“The Sick Equation”, is a poem which portrays a young boy’s struggle to cope with the adult world, and the long-term effects his parents’ quarrelling had on him. The poem “Long Distance” also shows the problems a young boy faces throughout life, which involve his parents and the overall concept of growing up. They are both caught in the middle of their troubled family lives and so later on, they both show very unusual responses due to their affected ideologies and adapted mentality.
The young boys are both highly influenced by the incorrect attitude of their parents. They are both deprived of the real world and try to be uninvolved in difficult issues due to their insecurities and cowed attitudes. “Long Distance” starts off to talk about the widowed father’s reaction to the loss of his beloved wife. The poet shows us how his father could not come to terms with his mother’s death and seemed to be in a state of denial. His father managed to cope with the situation by pretending that she had not died at all, just “popped out to get the tea”.
We know the father is completely sane and aware of his wife’s death because “he clears away her things to look alone”, so it is about his resolve to still keep her alive in his mind, by doing all the mundane things that he must have been doing for the many years they were married. This shows the strong love in Harrison’s family, love that is unaltered even by death, which contrasts with the hatred which is shown in Brian Patten’s household. The title “Long Distance” is partly ironic in my opinion; as the love shared between them represents very strong and close, family bonds which remains untouched even after death.
The physical distance between them is only an obstacle and can never separate their hearts, minds, or even souls from each other. However, Brian Patten compares love to a factual matter, almost like an equation in maths! In my opinion love was like a maths problem that Brian could not yet solve, due to him being so young. “The Sick Equation”, which refers to Brian’s belief that “one and one stayed one and one”, is actually created by his parents; this is what he had learnt “in that raw cocoon of parental hate”.
He thought that all couples will end up like his parents. We cannot blame him for his way of thinking as he describes to us how painful it was to watch his parents fight all the time, “all that household’s anger and its pain stung more than any teacher’s cane”. We get the idea that maybe his parent’s love was single-sided, as he says “by becoming two at least one would suffer… ” After studying both poems, you immediately notice the contrast of both families, especially the parental relationships, and how important it is in a child’s life.
In “Long Distance”, you can almost see not jus their living room and the fire, but the pattern of their entire married life from this one little snapshot. She is gone, and yet he harbours this hope… even conviction that “very soon he’d hear her key scrape in the rusted lock”. Their style of living is very simple and unpretentious, which creates a very rustic yet warm atmosphere, just like the simple and genuine love between them. On the other hand, Brian Patten’s “raw cocoon of parental hate” is completely the opposite.
The fact that his parents love did not last after marriage, but turned into pure hatred, proves that it was never real in the fist place, and that their commitment was a mistake all together. An even bigger mistake was to bring up a child in that “raw” atmosphere. In “The Sick Equation” Brian Patten personifies his house, as if it’s an angry person. It is very predictable that his parents’ bitterness and constant fights would affect him in the future.
Brian Patten is particularly affected by his parents’ incorrect up-bringing; we get the idea that he has no confidence and low self-esteem as he describes himself, “I grew-or did not grow-and kept my head down low” almost as if he didn’t want to exist or be noticed. Tony Harrison and Brian Patten both start with their past lives, telling their tales through the eyes of a young boy, yet towards the end of the poem they step back into the present and describe their thoughts after passing the painful passage in their lives.
The two poets appear a bit unemotional and spiritless; they do not really talk about their own feelings, yet towards the end of the poems we find out how badly they are actually hurt and how deeply they are affected. Each poem finishes with a twist which makes things much clearer to us. For example in “Long Distance”, just when you think you know what the writer is trying to tell you, just when you think you can empathise with him; his love for his father… nd his torment at watching his father everyday carrying on as if his wife was still alive, the poem jolts at you.
The last verse tells you that the poem was never about the father at all. The father is dead and long gone too… It’s about the writer and his own struggle to accept the finality of his parents’ death, and his own refusal to see them as “disconnected” from his life. He has even entered their telephone number in his “new black leather phone book” as if his parents were still alive.
