Edexcel Poetry Anthology: ‘Half-past Two’

Example Analysis of ‘Half-past Two’ in the Edexcel iGCSE examined unit.

U. A. Fanthorpe’s “Half-past Two” presents the concept of time through the eyes of a child. Here the poet puts forward the abstract notion of Time as viewed by a child in the concrete, who does not fully comprehend it and therein finds himself lost. It also explores the psychology of a child who is too small to understand his mistake juxtaposed against a teacher reprimanding him for something beyond his memory with a detention which is also beyond his comprehension.

The stylistic melodrama of fractured Time is grounded in the child’s attempts to signpost and make concrete this disconcerting “clockless land”. To do so the child utilises a language he is familiar with: “Once upon a schooltime”. For a young child, activities define time as they are more concrete that “half-past two” and offers the ability to parcel up his experiences. “Onceupona”, the child had did “Something Very Wrong.” The capitalization of the language exemplifies the gravity of the mistake of the child which is compounded in his mind by being unclear what this mistake was and adds a level of poignancy to the poem as the child assumes the worst. This reinforces a sense of transgression that is inherent with the small child rather than an action and evokes intense empathy from the reader as a result of his naivety. The speaker himself forgets what the “Something Very Wrong” was, points to the superficiality of such social constructs as demarcations of time:

“… he’d done

Something Very Wrong, and must

Stay in the school-room till half-past two.”

“She” failed to be aware of the mentality of the child by not clearly outlining what his error was. Her manner was, one based on logic, one that is guided by cause and effect. ‘Because’ he had done something wrong, ‘so’ he is punished: “Being cross, she forgets that she had not taught him Time”. This drives home the age and immaturity of a child punished in detention yet has no concept of the reasoning behind this. Furthermore, the use of “she” highlights the universality of this experience for any child of a young age with a less than sympathetic adult figure.

His naivety is further exemplified as he was too scared of being “wicked to remind her” he doesn’t know how to read the time which further compounds the fairy tale language employed to highlight youth and innocence. This also acts to reinforce the child’s view of the world in naive binary opposites only further underscoring his lack of understanding of the world’s complexities. The child feelings inherently “wicked” which compares his confusing emotions to a solid point of reference in his young world. This is similar to his understanding of Time and he lists how he perceives time to solidify this comparison:

“He knew a lot of time: he knew

Gettinguptime, timeyouwereofftime,

Timetogohomenowtime, TVtime,

Timeformykisstime (that was Grantime).

All the important times he knew,

But not half-past two.”

His perception of time was concrete and not abstract. It consisted of specific neologisms which frame his reference of time and these are given to the reader in an apologetic attempt to demonstrate some awareness of this challenging concept time: “gettinguptime, timeyouwereofftime”. In the child’s reality, the “clockface, [had] little eyes/ And two long legs for walking, But he couldn’t click its language” which reinforces his isolation from the adult experience of time.



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