Form and structure
The poem is in short, four-lined stanzas [stanza: A group of lines of poetry that make up a unit - like a paragraph in a piece of prose; a verse. ]. This form suggests the narrator’s attempts to maintain self-control. The variations in line lengths, however, betray his changing emotions. The lines vary from short, clear thoughts and questions (, , ) to a desperate awareness that his life is poised above an void. The last phrase (or sentence) of stanza five mirrors the falling, tumbling motion of the people falling thousands of feet to their death:
"AppallingThat others like meShould be wind-milling, wheeling, spiralling, falling."
The line goes first backwards (from to ) then forwards again, expressing the spiral movement of the falling bodies.
This extract is taken from a key passage towards the end of the poem. Both towers have been hit by planes. The people inside the buildings, above the impact points, realise they cannot escape down the lifts or stairs. The building is burning and the occupants are trying to escape the heat and smoke – but the only way out is through the windows, impossibly high above the streets below.
The extract begins with a note of hope. He is on TV – noticed by a TV viewer somewhere across the world. But this point of connection is meaningless. While the image is clear, the pain, the terror, and the meaning of that image are not: In stanza four he is confronting his limited options. By the end his death is inevitable.
Back to Poetry: Conflict index
This poem is spoken by a trader inside the World Trade Centre (twin towers) on 9/11 moments before the buildings collapse. He seems to be asking us for help, asking whether we can see him. The poem is written as if it's happening now. The man describes the flames become hotter behind him, and people throwing themselves out of the window. He says he can't hold on any longer, though he's trying. Can't you see me? he asks. Can you help? The horror, and pity, is that we know how it will end.
'Out of the Blue' is a dramatic monologue spoken by one of the people inside the twin towers on 9/11, from inside the burning building. The effect is of extreme close up on a tiny point in space in time, almost in 1:1 narrative time. The event is narrated as it happens - an appeal to a second person who could not be listening. This creates an eerie effect: of an event we cannot touch, of lost people who could not speak to us, even though we watched at the time or later: the flames, the people who jumped (effectively committing suicide): ‘wind-milling, wheeling, spiralling, falling’. It’s graceful, fluid, fast: a plunge to the death. The effect is ghostly, of a disembodied voice talking directly to us.
The idea of watching is picked out in the first lines - as well as the appeal to the reader: ‘You have picked me out / Through a distant shot of a building burning’. The word ‘distant shot’ is the blurred camera work of trying to zoom in so far, but also evokes the distance between us who were not involved and those who were - cut off from the world but endlessly watched and re-watched: trapped on camera, iconic. The narrator seems to be right beside us, following every flicker of our eyes: ‘you have picked out’ ... ‘you have noticed now’ . The sense that this is happening now is emphasised by the use of the word ‘now’ and the present tense in ‘a white cotton shirt is twirling, turning’. The second stanza continues in the present, repeating ‘waving’ four times - as if calling attention to be saved - which appears in the final line of the stanza ‘Does anyone see / A soul worth saving?’ The imagery of ‘soul’ is religious, of desperation (as in ‘save our souls’, a cry for help) and ‘worth’ suggests value is being weighed. As the poem goes on, and the narrator makes repeated pleas for help, still ‘trying and trying’ to stay alive - weighted against the known hopelesness, the futility of rescue attempts (which killed many emergency service personnel), it is the overwhelming helplesness of the entire rest of the world to do anything that stands out. There was nothing, nothing at all that anyone could do - only watch.
In stanza three, the narrator asks ‘So when will you come?’ The simple, colloquial question, headed with the informal ‘so’, is casual, like the image of ‘shaking crumbs’ or ‘pegging out washing’. The imagery of the everyday linked to inexorable fate - and the fact the events are true - is a terrible juxtaposition. In the next stanza, we feel the ‘heat’ ‘bullying, driving’. The present tense here builds tension, but even here, the narrator hasn’t given up and the fact he’s ‘not at the point’ yet, and won’t ‘surrender’ makes the inevitability of a terrible death even more terrible. Euphemisms like ‘leaving’, ‘diving’ and ‘wind-milling’ for suicide add to the pathos. He says ‘the depth is appalling’ and this one ‘-ing’ word: for emotion, not action, stands out like a point. It is repeated in quick succession a the end of a line, which heightens the emotion. We should be appalled, but it is worse as the narrator is so aware of what is coming to him. After all this imagery of plunging to death, the short-lined stanza: ‘are your eyes believing... I am still breathing’ is horrible. It’s the tension between inevitable destruction, and these long, terrifying moments where the narrator is alive, aware ‘tiring’ that make it worse. The present tense traps us in a moment we’d rather not think about let alone inhabit. At the end of this section there are ‘sirens’ ‘wailing, firing’, the urgent screams contrasting with the slowing down of ‘tiring, tiring’, as the narrator goes ‘numb’. The last appeal is intimate, like a dying person clinging to us: ‘Do you see me, my love. I am failing, flagging’. The narrator asks if we can see. We can’t take our eyes away. But however long we watch, we can barely understand it.
(c) 2013 M Kendry This essay is just short of 700 words and would gain an A*. It was lovingly crafted for you by a UK-based Oxford graduate, current GCSE examiner and an English teacher. Please link to this page, don't copy. Teachers, use this with the attribution http://ateacherwrites.com Thanks!
Get more Poetry essays here.
More on Simon Armitage