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A Comparison of Half-past Two by UA Fanthorpe and Leaving School by Hugo Williams

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Half-past Two and Leaving School are both poems based around school and yet they both show two completely different experiences of school. U A Fanthorpe’s Half-past Two is a light-hearted and slightly comical poem whereas Hugo William’s Leaving School, shows a more serious and negative view of school.

The titles of these poems suggest that they have something in common. The title Half-past Two brings to mind the time that the school day ends, and the title Leaving School brings to mind the end of the school day also. However, after further examination it is clear that the title Leaving School gives false expectations of the poem. This is because it begins with someone starting school and looks at school over a longer period of time whereas Half-past Two only looks at one day.

The first line Half-past Two; ‘Once upon a schooltime’ has an interesting effect because the phrase ‘once upon a..’ is usually associated with fairy tales and other childish sentiments. This line makes the poem seem childish and we can tell by this line that the little boy is not telling the story, but someone else (perhaps another child) is telling the story. Leaving School’s first line: ‘I was eight when I set out into the world’, creates a completely different atmosphere because it is not entirely clear what the narrator is referring to and it seems more significant than school. The line also makes it clear that the boy in the story is also the narrator.

Throughout Half-past Two, the narrator repeats phrases that appear to be the words of someone that the narrator is quoting indirectly. For example, ‘He did Something Very Wrong’ appears to be the words of the teacher and phrases such as ‘ timeyouwereofftime ‘ and ‘notimeforthatnowtime ‘ appear to be the words of the little boy’s parents.

There are also direct quotes; ‘my goodness’ and ‘I forgot all about you’ which are the words of the teacher. All of the indirect quotes of the teacher seem sarcastic and humorous, Leaving School does not really use any direct or indirect quotes of anyone but the boy and this makes Leaving School more serious than Half-past Two The narrator of Leaving School refers to the teachers as ‘they’; this shows the distance between the pupils and the teachers. The fact that the teachers are referred to as ‘they’ makes them seem almost like an enemy. The narrator in Half-past Two does not refer to the teacher by her name either but as ‘Her’ or ‘She’. This creates a similar effect in Half-past Two as it does in Leaving School. However, this is more effective in Leaving School because it makes the little boy seem bitterer.

Throughout Leaving School the narrator’s bitterness towards school seems to grow and what starts as quite a positive view of school becomes more negative as the poem progresses. The end of Leaving school is the only part of the poem strongly linked to the title and it is unclear whether it is the boy just fantasising about leaving school or if the boy is actually leaving. Throughout Half-past Two, the mood remains reasonably positive, even when the little boy gets into trouble. Half-past Two ends in a similar way as it began, because it began as a fairy tale it’s ending, with it’s references to ‘ever’, resembles happy-ever-after, the traditional closing phrase for a fairy tale.

The style of the language used by Fanthorpe in Half-past Two is informal and childish. The words sometimes used (‘Gettinguptime’ or ‘notimeforthatnowtime’)

re-enforces the childishness of the language because they are not always real words. In Leaving School, Williams uses language that is still informal and clearly that of a child but not as make-believe as the language in Half-past Two. Fanthorpe appears to be much more experimental with her use of language than Williams is.

Both Fanthorpe and Williams use imagery in their poems, which help to create atmosphere. A good example of Williams’ imagery in leaving school is:

‘think of the timetable as a game of Battle ships’

(Line 9)

This simile makes it seem as though, according to the timetable, if you managed to get to the right place at the right time it was a great achievement. Fanthorpe also uses imagery to add to the mood of make-believe in Half-past Two, with the personification of the clock:

‘He knew the clockface, the little eyes

And two long legs for walking,’

(Lines 16 and 17)

This phrase is an example of personification, but is also a metaphor and re-enforces the fact that the boy is very young as he takes the words ‘clockface’ and ‘legs’ literally. Fanthorpe also uses personification in stanza eleven, ‘time hides…waiting to be born’ and she uses an oxymoron in stanza eight, ‘silent-noise’. Overall, it seems as though Fanthorpe has paid more attention to imagery than Williams has.

The way in which the two poems are laid out is completely different. Leaving school is divided into three medium sized stanzas whereas Half-past Two is divided into eleven small stanzas. The layout of Leaving school makes it seem more detailed than Half-past Two, which seems more simple and blunt by the layout. Fanthorpe uses italics to show the teacher actually taking and Williams uses speech marks instead. The italics used by Fanthorpe make the teacher seem more comical than speech marks would have done.

Half-past Two Fanthorpe’s Half-past Two is very different to Williams’ Leaving School because seems to appeal to a wider audience than Leaving School. This is mainly because many of the phrases in Leaving School do not seem to make much a sense, and the message of the poem is more complex than Half-past Two. Each line in Half-past Two relates to the line before or after it whereas in Leaving school two consecutive lines may have no connection.

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