Tuesday, 10 November 2009


The first stanza of Simon Armitage's poem 'Hitcher' reveals that the narrator has been off work for a while and is under threat of losing his job. He states that he had been 'tired, under/the weather', not seriously ill. He doesn't answer the phone calls from work, so messages are left, and he describes the ansaphone as 'screaming' that he will be fired if he produces another sick note. This is someone who seems unable to face the routine of everyday life. He himself hitches a lift to the place where he has a hired car parked, but gives us no information as to the purpose of his journey or his destination.

The first line of stanza two abruptly introduces the hitcher: 'I picked him up in Leeds'; the hitcher is only ever refered to as 'him' or 'he'. We are told that he is travelling from east to west, 'following the sun', and the only possession he has with him is a toothbrush. He sleeps in the open, on 'the good earth'. He tells the narrator that the truth is 'blowin' in the wind', an obvious quote from a Bob Dylan song of the 1960s. The narrator's comment that the truth could perhaps be 'round the next bend' is an ominous precursor to what follows, but we may not realise this on first read.

The fact that stanza three describes the narrator's sudden violent attack on the hitcher reveals the envy that he felt when confronted by a person who appeared to have total freedom. 'I let him have it' is a blunt description of the physical attack during which the narrator hit the hitcher initially with his own head and then 'six times with the krooklok', directly in his face. Ruthlessness is all too apparent when he tells us that he carried on driving, 'didn't even swerve' during the attack.

Armitage uses enjambment to link the third stanza to the fourth, as the narrator describes how he pushed the hitcher out of the car whilst in third gear and watched him 'bouncing off the kerb'. The statement 'We were the same age, give or take a week' tells us that the narrator obviously made a direct comparison between himself and the hitcher. The hitcher 'said he liked the breeze/to run its fingers/through his hair': the personification brings to life this description that must have aroused such envy in the narrator at the hitcher's freedom that he began his frenzied attack. We are now into the fifth and final stanza, and the narrator's cold-heartedness is once again emphasised in his matter-of-fact tone as he listens to the car radio: 'It was twelve noon./The outlook for the day was moderate to fair.' This is a man who may have just killed someone.

The last two lines begin with another blunt, abrupt sentence: 'Stitch that.' The irony of the last line, 'you can walk from there', is all too clear, as the hitcher would have been in no state to walk having been brutally attacked and forced out of a moving vehicle.

The structure of the poem is in fact very balanced, consisting of five stanzas of five lines each. The lines vary in length but follow the same pattern in each stanza, beginning with a short one, increasing in length until the third line, and gradually decreasing in the fourth and fifth. The only rhymes in the poem are lines three and five in the first stanza ('fired' and 'hired'), and lines three and five in the final stanza ('fair' and 'there').

This is a first-person narrative reflecting different extremes in society: two men of the same age, one of whom has succeeded in escaping the rat-race, the other caught up in it but unable to face up to its demands and threatened with losing his job. Confronted by someone who has found the freedom he so covets, the narrator cannot bear listen to him or see him sitting beside him. Envy, pent-up anger and violence are unleashed. One man may be dead; the other is unrepentent, devoid of emotion.

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