Poem Analysis: Forbidden Poem, by Tony Mitton

Judging by the title only, one is entitled to believe that the poem is about things or facts or deeds that are not allowed to happen. Thus, the reader is curious to read beyond the words in order to decode the meaning of it. The title can be seen to be more than an intriguing invitation to a reading.
The poem has an interesting pattern of seven stanzas of different length (in lines). There is a two-line stanza in the beginning, being followed by a tercet (a stanza of three lines), and then by stanzas made of five lines, four lines in an alternation. The last stanza is a tercet also. These stanzas function much like paragraphs in prose (these groupings are often called verse paragraphs).

The first two lines are a warning that comes as a continuation that highlights the title. In fact, the title and the first two lines rely on the ‘reverse psychology’ technique in persuading the reader (in this case a child) to do what is actually desired: the opposite of what is suggested. The title and these two stanzas have the role of igniting a reluctant reader’s curiosity, an attempt no child can resist. Each line in the 2nd and the 3rd stanzas is a warning by itself. Children are not invited to read the poem, on the contrary, they are warned to “Keep out!” They are even told that this poem is locked behind a big oak door. This ‘obstacle’ is doubled by a note in big red letters warning any child that should they enter that door, things will be changed for them. So, the 3rd stanza  is like a big STOP sign, embodied by the big oak door that is locked, the use of the imperative (Keep out!), the notice in big red letters, the threatening that everything will be changed once wanting to go through it, AND the warning again in capital letters. The presence of the locked door comes to deepen the mystery, banning the entrance to another world. The reader is intrigued of what might be there, on the other side. The wood essence of the door is chosen to emphasize the idea of restriction, the oak being the hardest wood type that cannot be broken, chopped easily.

There is a possibility that the reader should stop inquiring after these stanzas. In order to prevent this from happening, and just in case the reverse psychology technique does not work, the fourth stanza comes to the rescue. The author uses a linker and a question – ‘But what’s this?’-   to give  an alternative and the whole stanza conveys a ray of hope to satisfy the reader’s curiosity. The key in the keyhole and the fact that there is no one around to see the reader opening the door are an indirect invitation to try to do it. This stanza is in total contrast with the previous ones, in the way that a ‘tool’ is given to the reader (key). If I were to read the poem aloud (which I did, by the way) I would whisper the last two lines in the fourth stanza, just to make the reader more curious.

The fifth stanza sounds like an encouragement. The reader is invited, as if driven by his /her inner thoughts, to carry on, to dare to do it, as nothing bad can happen to them.

The sixth stanza is the climax of the poem, but a sense of mystery is still preserved as we do not know ‘what’s inside.’ The reader’s imagination is supposed to go wild and guess what it is behind the door. The mystery is once more stressed by the slow movement of the door ‘The door swings wide’. The slow movement is marked by the full stop at the end of the line, which gives the reader the opportunity to contemplate.

The last stanza is a tercet (like the second one) and it stands to a conclusion to the quest meaning there is no way back, and it is opposed to the second and third stanzas, which are very much felt as negative ones.  Even if the last line of the poem is to be seen in the third stanza, too, there are some significant differences in tone and meaning. While the one in the third stanza is a warning and refers to any child “Any child who enters here will never be the same again”, the last line (“You’ll never be the same”) is more personal by the use of the 2nd person pronoun and it has got a positive connotation. By repeating this line, the poet calls our attention to the most important message of the poem: reading (even of poems) is part of one’s intellectual development.

An aspect that is worth looking into is the punctuation used in the poem that sets the tone of it. There is not much rhyming in the poem but the full stops, the exclamation and the questions marks give a certain tension which can be sensed much better if the poem is read aloud.

In my opinion, the poem is like a ‘look and search’ kind of game using the same motifs- the locked door opened with a key, warnings, either outspoken or written-  as a means to knowledge, as Lewis Carrol (with Alice) and  Roahl Dah (with either Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop, Mike Teevee or Violet Beauregarde) did.


prof. Monika Bandi

Școala cu clasele I-VIII Alexandru Ioan Cuza, Baia Mare (Maramureş) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/monika.bandi

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