The irony is only displayed in the last stanza; while we felt that Harrison thought it was weird that his father was acting in that way, he turns out to do the exact same. The word “disconnected” emphasizes on how distant Harrison and his parents have become. Similarly, in the last stanza of “The Sick Equation”, the poet realizes that he was wrong and now knows that love does not always hurt, the lesson he was taught or generalized from his parents’ life did not stay with him, he also contradicts what he says in the beginning of the poem, now he thinks that “by taking love all can in time refute”.
Throughout his years of youth, Brian had been misled into society; which is only a reflection of his parents’ behaviour and the consequences of their actions which resulted in an unstable, insecure, joyless child. He rejected love and tried to keep it away as he “crushed all its messengers”, this also meant that he rejected any kind of happiness and hope in his life; he later on realized that love is what gives life meaning and purpose. His negative idea of marriage is portrayed by using imagery of the “albatross” which is a very large bird.
In every wedding he attended he took the comfort in believing that “the shadow of the albatross-divorce” was looming over the bride and groom. Comparing divorce to a giant bird gives us an idea of how powerful and inescapable it is, he also believed that they were free when the divorce came, describing it as “flying free”. These are all the reasons to why he “never let love stay long enough to take root,” this means that he did not let himself get emotionally attached to anyone, as he was scared it will end up as the horror and depression of his parents’ marriage.
This also makes us wonder if he really loved his parents or not. The structures of the two poems are very different; each one has a layout which almost reflects the ideology and personality of the poet. “The Sick Equation” is written in 5 irregular stanzas with no particular rhyming pattern, although there are some internal rhyme schemes here and there for a deeper effect, like “absolute I could not question or refute” (line 3). “Long Distance” on the other hand, is written in 4 quatrains with a practical rhyming pattern of ABAB, which applies to all stanzas but the last.
It merely suits the Patten’s practical beliefs, like “life ends with death, and that is all” and the hinted disapproval of his father’s actions. Another important likeness in the structure of these two poems is their contradicting last stanzas. This makes us realize that they both lose their own arguments which they both start off with. The language of both poems are also similar, they both have a very conversational tone and mostly use colloquial language, with hints of sarcasm and irony which resembles their bitterness.
In “The Sick Equation”, Patten uses the terms “home sweet home” to describe his hating and chilly household. Harrison also uses sarcasm but in different ways, such as the use of italics on the word “knew” which indicates his slight mockery. Both poets also use imagery with the work “raw”; Brian Patten uses it to describe his “raw cocoon of parental hate”, which could give the meaning ignorant, cold and unskilled to the word. Yet Harrison has used it to describe his father’s “still raw love” for his mother, which gives the image of unhealed, painful and still new passion.
The two poems have a very depressing tone to them, and overall, they make the reader empathise with the poets, as Harrison struggles to accept the loss of his parents, and Patten tries to come to terms with his parents’ mistakes and his own wrong conclusions. The moods of the two poems are also very similar; they both have a very sorrowful and saddening moods and similar themes. The conversational language which is used also reflects on the poets’ similar backgrounds; they both come from a working-class, Christian family.
After reading each poem, you can clearly see the bitterness, frustration and sorrow coming from each poet; you can clearly see things from their point of view and completely empathize and sympathize with them. Nevertheless, there are also vast differences between the two poems; the most important is the moral or hidden message of each poem. It is not difficult to pick out the main point of each poem as each of the poems reflects the titles. The Sick Equation” clearly refers to Brian Patten’s first belief of the concept of love, (“one and one stayed one and one”) and “Long Distance” implies the parting of people at death and the ever-lasting distance between the loved and the lost. It is ironic that the title of each poem which was the idea they started off with was proven to be wrong by the poets themselves. At the ending verse of his poem, Patten confirms “in their (his parents) sick equation not stay caught” and Harrison also states that “the disconnected number I (he) still calls”.