Stanza three

The final stanza is devoted to a reflection upon the man’s situation. The opening lines state, in frank terms, the man’s dependence on others for simple tasks.

The man’s appearance is a particular focus for the speaker who describes his hands as wet leaves/stuck to the half-white stick. The simile compares the man’s hands to limp, wet leaves emphasising his feebleness and lack of strength. Once again, this is an image that reinforces the man’s infirmity as he clutches the cane which guides his movements.

The choice of the verb evade to describe the reactions of many who see the man allows us to appreciate his helplessness. This suggests a calculated effort by those around the man to avoid him, to deliberately and wilfully ignore his need for help.

The choice of this word suggests a pessimistic view of society where helping others in need is something which people find difficult. We get an impression that, while the speaker helped the man, we could not be certain that others would. Worse still, many people would actively avoid having to help.

The poem ends with a nihilistic howl of despair as the speaker finally releases his emotions. The anguished appeal to Dear Christ is loaded with irony, since the teachings of Christ are founded on showing kindness and compassion to those most in need. The tone is almost accusatory, as though the speaker is angry that anyone should be born into an existence such as this.

The final line, then, conveys not only the speaker’s frustration and pity for the old man, but also his anger and disgust for a society which can so easily ignore the most vulnerable and weak in our communities. In doing so, he exposes this unpalatable truth and forces us to confront our own attitudes and responsibilities to people in similar situations.

Themes

Helplessness and suffering are central concerns in the poem. Although the poem focuses on just one individual, the old man becomes representative of everyone in society who must rely on the assistance of others just to function at the most basic level. This single incident is merely a snapshot of the man’s life and serves to illustrate the indignity and humiliation of such an existence. However, although his plight elicits sympathy from the reader, he also inspires admiration through his tenacity and determination.

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