Comparison of Patten’s ‘The Armada’ and Duran’s ‘Coat’
Like Duran’s poem ‘Coat”, Patten’s ‘The Armada’ is written as an anecdote, and recounts a childhood memory of Patten’s mother. He writes about a time when he played with toy boats in a pond, and compares this to the death of his mother.
Like Duran, Patten writes in the past tense, creating a sense of time which separates both of the poets from their childhood, and the memories of their mothers. Patten opens his poem with the phrase ‘long, long ago’, which mimics the opening of a fairy-tale. This perhaps suggests that he longs for his childhood spent with his mother, as it is like a perfect fairy-tale, but also creates a dream-like tone, as it no longer feels real to him. However, the fact that he ends his poem with the same line creates the idea of a recurring cycle of life, and so the death of his mother brings the beginning of new life, and a childhood for someone else.
Unlike Duran, who is mostly passive and inactive in her poem, only ‘staying against’ her mother, Patten ‘launched a child’s armada across a pond. The use of the semantic field of war with the words ‘armada’ and ‘fortress’ suggests that, unlike Duran, who hid from life ‘behind’ her mother, Patten viewed life as a battle in which he was an active participant. The fact that his ‘fortress’ is ‘broken’ suggests that, unlike Duran, who is protected by her mother, Patten felt that he was vulnerable to the dangers of life. Whilst Duran uses the weather to represent the harsh realities of the world, Patten writes that his boats were set ‘on flame’ by the sunset. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the way in which nature destroys life, as well as beginning it. This s supported by the way in which he returns to this metaphor at the end of the poem, saying that, as his mother dies, his ‘heart burned as that armada burned’. Here the imagery of ‘fire’ perhaps represents emotion and grief, as well as the destruction of life.
The position in which the poets place their mothers in relation to themselves is also in sharp contrast. Whilst Duran stood ‘just behind’ her mother, suggesting that it was her mother who protected her, Patten writes that his mother ‘stood behind’ him, suggesting perhaps that, even as a child, he felt that he had to protect his mother. Similarly, Patten writes that his mother’s ‘thin overcoat’ was ‘flapping’. This contrasts with Duran’s use of the metaphor of clothes for protection. The fact that his mother’s clothes are ‘thin’ suggests that she is vulnerable, and so in need of protection from her son. The onomatopoeic ‘flapping’ also helps to create a strong sense of place.
Neither of the poets mention a father in their poems. Perhaps in Duran’s case this is simply because she felt no need to mention him, as her mother offered enough protection and comfort, and so his presence was irrelevant. However, Patten writes that his mother was ‘alone’, creating the impression that she struggled as a single mother, adding to the idea of vulnerability. This effect is added to when Patten describes her as ‘old at twenty-three’, suggesting that his mother was unable to have the childhood that she gave him, something which makes me feel sad. He suggests also that his mother had no happiness in life, as she is ‘impatient to be going’. As well as her desire to leave the pond where her son is playing, this may also refer to her desire for her life to end, as it finally does in the second part of the poem. The fact that she dies when her son is an adult, instead of ending her life herself perhaps indicates her loyalty and love for her son, something which makes me think about how much my own mother has sacrificed in caring for me.
Whilst Duran alludes to the death of her mother when she refers to her as ‘mortal’, Patten dedicates a large part of his poem to describing the death of his mother. He compares her ‘cool skin’ to the ‘cool surface’ of the pond which he played by as a child. This adds to the idea of a recurring cycle of life, but perhaps also suggest that his mother’s death is part of nature, just as the pond which he sent out an armada to conquer is part of nature also. The fact that his armada was unable to conquer the pond, as it returns in the form of his dying mother’s skin, perhaps reflects his realisation that he is unable to conquer death.
Like Duran with her phrase ‘mortal mother’, Patten creates the impression that life is fleeting when he repeats the superlative ‘smallest’, writing that he has been separated from his mother by the ‘smallest whisper of death’. This reminds me of my mother’s, as well as my own, vulnerability, and how easy it is for our lives to be changed by death.
Like ‘Coat’, ‘The Armada’ is structured in one single stanza, which perhaps reflects the unbroken and continuous cycle of life. The irregular line lengths are perhaps intended to represent the ripples in the pond by which Patten played, and so is almost a concrete poem.
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Like Duran’s poem ‘Coat”, Patten’s ‘The Armada’ is written as an anecdote, and recounts a childhood memory of Patten’s mother. He writes about a time when he played with toy […]