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A Poem about an Earring
Click here for a worksheet on the Downside of Body Piercing.
You will need to understand the following words/phrases. Discuss with a classmate what you think each item means. Check a dictionary if necessary.
- an ear lobe
- a jeweller’s gun
- a safety-pin
- a sleeper
- a sore
- a wound
- the spiral of the ear
- to numb (something)
- to pierce (something)
- to thread (something)
- to lose your head
- to be easily led
- to have the nerve to do something
From The Book of Matches (1993), Simon Armitage
My father thought it bloody queer,
the day I rolled home with a ring of silver in my ear
half hidden by a mop of hair. "You’ve lost your head.
If that’s how easily you’re led
you should’ve had it through your nose instead."
And even then I hadn’t had the nerve to numb
the lobe with ice, then drive a needle through the skin,
then wear a safety-pin. It took a jeweller’s gun
to pierce the flesh, and then a friend
to thread the sleeper in, and where it slept
the hole became a sore, became a wound, and wept.
At twenty-nine, it comes as no surprise to hear
my own voice breaking like a tear, released like water,
cried from way back in the spiral of the ear. If I were you,
I’d take it out and leave it out next year.
- Which of the following do you think is the best summary of the poem?
- A boy had his ear pierced when he was younger. He was too scared to do the piercing himself. His father told him he was silly. The boy’s ear lobe got infected and it hurt.
- A 29-year-old man recalls how he had his ear pierced when he was younger. He remembers how his father disapproved. He also remembers how the piercing got infected. Today he regrets what he did.
- A teenage boy got his ear and his nose pierced. His father told him off. The piercings got infected and the boy then decided to take the jewellery out.
- The speaker remembers how he got his ear pierced when he was younger. He wanted to prove that he was tough and independent. His father told him he should take the ring out because the hole might get infected. The speaker refused. His father then shouted at him, "Take it out and leave it out next year!"
- What was the father’s attitude towards the boy’s earring?
- What does the father mean when he tells the boy "You should’ve had it through your nose instead"? (Which animal is sometimes led by a nose-ring?)
- What are two meanings of the word "queer"? (Is it possible that the father meant both of these?)
- The speaker wanted to rebel against his parents and show his independence. What proves that he was not so tough after all?
- In the final stanza the speaker recalls the terrible pain he felt because of his ear infection. Why do you think he kept the earring in even after the hole got infected?
- What is the speaker’s attitude to the incident now? (The words at the end, "If I were you …", could be his memory of what his father said. But they could also be his 29-year-old self giving advice to his teenage self.)
- What is your own attitude to the incident? (For example, do you think an earring can represent independence and the boy was right to get his ear pierced? Or do you think it would be better to show one’s independence in a different way?)