Sunday, February 19, 2012

"An Outside Perspective"

J███████ S████████, 16 September 2011

Title: Rain Falls Under the Ceiling
Author: Aldridge Atcheson
Date: October – December 1848
Source: N/A. Nineteenth Century Unpublished Short Literary Works of Choice. Salisbury: N/A, 1962. Print.

“Rain Falls Under the Ceiling”, an obscure English poem recorded in the collection “Nineteenth Century Unpublished Short Literary Works of Choice”, deals with the themes of loss and abandonment, specifically of entire lives and memories. The poem tells the story of a man, namely the narrator, who wakes up in a London flat in the middle of a rainy day. Unable to remember “whatever or whomever [wills] that [he] be [there]”, the man wanders the streets and looks for familiar things that may lead him back to his past life, of which he has “no trace thicker than the mountain air” in his memory. The poem also repeatedly mentions “a blind elder ‘pon the grey stones” who seems to “sweep [him] with eyes that no longer see”, setting a foundation for the poem’s thematic elements.

A little knowledge of Atcheson’s life, as explained briefly in the book, gives us a greater insight into the way he relates to the theme. The short description included says that Atcheson was originally raised in a rural farm and had no education other than an English copy of the Torah that he taught himself to read with, which got him disliked in his village. As time went by, Atcheson found new books by poets and naturalists alike, which inspired him to write. By the time he was 29, he was living in London as an arithmetic teacher and had two publication deals for compilations of the many poems he’d written on the subjects of nature, society, and many other. According to the records, however, Atcheson disappeared a week before a crucial meeting with the publishers and was found six months later under a bridge, unkempt and emaciated – possibly the “dark, dreary clouds over [his] head” he writes about in the poem.

Note that the description said that all of this is “according to the records” kept by the publisher, which went bankrupt later. The owners’ descendants were killed in the Great Smog of 1952, making confirmation impossible. After the discovery, Atcheson supposedly couldn’t remember anything about several periods of his life (including the previous year) and was sent to a mental institution, where he continued to write his poems until his death in 1873.

The vague description of the cityscape, as seen from lines like “shadows, dead and living, blurring past” and “the rain seemed a thunderstorm, the doors on my sides seemed not from this world” is used here to reinforce the alien feeling the narrator feels due to his loss of memory, painting the familiar places as dark and foreign to his eyes. This kind of description is used throughout the poem to create a feeling of abandonment by the life he used to live. The A-B-A-B rhyme scheme used in the poem creates a sense of flow, which helps illustrate his desperation as he travels around the city (which is quite large) over and over again and still fails to find hints of his former life. The phrase “clouds over [his] head” mentioned earlier is also repeated several times throughout the poem. This is an example of repetition, which also creates a sense of flow and continuity, emphasising the persistence of said “clouds” and also making his loss of memory seem more dramatic.

The last few stanzas also mention the blind old man written about earlier. The old man is most likely a symbol for his failure to remember much of his past life. Descriptions like “blackened coat [absorbing] the last gleams of sunlight” are most likely intended to dramatize the severity of his own amnesia. The use of a blind old man as a symbol is fitting, as old men are stereotyped as being forgetful, and the man’s blindness may symbolise him being “blind” to his own past and surrounding. There is also the possibility that Atcheson is trying to use the metaphors to symbolise the causes of his loss, though the presence of a blind old man is not likely to be literal.

PS: As the poems included in the book are unpublished elsewhere, research has been more or less impossible. The only copy I know is an old leather-bound one I found in the town library, and most of them deal with similar themes in different situations and with different viewpoint characters, though less comprehensible (the two or three paragraphs of general information included with each entry helped a lot). Will investigate later; copy is on my Dropbox if anyone needs it.

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