We went out
into the school yard together, me and the boy
whose name and face
I don’t remember. We were testing the range
of the human voice:
he had to shout for all he was worth
I had to raise an arm
from across the divide to signal back
that the sound had carried.
He called from over the park – I lifted an arm.
Out of bounds,
he yelled from the end of the road,
from the foot of the hill,
from beyond the look-out post of Fretwell’s Farm –
I lifted an arm.
He left town, went on to be twenty years dead
with a gunshot hole
in the roof of his mouth, in Western Australia.
Boy with the name and face I don’t remember,
you can stop shouting now, I can still hear you.
Meaning of the Poem
The Shout takes a memory from the Armitage’s schooldays and then turns on a tragedy or incident which brings the earlier memory into clearer focus. Here, the speaker of the poem is remembering a school exercise that involved him and another boy who had to walk further away and keep shouting, until he was out of earshot. Twenty years on, and in Australia just about as far away as it’s possible to get from Yorkshire where Armitage grew up. The poem takes a surprise, tragic turn.
Copyright ©: Simon Armitage