Example essay (Paper 1)
Keith Douglas’ poem “Behaviour of Fish in an Egyptian Tea Garden” is an extended metaphor which compares the attraction of a beautiful woman in an ice cream parlour to the attraction fish feel towards a white stone on the seabed. The poem progresses logically with each of the seven quatrains from the initial introduction of the metaphor, to a description first of the woman, then of each of the ‘types’ of suitors she attracts, before ending on a slightly ambiguous note.
In the first stanza, the central comparison upon which the entire poem is based is introduced explicitly as a simile in order to avoid confusion. Although the title of the poem masks the intent of the poem somewhat by encouraging the belief that the “behaviourof fish” is the subject, the opening lines serve to clarify and expose the real subject, the attraction of a beautiful woman. Thus, under the guise of an innocent description of fish, the persona is able to comment with seeming objectivity on a much more serious theme.
The fragmented style of the poem, however, with its numerous enjambments and complex sentences, showsthat the persona is not as unaffected or distant as he seems. The confusion between the reality of the woman and her stone counterpart throughout the poem also shows that, however much the persona tries, he is unable to completely disentangle his emotions and objectify the situation. For instance, the juxtapositionof the phrases “captain on leave” and “lean dark mackerel”, or metaphors such as “frail reefs of furniture” imply a certain inability to dissociate the two worlds or distinguish between them. This personal involvement of the persona, which is at odds with the fact that the narration is entirely in the third person, creates a slightly tense atmosphereunder the façade of the satirical tone. Thus, effectively, this conflict of reason and emotion lends the poem a certain morbid appeal, as though the inner turmoil of the persona were a...