Harmonium Analysis by Simon Armitage

In this article, we are going to analyzing the poem Harmonium by Simon Armitage.

About the Harmonium Poem:

A Harmonium is a musical organ, often found in churches. On one level the poem describes the experience of the speaker buying an old Harmonium from church that was about to be thrown away, with his father coming to helping him to move it. The poem, therefore, shows a father and son relationship.

On another level, this poem shows how small moments can make us reminisce about the past and look to the future, reminding us that everything and everyone eventually grows old and dies and that people sometimes find it difficult to talk about death.

Harmonium Analysis:

Stanza 1:
The Farrand Chapelette was gathering dust
in the shadowy porch of Marsden Church.
And was due to be bundled off to the skip.
Or was mine, for a song, if I wanted it.
 Type of organ = Farrand Chapelette

Shadowy porch suggests that the Church and the organ are both old and disused.

"Marsden Church" The poet sets a very matter of fact tone at the start of the poem by telling us what was happening and where.

The speaker uses slang, colloquial phrases to emphasize the ordinary nature of the events.

The phrase 'for a song' means the organ was available cheaply but also plays on the idea that the organ is used to make music. This is the first of the music image the poem uses.

Stanza 2:
Sunlight, through stained glass, which day to day
could beatify saints and raise the dead,
had aged the harmonium’s softwood case
and yellowed the fingernails of its keys.
And one of its notes had lost its tongue,
and holes were worn in both the treadles
where the organist’s feet, in grey, woollen socks
and leather-soled shoes, had pedalled and pedalled.

The speaker explains that the sunlight is pretty when coming through the stained glass windows, but that it has also aged the organ.

The words 'aged' 'yellowed' and 'worn' emphasize the organ's condition.

The organ is personified to emphasize how old (and useless) it has become.

The repetition here emphasizes how much the organ has been played. Both the organ and the person who played it are described as old.

Stanza 3:
But its hummed harmonics still struck a chord:
for a hundred years that organ had stood
by the choristers’ stalls, where father and son,
each in their time, had opened their throats
and gilded finches – like high notes – had streamed out.

The alliteration emphasizes the tunes played by the harmonium, which is also personified again here.

Another colloquial phrase that also describes music.

Emphasizes that the speaker is thinking about his own relationship with his father.

The speaker uses a metaphor to describe singing like a golden bird, suggesting that the organ was once able to make pretty music and bring people together.

Stanza 4:
Through his own blue cloud of tobacco smog,
with smoker’s fingers and dottled thumbs,
he comes to help me cart it away.
And we carry it flat, laid on its back.
The poem changes the tone here from the past to the present as the speaker's father arrives, introduced simply as 'he' suggesting familiarity.

The father is aged like the harmonium.

The words 'cart' and 'laid on its back' suggest that the Harmonium is heavy and hard to move.

Stanza 4:
And he, being him, can’t help but say
that the next box I’ll shoulder through this nave
will bear the freight of his own dead weight.
And I, being me, then mouth in reply
some shallow or sorry phrase or word
too starved of breath to make itself heard.

The word 'being him' and 'being me' shows familiarity with his father and with himself and their relationship.

The father suggests that the next thing the son carries through the door of the church will be his coffin.


'Freight' is usually used to describe goods being transported, so both these 'freight' and 'weight' suggest that maybe the father will be a burden.

The sibilance here emphasizes that the speaker is lost for words. The words also suggest that they were not very comforting to his father or that he feels awkward talking about death. He could be 'starved of breath' because the organ is heavy to carry, or because he is upset at what his father has said and doesn't know how to react.


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