“In The Snack-bar” is a poem by Edwin Morgan. It tells the story of an old, blind man’s time in a snack bar in Glasgow. It tells about how he needs to trust complete strangers when he needs someone to help him do simple, everyday tasks. I’m going to look at the different techniques the poet has used and how this poem teaches us a little bit about blindness, and the embarrassment people must go through.
The poem starts by telling us the old mans dirty, scruffy looking appearance and his trouble standing up. At first we don’t know that he is blind, but as the first section of the poem goes on, it becomes quite clear to the reader. We then read about a perfect stranger taking this old man to the toilet and how long it took for them to get there. The stranger had to tell the man every step to take and where to go and where to stand. We are then told about how much help he needs in the toilet and the help he gets on the bus.
The poet uses a range of poetic techniques to paint a vivid picture of the scenes in this poem. In the first stanza Edwin Morgan opens it with alliteration. He says “A cup capsizes” to emphasise the cup falling on the table. This immediately attracts out attention and makes us want to read on. He then goes on to tell us the old mans struggle to get up. “Slowly he levers himself up”. Morgan’s word choice here suggests it’s hard for him to get up and that his arms have very little power. To tell us about this mans appearance the poet says “The dismal hump looming over him forces his head down”.
This makes us think his head is low down and his hump is high up and that he doesn’t stand up straight. “Like a monstrous animal caught in a tent in some story.” We then get the impression that his clothes are too big for him and that he must dress himself with whatever he can get his hands on first, and that he resembles an animal in his movements. He also doesn’t sit still, “he sways slightly”, but I think this is because he cannot see, and it is very hard to sit still when you cannot see. He stands with his head down, facing the ground, with his cap on his head. “Even on his feet he is staring at the floor”, to me, this suggests that he always has his head down no matter what he is doing, maybe to hide his face so people cannot see he is blind, or just because it’s easier for him to balance. Morgan then introduces first person, which makes me think this is a real experience for him. The old man announces that he needs to go to the toilet for the whole snack-bar to hear, in hope that someone will be kind enough to take him there.
This brings us to the second stanza. We are told about the journey to the toilet, and how it took a lot longer than any normal trip to the toilet. “Inch by inch we drift” gives off the impression they were moving very slowly. “Inch by inch” sounds like a slow movement and “drift” is like they were like a boat, very slowly moving out to sea. “A few yards of floor are like a landscape”, to me, this is a very effective simile. It tells us that even though they weren’t walking far to the old man it was like walking for miles, instead of yards. “Hiss of the coffee-machine, voices and laughter, smell of a cigar, hamburger, wet coats steaming,” this inheres that the old man relies on his senses to get around as safely as possible, as well as having people help him. The poet goes on to use first person to suggest this is a real life experience that has happened to him, and that he did help the blind man.
“And slowly we go down, and slowly we go down.” This repetition shows that they were moving at such a slow pace, it was like slow motion, as opposed to walking at a normal pace. To tell us the old man shuffled along, the poet uses “shambles”. This also sounds like a messy word, so it could also be telling us that he was also stumbling along. Once again, first person is used. The poet tells us that he put the man in position and waited for him with his stick. “the trickle of his water is thin and slow, an old man’s apology for living.”. This makes the old man sound quite pathetic as he hasn’t got much to offer in life and he may be coming to the end of his life. “Can I – wash my hands?” He pauses while speaking, as he’s not sure if Morgan will help him to the sink to wash his hands. “Roar of the hot air” this onomatopoeia tells us how the hot air sounded, and what the old man listened to while drying his hands.
He is unable to rub his hands together, so he uses a handkerchief to finish. “He climbs, and steadily enough.” I think this is saying that, the old man can walk up stairs more steadily than walking down them. “With many pauses but with that one persisting patience of the undefeated which is the nature of man when all is said.” Going back up the stairs, the old man did pause, but with patience and perseverance he did eventually make it up in the end with the help and support of Morgan. “And slowly we go up. And slowly we go up.” Repetition again, meaning the same as before, they were still moving at a slow pace unlike people with vision. “The faltering, unfaltering steps” The old man stumbled and tripped up the stairs as if they were uneven and broken, even though they were perfectly fine. Morgan watches the old man get helped on the bus. “It shudders off in the rain.” The bus lets the rain drip off it as it sits in the bus stop.
The third stanza finishes this poem off by telling us a little bit more about this old, blind man. “Wherever he could go it would be dark”, even in the bright sunshine, the old man will only ever see darkness, he’ll never know what it looks like to see light and colour. “No one sees his face.” Although people do see him, they don’t see him. People ignore him, because he is blind and he can’t see them. And since he stands facing the ground, people wouldn’t stop to offer help to him unless he was to ask. “Hands like wet leaves”, this suggests that he constantly had sweaty hands and that he might have been nervous a lot of the time, and this caused him to always have wet hands. “His life depends on many who would evade him.” He depended on everyone, including the people that ignored and avoided him incase he was to ask for help or walk into them. “But he cannot reckon up the chances, having one thing to do, to haul his hump through these rains of August.” Even though he was blind, there was nothing he could do to change it, so he had to grin and bear it and just get on with his life.