An analysis of ‘Half Hanged Mary’ by Margaret Atwood, from 3am to 6am. If you haven’t read my other post on HHM, poke around my blog and you’ll find it eventually (I hope!)
The voice of Webster in this section seems insane yet determined, she has got this far and can’t give in to death now. There’s no punctuation in this section, and no stanza form, to show the confusion in Webster’s mind. Atwood uses lots of repetition, as if Webster is losing her mind and is forgetting what she’s already said:
“Wind seethes in the leaves around
me the tree exude night
birds night birds yell inside”
As well as repetition Atwood uses homonyms and synonyms to suggest Webster’s lack of control of her mind, “I was born I have borne I bear I will be born”.
Atwood uses lots of vivid verbs, yet mainly violent ones, “yell” “stabbed” “clench”, suggesting that Atwood is thinking violently. Despite this, some of the verbs are more gentle, “fluttering”, which contrasts heavily with the violent verbs, insinuating confusion. Some verbs also have connotations with ways of killing witches, “dangle” “drowning” to reiterate the theme of the poem.
The voice of this section is calmer, and talks almost as if Webster is having a timeless out of body experience, “Time is relative,”. The section is split into 6 short stanzas, which shows that Webster has regained control of her mind, she is less confused.
There are again references to nature, yet Atwood remarks that the sun is “no longer a simile for God” – showing that Webster is questioning her faith (reminding me of Wilfred Owen’s ‘Futility’). Later on, in the fourth stanza of this section Atwood mixes the semantic field of religion and the semantic field of science to show how Webster is doubting everything, “listening to the gospel of the red-hot stars”.
The use of language and punctuation in the stanzas suggest that time is slowing down, like an out of body experience, “when you drift in space”. The use of verbs and abstract nouns highlights the odd, almost hallucinogenic nature of this experiene (reminding me of “Bayonet Charge” by Ted Hughes), “Pinpoints of infinity riddle my brain a revelation of deafness”.
Atwood talks about death, and how Webster hasn’t died physically, her hair hasn’t “turned white”, but she has died spiritually, her “heart” is gone, “bleached out”, suggesting that she has lost all of her love and goodness due to the hate of others.
“At the end of my rope”
This is a common feature of Atwood’s poetry in which she twists an idiom. She twists the common idiom ‘at the end of my tether’ which means to get frustrated to refer to the rope that Webster is being hung with. This suggests that Webster may be getting frustrated with life and feels like giving in to the temptation of death, she wants to “testify to silence” – silence being a euphemism for death. Yet in the last two lines of this section Atwood shows that Webster will not give in, saying that she will not only have one death, she “will have two.” The use of language in these last two lines are vain, almost as if Webster is showing off.
Thanks for reading,