Critical Analysis of The Shout
Poetry is born where the human voice, where the common speech, tends to break down. In, “The Music of Poetry”, T.S. Eliot wrote that poetry should strike the reader or the listener as ‘how I should talk if I talk poetry.’ In times of great ecstasy and distress, syntax implodes. Where speech fails us, poetry begins. “The Shout” by Simon Armitage is about shapeless human voice, which eradicates common speech that connects two human beings. The poetry tells us the childhood story in grade-school of the narrator, and his nameless and faceless classmate, when they were assaying a science experiment to “measure the size of the human voice”. It could be argued that all the poets face this challenge every time they attempt to pen down a poem. Describing the impromptu eventual failure, Armitage says, “It’s that point where the experiment breaks down that I try and get the poetry rush in and fill the gap”.
First appeared in book form as the opening poem of a collection entitled, “The Universal Home Doctor” in 2002, “The Shout”, freshly explores both the transcendent and the banal with authenticity, lyricism and originality. Simon Armitage, often compared by scholars with Philip Larkin, envelops this poem with the smell of that familiar dry, melancholic smoke, only Larkin could produce, with just a few short lines. The poem is in devastating three-line stanzas, twenty words gunshot explosion to the reader’s psyche. Here, the rhyme and rhythm underpin the words and hold them together as a cohesive pattern. But the poet also displaces the end rhymes, using them internally to create links, echoes and rhythm.
Armitage consistently picks up small, local, recognizable and vignettes and without any mercy extrapolates them, stretching them to the very bounds of human experience, and indeed of our universe. But, this never seems forced, but rather the most natural thing in the world to examine the minutiae of our lives through the grandness of the universe. The poem is inescapably inclusive as it constantly pulls back from the specific scene to the universal theme. If the purpose of the poetry, as Hamlet once said, is to hold the mirror up to nature then Armitage’s enviable quality is his ability to make one thing reflect another, and to encourage his readers to recognize themselves in poetry. “The Shout” is his ‘signature tune’ which tends to ‘place me a little bit, give me sense of where I am from, what I write about’, Armitage is at once informative, evocative and brilliant. The poem reflects the recollections of their experiment ‘with no equipment’, they went out of the school and into the playground. It was decided that the narrator would stay at the same place while his classmate would ‘set off shouting at some point’ he would not be able to hear him. And there came a moment when the boy whose “name and face” the poet does not remember anymore, fell off the edge into Lancashire...