I can’t hear the baristaRaymond Antrobus
over the coffee machine.
Join us as we deconstruct the AQA Worlds and Lives poetry at GCSE level. This With Birds You’re Never Lonely poem analysis takes the spotlight today, with the following explorations:
With Birds You’re Never Lonely Poetry Analysis – Overview
At the start, the speaker appears to be in a noisy café trying to hear what the barista is saying to them. They catch the eye of a man who is sitting in a corner reading about trees.
The speaker flashes back to the previous week when they are sat on a stump in a New Zealand forest. They are surrounded by Kauri trees and Tui birds, the latter of which are very loud. The speaker turns off their hearing aid and experiences total silence. They appear to gain something from this period of silence.
When they turn their hearing aid back on, the noise appears deafening as the forest ‘spat’ all the birds back. The speaker feels jealous of the sturdy Kauri trees and wonders what the trees would say about humankind: what books they would write if they had to cut humans down.
The speaker stumbles away and listens to a young Māori woman who seems to be communicating with the birds in the trees. The speaker feels sorry for ‘any grey tree in London’ that has no birds, no family and no spirits of the gods.
With Birds You’re Never Lonely Context
Raymond Antrobus was born in Hackney, London, in 1986 to a Jamaican father and an English mother. Although he was born deaf, this was not discovered until he was six years old. For many years, he thought his surname was Antrob because he did not notice there was a final syllable. Communication was a struggle for him throughout his life; he worked hard to learn sign language and to pronounce spoken words.
Antrobus has won many awards for his poetry, including the Ted Hughes Prize in 2019 for his collection titled The Perseverance, which was also named Poetry Book of the Year by The Guardian. He has an MBE for services to literature, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and has an MA in Spoken Word Education from Goldsmiths University. He has taken part in many poetry slams and has worked in schools to bring poetry to deaf children, keen for such students to experience enjoyment through words.
Antrobus grew up immersed in poetry. His mother would read a William Blake poem and they would discuss it. His dad would talk about Bob Marley being a poet and if he heard Grace Nichols on the radio, he would record it, play it to his son and talk about the poetry. His father’s favourite poets were Jamaican and he enjoyed the element of performance. Poetry was a source of joy for the young Antrobus and part of his family life.
Form and Structure
With Birds You’re Never Lonely is written in couplets, with the exception of the final line. This simple structure might suggest that the answer to achieving spiritual harmony or mental wellbeing is easy: just listen to the trees and birds around you, thriving within a nurturing environment. The repetitive nature of the couplets may reflect the constancy of the natural world, its longevity and reliability. It will always be there if we look after it. The final single line at the end of the poem is, perhaps, an ominous departure from this and may be a warning that, if we fail to find ourselves a nurturing environment within which to grow, we may find ourselves alone like the last line.
Communication: the poet plays with the ideas of communication and miscommunication, as the speaker endeavours to make sense of the world around them.
Spirituality: the poem explores the significance of connecting to nature and the need to find peace and serenity, for both our individual and our collective wellbeing.
Isolation: the speaker is able to cut themselves off from the surrounding world, both by retreating to the forest and by turning off their hearing aid. The man sitting in the corner reading about trees is similarly cut off, yet the speaker is able to connect imaginatively with them. Isolation also intersects with the two themes above.
Linking to other Poems
- Lines Written in Early Spring – William Wordsworth
- Shall earth no more inspire thee – Emily Brontë
- In a London Drawing Room – George Eliot
- Like an Heiress – Grace Nichols
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