‘Hitcher‘ by Simon Armitage is a short poem that does not follow any consistent rhyme scheme. Instead, there are a number of slant, or half rhymes, and random end rhymes throughout the poem. These few interconnected phrase help unite the poem but their minimal use allows it to read as casual, conversational speech. You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Hitcher
“Hitcher” by Simon Armitage describes a brutal act of violence against a “free” hitchhiker committed by a speaker who is “under / the weather.”
The poem begins with the speaker telling his readers that he is not feeling well. His life appears to not be going great and his boss is on the verge of firing him. The man decides to get up from his home and hitchhike to a rental car agency.
From there he drives out into the street and picks up another hitchhiker or “hitcher.” This man rides with him for a short time, telling the speaker that he is only guided by the sun and carries nothing more than a toothbrush. The speaker who is overwhelmed by the banality of his own life is overcome with envy and attacks the hitchhiker.
He hits the man over the head once and in the face six times before opening the car door and throwing him out. He observes the hitchhiker bouncing along the street and then disappearing into the hedges on the side of the road. The speaker is completely unfazed by what he has done. He does not feel worse or better about his life.
By the end of the piece he still has not gotten out his rage and verbally tells the speaker that he deserved what happened to him and that he can “walk from there.”
Analysis of Hitcher
Armitage begins this piece by having his speaker present an internal image of himself. He tells the reader that he has, “been tired,” and feeling “under / the weather.” While this is an emotion that all will be able to relate to, it contains no detail. The speaker provides no detail about himself through the use of this cliche.
Even though he is feeling “under / the weather,” the world is not trying to make his life any easier. His, “ansaphone,” the brand name of a common answering machine or answer phone, continues to “scream” at him. It is reasonable to assume that the speaker is irritated by the messages being left and by the fact that there are messages at all. The sounds bring him closer to the edge.
The next line describes one of the messages that is plaguing him from his machine. His boss is calling to tell him that if he sends in,
One more sick-note, mister, and you’re finished. Fired.
There is no hesitation in his boss’ voice, he means this threat to be the final one. The speaker leaves his house and without a car of his own, hitchhikes to a rental agency. There he hires a “Vaxhall Astra.” From these lines we can assume that the speaker is not all that concerned with his boss’ threats and is financially confident enough to be able to rent a car at will.
While driving around in the car the speaker stops to pick up a hitchhiker. This new character’s life is going to be deeply contrasted with that of the speaker.
He describes that this hitchhiker, or “Hitcher,” was walking with the intention of,
…following the sun from west to east
He does not have greater purpose than that of getting from one place to another, freely wandering, solitary and without the plagues of modern life.
It is clear that the speaker envies this man. He says jealously that the man is only carrying a “toothbrush” and appears to happily used the “good earth for a bed.” The man seems to have no pretensions or deeper desires.
His life philosophy is simple. That there will be some kind of permanent truth “round the next bend” and he only has to stumble upon it.
At this point in the poem the narrative takes a dark and surprising turn. The speaker, clearly overwhelmed by the life of this man, attacks him,
On the top road out of Harrogate.
He hit him “once with the head,” of a krooklok, a specific brand of steering wheel lock. This is the third instance in which the speaker mentions a particular branded product, emphasizing his connection to the modern world of consumerism.
The speaker continues describing the attack without inflection of any trance of remorse. He continues to hit the man, striking him “six times…in the face.” While doing this he was able to keep the car completely under control. He,
…did even swerve.
The speaker is not done with the hitchhiker yet. He drops the car into “third,” and leans across to the passenger seat and opens the door. He “let” the man out of the car, or more aptly, pushed him out of the car, and then observed him from the rearview mirror as he bounced along the street. The hitcher hits the “kerb,” or curb, and tumbles into “the verge,” or the bushes that line the sides of the street.
The speaker’s passive, calm voice is haunting. This action is one that he seems proud of and he is completely undisturbed by what he has just done, making the telling of the story all the more frightening.
He pauses for a moment to take note of the fact that the two of them were of a similar age, “give or take a week.” The speaker was seeing himself in the hitchhiker and felt an overwhelming envy for the free life that he was living. He could not stop himself from taking his rage out on the unsuspecting man.
The poem concludes with the speaker describing how the “hitcher” had told him how much he enjoyed the feeling of “wind” running through his hair like fingers.
The final lines of the poem further emphasize the heartlessness with which the speaker acted. He takes the time to comment that it is currently “twelve noon,” and that the,
…outlook for the day was moderate to fair.
This is how he sees the rest of his day going, it has not really been made worse or better for the act that he committed.
In the final lines he speaks to the “hitcher.” He tills him to “Stitch that,” a vague way of saying, “take that.” He feels as if what he has done is justified and that the man can “walk from there.” He will have to make it along the road by himself. It is not clear whether or not the hitchhiker survived his attack, but the speaker could not care less.
About Simon Armitage
Simon Armitage was born in 1963 in West Yorkshire, England. He attended Portsmouth University and received a BA in geography and later a degree in social work from Manchester University. Armitage would work for a few years as a probation officer before transitioning to focus on his poetry full time.
In 1999 he was named Millennium Poet and became a Commander of the British Empire in 2010. More recently, in 2015 he became Oxford Professor of Poetry and two years later, the Professor of Poetry for the University of Leeds.
Armitage has authored a number of books of poetry that have published throughout his career. In 2000’s he published volumes such as The Unaccompanied, Seeings Stars, and The Shout: Selected Poems.
He has made the shortlist for a number of prestigious poetry awards such as the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the T.S. Elliot Prize. He has also published a number of fiction works and completed very well received translations from Middle English.