The poems first two lines are very childlike and give the impression of an innocent game of hide and seek. The alliteration of the ‘s’ sound in line two sets a seaside scene. Line three, however, plants a seed of doubt in my mind. The phrase ‘salty dark’ is a little suspect and shady, it makes me think that something isn’t perhaps as it first seems. The next line reads ‘ But be careful that your feet aren’t sticking out’, this line returns to a jovial and childlike tone once again.
It forms a perfect rhyming couplet with the next line ‘ Wiser not to make another shout’.
‘The floor is cold’, this touches once again on the more ominous feel of the verse, but again, the cheerful pitch of the poem returns with ‘Whatever happens you mustn’t sneeze’. Then the line continues ‘When they come prowling in’ – prowling is a rather sombre choice of word and once again the doubt is back.
‘And there they are, whispering at the door, You’ve never heard them so hushed before. Don’t breathe. Don’t move. Stay dumb. Hide in your blindness. They’re moving closer, someone stutters, mutters. Their words and laughter scuffle; and they’re gone.’ These few lines are very dramatic and assure us that there is definitely something foreboding with this seemingly usual game of hide and seek that opened the poem. Vernon Scannett uses several short, punchy sentences for impact and they make the poem sound panicked and very tense.
It is now as though the person is desperately hiding from an enemy rather than just playing a game with peers. It is as though the person has suddenly realised something about the people who are looking for him. The next lines are as if the person is trying to reassure himself that everything is going to be fine.
It seems a long time since they went away. ‘Your legs are stiff, the cold bites through your coat. The dark damp smell of sand moves in your throat.’ These three lines are particularly chilling and quite disturbing. The reference to ‘stiff legs’ conjures up a corpse-like picture in my mind. The phrase about cold biting through the coat is menacing and sets a dark scene. The choking imagery is also very unpleasant, and portrays an image of death.
‘It’s time to let them know you are the winner. Push off the sacks. Uncurl and stretch. That’s better.’ This, to me sounds like a last ditch attempt to stay positive and convince oneself that everything will be fine. ‘The darkening garden watches. Nothing stirs. The bushes hold their breath; the sun is gone. Yes, here you are. But where are they who sought you?’
The poem opened with an instruction ‘Call out’ and ends with a question ‘But where are those who sought you?’ This demonstrates very well how the tone was incredibly certain and positive at the beginning. However the confidence gradually fades away as the realisation of abandonment occurs, and the poem ends on a note of intense fear and anxiety. The poem is obviously not merely about a childhood game but has a deeper and more symbolic meaning.
It could, for example, be interpreted as being about life in a Godless universe. The child is a Christian and believes that God will always be with them. God will find them, like the story of the lost sheep, wherever they go or hide. The child in the poem could symbolise a Christian, convinced and confident of being found, no matter where he is. Then doubt creeps in and realisation occurs, e.g. ‘And there they are: whispering at the door; You’ve never heard them so hushed before.’ From this point forward the seeker is portrayed as the enemy. The setting of the poem now changes to a dark, cold and unpleasant place to be as solitude sets in. For the child this place is the tool shed, but for the Christian it could be the world without God governing it.
‘The darkening garden watches. Nothing stirs. The bushes hold their breath; the sun is gone’. These two lines support my theory; the garden is relevant to Christianity, because of the garden of Eden. Also ‘the sun is gone’ could have a parallel meaning – Jesus, the son of God is gone from the Christian’s life.
Perhaps the message of the poem is that we cannot hide from God and expect him to find us. In order to be a true Christian, we must fully embrace God into our lives, not renounce him. Only if we actively seek and welcome God into our lives will we be assured a life of contentment, free from the fear of solitude.