‘Homecoming’ is a clever title for this poem as it references the narrator returning home having got their jacket dirty and later coming home from a late-night foray to the phone box. The poem compares taking part in a trust exercise to the simple act of a coat falling on the floor, presumably off a peg. Though the poem is ostensibly about the narrator’s relationship with their mother. The poem is filled with ambiguity and in several areas what is metaphorical and what is real is very difficult to ascertain.
Form and Tone
‘Homecoming’ is dramatic and poignant with humorous moments and chronicles developing relationships between parents and their children. It is about trust and how a child views the trust they have with their parents. It is presented in free verse in four stanzas of varying lengths (four lines, seven lines, six lines, and six lines) there is no rhyming pattern and the number of syllables per line seems to vary giving the poem an uneven feel. Perhaps to symbolize the sometimes random nature of a relationship between parent and child?
Analysis of Homecoming
Think, two things on their own and both at once.
backwards, blind, and those behind take all the weight.
From the outset of ‘Homecoming’, the narrator explains how it is supposed taken. They introduce the idea of dualism. This poem likens the situation with the narrator’s parents to the common trust game where you fall back into somebody’s arms and expects them to catch you. Alliteration is used in the final line with three “B-words” being used with the words blind and behind a rhyme. ‘Homecoming’ has no rhyming pattern and I think these two devices are used to emphasize the importance of putting your trust in people. I think the narrator is trying to make a point that trust is extremely important.
The second, one canary-yellow cotton jacket
in the house. You seeing red. Blue murder. Bed.
The start of this stanza details an incident where a coat has fallen on the fall; we presume the coat of the narrator. The falling from the hook is almost a mirror of the people falling backward as part of the “trust exercise” from the first stanza of ‘Homecoming’. The line that begins “back home” follows on and creates an element of tension. The preceding line describes a mother but makes it clear it is the reader’s mother. This use of the second person is rather jarring, as is the mother’s description. The use of the word model is very interesting as it has several meanings and I don’t think this is a coincidence. The description reads as if the narrator is being condescending. There’s perhaps just a hint of sarcasm in what they are saying. Being described as a “model mother” could suggest that the mother is just an archetypal mother or rather could be used in the context of a model like you might find in a miniature village, a toy if you will. Is this the narrator’s way of belittling their mother and if so, why? Perhaps because the narrator feels they are being let down by her?
We see in the next line the narrator criticizes their mother’s deductive reasoning using the amusing colloquialism “making a fist of it” The result of the mother’s presumably incorrect assumptions (We can’t be sure of the narrator’s reliability or impartiality) are for her to get mad. Once again her actions are belittled by the narrator who uses the phrase “temper temper” this is quite clever as it is a line that a parent would often use directed at a child in a sarcastic manner. Perhaps the insinuation is that she is acting rather childishly. She is compared to a speaker in the house of commons which once again could be considered derogatory! The word “bed” is a sentence all of its own and one can imagine an angry parent sending their child to be early with this simple command. Throughout this stanza Armitage uses colors to describe emotions this makes these descriptions very vivid and emotive.
Then midnight when you slip the latch and sneak
a father figure waits there, wants to set things straight.
This stanza is shrouded in ambiguity and open to interpretation. Here is my interpretation: I think it talks about the child version of the narrator sneaking out. But then revisits the memory as an adult. Perhaps the father-figure in question is the narrator themselves? Maybe he has returned to the scene and is reminiscing and thinking about the sort of fatherly advice that his current, grown-up self could offer the younger version of himself? To dispense sage advice to their younger self to help them understand life better? It is interesting that the narrator uses the phrase father figure rather than the father. Once again, as with the “model mother” the “father figure” could be a tool for belittling, suggesting that the father in the narrator’s life was somehow “toy-like” this is a clever mirroring in the description that the narrator uses for the mother.
These ribs are pleats or seams. These arms are sleeves.
These fingertips are buttons, or these hands can fold
like this, for size again. It still fits.
To hear this poem read aloud please click here
In this final stanza of ‘Homecoming’, the comparison between the coat and the trust exercise once again returns to the fore. With the person doing the catching actually being compared to the coat itself. The narrator describes stepping backward “into it” as if the narrator is getting a hug from their parent. The use of the word buckle in the fourth line is interesting as it has a double meaning, as well as representing a physical part of the jacket I think this is used to mean “give in” as well. I think the metaphorical meaning of ‘Homecoming’ is revealed here as it suggests that despite the conflict, after a hug from parents the trust is still there. The narrator at times is critical but it becomes clear at the end that there is healthy respect in place and that the trust that at one point seemed to have disappeared is in fact still in place.
About Simon Armitage
Simon Armitage is a highly respected and prolific British poet. Hailing from Yorkshire he accents his poetry with northern slang giving his poetry quite a British feel. Among his accolades are his roles as a professor of poetry at Oxford University. Armitage worked as a parole officer prior to becoming a poet and this informs a lot of his work. In particular his earlier poetry from his “Zoom” collection.