In this unconventional love poem, ‘I am very bothered’, the Speaker reveals how, in a bungled attempt to show his attraction for a classmate, he ill-advertently scars her for life. You can read the whole poem here.
Explore I am very bothered
14 lines long, ‘I am very bothered’ is a sonnet, although it does not follow the traditional rhyme scheme and is split into three uneven stanzas, of 7, 4, and 3 lines long. The Speaker breaks too from the usually elevated style of writing often associated with love poetry. Armitage employs ‘plain English’ and straightforward language in his poem and makes must use of internal and half-rhyme. It is these half-lines which give the poem its distinctive rhythm. Particularly when read aloud, the reader knows instinctively where to pause and place the emphasis.
Title – ‘I am very bothered‘
The title is somewhat problematic, as the term ‘bothered’ suggests that the Speaker does not feel sufficiently remorseful after such a misdemeanor. It brings to mind the phrase ‘can’t be bothered’, which is a somewhat trite, laconic response. Even with the use of the qualifier ‘very’, it still seems inadequate.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
I am very bothered when I think
of the bad things I have done in my life.
in the naked lilac flame of the Bunsen burner;
then called your name, and handed them over.
The poem beings almost in a conversational style, taking the title of the poem as its opening. The Speaker tells us that he is ‘bothered’ when he thinks upon ‘the bad things’ he has done, using the simplistic language of right and wrong. Even the adjective ‘bad’ seems somewhat childish, but since he reveals that this event takes place in the ‘chemistry lab’, we know that he was a schoolboy at the time. He then gives us a specific example of a ‘bad thing’. He tells us exactly how he engineered the incident, and through the use of active verbs- ‘held’, ‘played’ ‘called’ and ‘handed’, it is clear that this is not a spontaneous decision; it is hard to feel much sympathy for him as this is meticulously planned.
Sensuous language is employed to help us imagine the scene. We are alerted to danger as he holds the scissors by their ‘blades’ and
played the handles/in the naked lilac flame.
There is something almost luxuriant in the verb ‘played.’ This also suggests that it is ‘just a game’ but we fear what will happen next. This long sentence, describing his actions scans over 5 lines.
He is taking his time, and we can almost see the shimmering flame. The fact that it is lilac, not even orange, lends it an even more ferocious heat and the adjective ‘naked’ heightens the sense of risk. As well as the alliteration of ‘b sounds’ in ‘Bunsen burner’ we hear the word ‘burn’ and wonder what the Speaker is plotting to do.
O the unrivalled stench of branded skin
the doctor said, for eternity.
The first line is almost shocking in its brutality, all the more so because the poet omits any mention of the victim’s reaction. This use of omission or understatement makes us, the reader, imagine what happened, which serves to intensify the horror. The line begins ‘O’, which is a literary device known as an apostrophe, and is used here to add impact. Next, it is the sense of smell that is channeled, and if we are to believe what the Speaker says, this is unrivaled. We know exactly how serious this injury is by the use of the verb ‘branded.’ This is the only line in the poem which sounds like the traditional language used in conventional love poetry.
In Shakespeare’s sonnets, he often made comparisons, implying that the object of his affection was superior to something else. However, this poem of Armitage’s has taken a twisted turn, as he describes the smell of burnt flesh. It takes us into the murky world of medieval torture and the harsh, cacophonous sound of ‘stench’ further accentuates this.
The reader feels more sickened still when reading the next line, as the unsuspecting girl unwittingly takes the proffered items. The repetition of ‘burning’ re-emphasizes the residual heat, and of course, the mention of rings makes us wince. Wedding rings are exchanged to express love and never-ending devotion, unlike these permanent reminders of pain. We can feel something of the girl’s agony as the rings refuse to budge. There is a juxtaposition between how easy it was as she ‘slipped’ her thumb and finger in, and then her inability to ‘shake off the burning rings.’ A full stop here provides the caesura pause; to suspend these agonizing moments and etch them in our minds. Our suspicions that this has been a serious injury is confirmed with the doctor’s prognosis, that they will be ‘Marked,’ for eternity.’ Again this line is delivered in a flat, matter-of-fact tone. This story is simply being reported, as it happened, open and honest.
Don’t believe me, please, if I say
of asking you if you would marry me.
We cannot help though but feel that the poet is playing with us in the last stanza. He uses an imperative, speaking directly to the reader to say ‘Don’t believe me, please’. We are left wondering whether he wants us to sympathize with him or not. He uses the adjective ‘butterfingered’ to describe his clumsy attempt at courtship. The adjective works on several levels: once again, it uses the word ‘finger’ which is already at the forefront of our minds, but secondly, it is a huge understatement, suggesting that he is careless or maladroit, when in fact that was an act of great cruelty, regardless of his intention. The use of parenthetical commas and enjambment gives this stanza a conversational tone.
As this poem appears in the Relationships Anthology by the examination board CCEA, it could be used in a question regarding romantic love, and be about expressing regrets, complications, or even misunderstandings in relationships.
About Simon Armitage
Simon Armitage was born in 1963 in West Yorkshire, where he still lives today. He is a poet, playwright, and translator. In the 1990s he gave up his job as a probation officer to devote his life to writing. Armitage has since won numerous awards for his poetry, and in June 2019 received the accolade of becoming the 21st Poet Laureate. He has just relinquished his post as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University. In a recent interview with Lisa Allardice in the Guardian review, he is quoted as saying that he ‘arrived at literature like a kid in a sweetshop’. His work is both playful and serious, poignant and pithy, and high-brow and earthy. He has never forgotten his Yorkshire roots.