Fantasia on a Theme of James Wright – Sean O’Brien

Fantasia on a Theme of James Wright is all about mining and how we are slowing forgetting the occupation and the past. James Wright was a political and social activist who, through his poems, expressed the suffering and poverty that he had once witnessed. James Wright fought for those of the past, much like Sean O’Brien is trying to do in this poem.


Themes –

  • Society and culture: society and culture changes as time advances. Things that were once a big part of our society are forgotten as the future brings new changes. Much like how the poem highlights the fact that in today’s society, mining is lost.
  • The past: This poem is all about how the occupations of the past (mining) have now been forgotten. Transition from past to todays society.


Tone of the poem –

  • The poem is both accepting of the fact that ‘history [is] done’ and things such as mining will have to be accepted as part of the past. But, there is also a dark and melancholy tone to the poem through imagery such as ‘black pools’ and ‘sinking slowly further’, this just enhances the fact that these miners put themselves in the danger of flooding and drowning through their work, yet we have still forgotten them.


Structure –

  • The poem consists of 9 stanzas, all 3 lines each. This regular structure could be a representation of the routine and consistency miners had with their jobs, they went ‘down in good order’ no matter whether there was ‘flooding’ or ‘firedamp’.
  • There is also a use of enjambment, which could be a representation of the fact that no matter how hard we try to move forward and onto new things (new stanzas = future), the past will always follow and be a part of that future.


Techniques –

  • There is a use of verisimilitude through the realism the locations ‘West Moor and Palmersville’ create. The use of these places makes the poem more personal as they are both places in Newcastle were Sean O’Brien resides.
  • O’Brien also uses repetition with the word ‘still’. (‘There are miners still’ … ‘miners are labouring still’), this repetition shows the desperation there is for these miners to be remembered because they are ‘still’ a part of our lives. It shows that even though we may have forgotten them, they are ‘still’ there and waiting to be remembered.
  • There is also the use of a simile in the line ‘like the friction of great stones, or like the rush of water’. The ‘rush of water’ could be symbolising the great force and pressure that these miners had to go through in their job.
  • Sean also uses plosives with ‘black-braided banners’, this repetition of the ‘b’ sound could be imitating the sound of mining, or even the crumbling tunnels and stones falling down, once again emphasising the danger these men put themselves in.
  • O’Brien also references a famous painting by Hedley called ‘Coming Home’, Hedley was a realist painter who was well known for his paintings of everyday life. This painting was of two miners on their way home, O’Brien could be trying to show us that even if we choose to forget these men and their occupation, there are still paintings and ‘history’ that will forever remember them.

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