General analysis of 'The Examination', by Roger McGough

Essay by GTPr01High School, 11th gradeA+, June 2008

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In this poem, Roger McGough presents metaphorically the difficult life of a modern-day poet, his attempt to appeal to the public his work whilst also managing to please the critics.

The poem opens with McGough asking a ‘doctor’ for his opinion on a recently written poem. This ‘doctor’ or ‘publisher/critic’, as we would assume in a non-poetic sense, goes on to ‘stab a cold finger into the poem’s heart’- which suggest metaphorically that this ‘surgeon’ is dissecting McGough’s work. This is well illustrated, for in reality, McGough’s life; his future as a poet, is in this ‘publisher’s hands. Furthermore, in using such a sinister overtone he describes the critic’s cold, analytical nature. It is in this period of the examination of his poem that he reveals the first signs of stress and anxiety, evident by McGough’s portrayal of the clock ticking ‘nervously’ and the fact that his ‘palms’ began to ‘sweat.

Much like a doctor being unable to cure an illness and save one’s life, this publisher is unable to accept the written poem, thus triggering McGough’s road to death.

The poem (as stated before), generally describes the difficult life of a modern-day poet, whose potential for success has been considerably hindered over the past 100 years, with other forms of entertainment such as television, recorded music, and radio having taken up some of the spotlight. He states in the third stanza that he ‘was to remain one of the all-time great unknown poets’, which is an obvious implementation of irony- for he is but one of many poets who have tried and failed in their quest for recognition in the world of entertainment. Regardless, this is unfortunate for McGough, for his poetry is an integral part of him. A line where this is shown is in the second stanza where he ‘buttons up his manuscript’ and leaves. Like buttoning up a shirt or jacket, this manuscript, this poetry, is what he wears to help him shield himself in the world. It is after all this coming to terms with his failure as a poet in succeeding in a world of impossible-to-please critics that he decides to ‘end it all’.

Within the poem, McGough uses poetic terminology such as ‘odes’ and ‘stanzas’ (To replace ‘cats and dogs’) and ‘catching a crowded anthology’ (a tram or train perhaps) to more vividly describe the poetic life around him; that he sees the world as a poem. This impressive literary display of using poetic terms to represent, metaphorically, real-life objects is employed to great extent in the fourth and final stanza, where illustrated is McGough’s suicidal attempt to appeal to, if not the critics, the people his poetic genius by compromising his poetic integrity and ‘taking an overdose of lyricism’. Following his ‘waiting’ of the ‘final peace’ is the bursting into the room of the ‘Verse Squad’, which is followed by the ‘Poetry Police’ (there to arrest McGough for his appalling, criminal act of trying to show to the people; the world, his poetry). The irony here is that while the critics are happy for poets to try and fail to seek critical recognition, to actively seek public recognition is seen as completely unacceptable.

In this rather unique poem, Roger McGough has illustrated cleverly that it is very difficult in the life of a poet, or for any entertainer of that matter, to succeed in the modern world where one must both endure and overcome the apathy and criticisms of society.

NO external sources were used in the construction of this essay.