblings, had a “madman” inside their house. The first line might remind one of their own childhood and the imagination that went along with it. The second is meant to strike deeper. It alludes to abuse, physical or mental. The fact that the speaker also very simply says that “he’s our father” is moving. 

A reader should also consider the perspective from which these lines were written. Did they come from an adult speaker? Or a child? 

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