The Instant of My DeathThe bus was crammed and the fat man rubbed against my leg like a damp cat
while you read The Jataka Tales three rows from the back
and we all stumbled on; wheels and hours grinding, tripping
as Spiti rose up around us, sky propped open by its peaks.
I traced the rockline on the window with my finger,
counted cows and gompas, felt my eyes glaze over
until we reached Gramphoo. There, where the road divided,
I saw a thin boy in red flannel squat between two dhabas;
a black-eyed bean, slipped-in between two crags, he was so small
that I almost missed him, until he turned, gap-toothed, and shot me
with a toy gun. And a piece of me stopped then, though the bus moved on,
and the fat man beside me cracked open an apple with his thumb.
Critical Analysis"The Instant of My Death" by Sarah Jackson is a poignant and thought-provoking poem that explores themes of perception, mortality, and the transformative power of experience. The poem captures a moment in time during a bus journey through the Spiti Valley, with the speaker's attention divided between the uncomfortable surroundings of the crowded bus and the stunning natural beauty outside.
The poem is characterized by a sense of tension and uncertainty, with the discomfort of the bus journey contrasted with the awe-inspiring scenery of the Spiti Valley. This tension is heightened by the sudden appearance of the young boy with the toy gun, who seems to represent a moment of profound realization or transformation for the speaker. The poem suggests that even in the midst of mundane or uncomfortable experiences, there is the potential for transformation and growth if one is open to it.
The use of vivid imagery and powerful descriptive language in the poem creates a haunting and memorable effect. The image of the fat man rubbing against the speaker's leg like a damp cat is visceral and discomforting, while the description of the Spiti Valley as being "propped open" by its peaks is both beautiful and haunting. The use of the toy gun as a symbol of transformation is particularly effective, as it represents a moment of playfulness and innocence that stands in contrast to the tension and discomfort of the bus journey.
"The Instant of My Death" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that uses vivid imagery and metaphorical language to explore complex themes of perception, mortality, and transformation. The poem suggests that even in the midst of discomfort or mundanity, there is the potential for growth and transformation, if one is open to the experience.
Line by Line Summaryhere's a more detailed summary of "The Instant of My Death" by Sarah Jackson, mentioning the lines:
Line 1: The poem begins with the speaker on a cramped and crowded bus, with a fat man rubbing against their leg like a damp cat.
Line 2-4: The discomfort of the situation is palpable, and the bus seems to be grinding and tripping along as it makes its way through the Spiti Valley.
Line 5-7: Despite the challenging circumstances, the speaker remains focused on the world outside the bus, tracing the rockline on the window with their finger and counting cows and gompas.
Line 8-11: However, their attention is drawn to a thin boy in red flannel who is squatting between two dhabas. He is so small that the speaker almost misses him, until he turns and shoots the speaker with a toy gun.
Line 12-13: This moment is transformative for the speaker, and they describe feeling as if "a piece of me stopped then."
Line 14-15: Despite the fact that the bus continues on and the fat man beside them cracks open an apple, the speaker is forever changed by this encounter.
Line 16-17: The boy, described as a black-eyed bean, seems to represent something significant for the speaker, and his appearance serves as a metaphor for a larger realization or transformation.
Line 18-19: Throughout the poem, Jackson uses vivid imagery to capture the essence of the experience.
Line 20-22: The cramped and uncomfortable bus is described as being like a damp cat, with the fat man rubbing against the speaker's leg.
Line 23-24: The Spiti Valley, in contrast, is awe-inspiring, with the sky propped open by its peaks.
Line 25-26: The sudden appearance of the boy with the toy gun is startling, and his small size and location between two crags make him seem almost like a trick of the eye.
"The Instant of My Death" is a powerful exploration of perception, mortality, and transformation, with the central theme being the transformative power of unexpected moments.
Style of the PoemThe style of "The Instant of My Death" is characterized by its vivid sensory imagery, concise language, and use of enjambment. The poem is written in free verse, without a consistent rhyme scheme or meter. This allows the poet to focus on creating a clear, evocative picture of the scene, using precise language to describe the speaker's observations. The use of enjambment, or the continuation of a sentence or phrase across multiple lines, creates a sense of movement and fluidity in the poem, echoing the journey of the bus. The sensory imagery, particularly the visual details of the landscape and the encounter with the boy with the toy gun, creates a vivid impression in the reader's mind, allowing them to feel as though they are experiencing the scene alongside the speaker. The language throughout the poem is concise, with each word carefully chosen for its impact, adding to the sense of immediacy and clarity in the poem.
- Metaphor - The image of the Spiti Valley with the sky propped open by its peaks serves as a metaphor for the precariousness of life.
- Personification - The image of the bus "grinding" and "tripping" creates a sense of movement and momentum, giving the bus a human-like quality.
- Enjambment - The use of enjambment, or the continuation of a sentence or phrase across multiple lines, creates a sense of movement and fluidity in the poem.
- Imagery - The poem is full of vivid sensory imagery, particularly visual details, such as the rockline on the window, the cows and gompas, and the boy with the toy gun.
- Alliteration - The repetition of consonant sounds in "fat man rubbed against my leg like a damp cat" creates a pleasing musicality in the language.
- Symbolism - The boy with the toy gun serves as a symbol for a moment of transformation or realization for the speaker.
- Repetition - The repetition of the word "stopped" in the line "a piece of me stopped then" emphasizes the significance of the moment of transformation for the speaker.
What is meant by title The Instant of My Death by Sarah Jackson?
The title of the poem "The Instant of My Death" by Sarah Jackson is somewhat ambiguous and open to interpretation. On one level, it could be taken literally as a reference to the moment of the speaker's death. However, another way to interpret the title is as a metaphor for a moment of profound change or realization.
In the poem, the speaker describes a moment when she sees a young boy with a toy gun, and "a piece of [her] stopped then, though the bus moved on." This moment could be seen as a kind of death or ending, as the speaker's perception of the world around her is fundamentally altered.
Additionally, the title could be seen as a commentary on the fragility and unpredictability of life. The moment of the speaker's "death" is instantaneous and unexpected, much like actual death can be. Overall, the title of the poem adds to its sense of tension and ambiguity, leaving the reader to interpret the significance of the moment for themselves.
About Sarah Jackson
Sarah Jackson was born in 1977, grew up in Berkshire and now lives in Nottingham. Her pamphlet Milk (Pighog, 2008) was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award and her work appears in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century (Bloodaxe Books, 2009) and The Best British Poetry 2011 (Salt, 2011). She was awarded Arts Council funding in 2009 and has been shortlisted for the Arvon International Poetry Competition (2010) and the Edwin Morgan Prize (2011). Sarah completed a doctorate at the University of Sussex in 2009 and now lectures at Nottingham Trent University, where she runs the MA in Creative Writing. Pelt (Bloodaxe Books, 2012), her first book-length collection, is long-listed for the Guardian First Book Award. She read a selection of poems from Pelt on BBC Radio 3's Proms Plus Late programme in August in a series which features 'informal post-prom music and poetry from emerging young artists'.