In the poem “Lizzie, Six” by Carol Ann Duffy, a young girl is being questioned by an abusive adult. Every time the child answers, the adult gives a negative or threatening response, in an almost cruelly sarcastic manner. Similarly, the poem “Quetzals only come once” by Sheenagh Pugh describes a young child speaking to an adult. The adult, whom we are told is the child’s mother, is creating shapes through a kaleidoscope for her child. Both poems explore the theme of innocence. In “Lizzie, Six” the adult questions Lizzie at the beginning of each new verse, to which she responds with very childlike, innocent responses.
Her responses are written in italics. The adult then claims they will give her (whatever she has said), followed by a threat or cruel remark. For example, “I’ll give you fields, bend over that chair”. The threats seem to become worse as the poem continues. Duffy cleverly displays child abuse to the audience in the form of first person, making it seem more of a reality by placing the reader in the position of the abuser. The poem has a continuous rhythm, with an underlying aggressive tone. The continuous rhythm is sculpted by the structure of the poem; each stanza has the same layout.
The first line is the question, the second is Lizzie’s response, the third is repetition, the fourth is the threat. The fourth line of each stanza rhymes. The repetitive structure of the poem could suggest the repetitive nature of child abuse; it is a continuous cycle that only gets worse. Lizzie’s responses are simple and innocent, as most children’s would be. She is “watching the moon,” going to “play in the fields,” “thinking of love” , “hiding deep in the wood,” and “afraid of the dark. Many of these responses may have deeper meanings, for example, the moon symbolises dreams, ambition and purity, things that will be taken away from Lizzie. She wants to play in the fields like any other child, but she is stopped from going anywhere. She may be thinking of love because she wants to be loved, craving a normal child/ adult relationship. She hides deep in the wood to escape, but is found. She is afraid of the dark, like most children. However, instead of being comforted she is left and isolated in it, the adult “gives her the dark”, and they do not care.
Duffy creates an image of a child who is trapped, every want or wish, simple as it may be, is disallowed by the adult. She can’t even think freely. Her innocence is being destroyed as her childhood has been snatched away, she is forced to miss out on it and grow up. Irony is used to twist a normal response into something threatening, and sickening. It is possible that Duffy has chosen to speak about a girl suffering child abuse as females are more vulnerable, they are often seen as the weaker sex and positions of power can be abused toward them.
Duffy explores the theme of child abuse in a very blunt, chilling way, bringing the topic directly to the readers’ attention. The main difference between the two poems is that “Lizzie, Six” tells the story of an abusive adult speaking to a child, whereas “Quetzals only come once” tells the story of a loving mother speaking to a child. Both children are young and innocent, but one adult destroys the innocence whilst the other protects it. In huge contrast, Sheenagh Pugh explores a theme of maternal love in “Quetzals only come once”, whereas Carol Ann Duffy explores child abuse in “Lizzie, Six”.
Another difference is the way in which language is used, and the style in which they are written. “Lizzie, Six” has a very straightforward, clear meaning. Perhaps it needs to be this way because the issue it describes is so important, there’s no nice way to interpret it. Whereas the meanings in “Quetzals only come once” are more hidden, and harder to identify. In the poem, “Quetzals only come once”, a mother is making patterns in a kaleidoscope to show her child. The patterns and their colours represent the Ocean, the Autumn and a Quetzal bird. We are told this in italics.
Each stanza describes them; the Quetzal impresses the child the most. The child asks the mother to make the pattern again, but she can’t and explains that “Quetzals only come once. ” Pugh describes beautiful things in an alternative way in this poem, by using unusual description to create imagery in the form of patterns. For example “swirls of blue deepen to purple and black welling up. Silver flecks dart through the shadows. ” Metaphors are used frequently to give the description a more vivid effect, the motions and movement become clear as a result of these techniques. Pugh also makes s think about precious moments, the ocean is a common sight, and the Autumn is a season that comes every year, but Quetzals are rare. This is displayed through the child’s responses, “Do another one”, “What else can you do? ” They clearly are not very impressed. However, when the Quetzal is created the child grabs the kaleidoscope and says “Make the Quetzal again! ” But in the excitement the child “sends the pattern splintering. ” This may have a number of deeper meanings. It may represent how good things are rare to find. As well as the fragility of wonderful things, and special moments, displaying how easily they can be destroyed.
The child through their innocence does not understand that by grabbing the kaleidoscope they have destroyed the pattern, does not understand why it can’t be made again, highlighting their innocence and lack of understanding. It cannot be made again because it’s so unique, just like some moments can’t be recreated again. These are the bonding moments between mother and child that are crucial when growing up. The poem has a soft tone throughout, there is no aggression. It portrays an idea of a caring mother who speaks softly, lovingly to her child.
The stanzas are less structured, giving the reader time to think about what is being described and representing the time it takes for the child to take in the pattern and the time it takes to be made. Here, the child is allowed to behave like a child, exploring colours and patterns, their childhood is preserved as the adult takes the time to entertain them. The child speaks freely and is not met by any control or cruel comment. Studying these poems has shown me how child abuse can snatch away innocence, and the importance of protecting it. I found “Lizzie, Six”, a very chilling poem.
I feel it has been addressed in a very matter of fact way, giving readers a direct insight into disturbing events. I think it’s important that we are aware of what people go through and how the loss of innocence can affect childhood, it is a subject that should be brought to attention more often. “Quetzals only come once” in contrast, emphasises the importance of maternal love, grasping precious moments and protecting innocence. The kind of bond and the moments that mother and child share in “Quetzals only come once” ,though they seem like normal, every day bonding moments, will never be given to the girl in “Lizzie, Six. The contrast and comparison task has shown how much some children miss out on from a broken childhood. Both poems are reminders of important issues, and by writing about child abuse in such a striking and bold way, Duffy has shown how poetry can be used to reflect dark, real life problems. Whilst Pugh has shown how a regular childhood moment can have a deeper meaning, teaching us to appreciate that good things don’t always last. Just as childhood doesn’t last and should be treasured and protected.