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On a Portrait of a Deaf Man by John Betjeman

            John Betjeman's " On a Portrait of a Deaf Man" portrays a beloved father through an elegy constructed of disquieting contrasts, creating a poignant but incongruous tribute to a dead, deaf father. The poet's loving memories of his relationship with his father slowly unfolds with each stanza so that we are presented with a complete picture of his father. This contrasts the bitter relationship he has with God and his lack of faith. The poem is one of significant contrasts such as: life and death, past and present, youth and old age and noise and silence. The pun in title on the word 'deaf', though truthful, plays on the word 'dead' and introduces the comic irony present through out the poem. The structure of the poem itself is an example of comic irony. It is written in ballad form where four-line stanzas alternate using iambic tetrameter on the first and third lines and iambic triameter on the second and fourth lines. This creates a lyrical, jaunty rhythm, contrasting with the dark themes and sensory imagery of the poem. The first stanza presents affectionate memories of the Betjeman's father's physical characteristics, such as "The kind old face, the egg-shaped head." The oxymoron "discreetly loud" used to describe his father's tie conjures up an image of an eccentric character that evokes sympathy for the poet at such a loss. This element of pathos is followed by Betjeman's use of assonance with rhyme to contrast the comical 'loud" tie with the stark reality of a death "shroud", abruptly removing any illusions that death does not follow life. This pattern of incongruous imagery at the final line is a feature of almost every stanza of the poem constantly bringing the reader back to the present day from images of the past. Ironically the poet recalls the landscapes and aspects of nature that his father enjoyed and contrasts it with the graveyard.

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