Coming Home

 Overview

At first this appears to be a sentimental poem about the warmth and consistency of a family, with nothing changing in the family home and providing a secure and familiar base for a child even as they grow and become an adult.

However, if we dig a little deeper, we should also recognise the figurative associations related to the roles/jobs/chores assumed by different members of the family.

My mother’s hug is awkward,
As if the space between her open arms
is reserved for a child, not this body of a man.
In the kitchen she kneads the dough,
flipping it and patting before laying in again.
The flour makes her over, dusting
The hairs on her cheek, smoothing out wrinkles.

Dad still goes and soaks himself in the rain.
Up to his elbows in hedge, he works
on a hole that reappears every Winter,
its edges laced with wet wool –
frozen breaths snagged on the blackthorn.
When he comes in again his hair is wild,
and his pockets are filled with filings of hay.

All seated, my grandfather pours the wine.
His unsteady hand makes the neck of the bottle
shiver on the lip of each glass;
it is a tune he plays faster each year.

Owen Sheers (1974-)

Analysis
Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.
ContextThemesContentLanguage and techniquesStructureTone

Context

Sheers is a Welsh poet, novelist, playwright and academic and although he is over 40 might be interesting for reasons aside from his writing for any female readers.

Helpfully he has a website with a biography (it reads a bit like a none-so-humble autobiography to me!), which is usually a good place to start for context. However, it’s basically just a list of what he’s done rather than giving us any insight into his background and youth, which would be interesting to review in relation to the themes of this poem.

If we presume the poem is autobiographical to some degree then the only thing I’ve come across that is relevant is the fact that he attended quite a prestigious , but non-fee paying, school and later attended Oxford. This suggests to me that home life was pretty settled and happy, although this is inference based on statistical likeliness of doing well in school being related to settled home life and affluence.

 

 Themes

This one is basically mono-thematic and focuses on the love, security and care consistently provided by family, not just in childhood, but throughout our lives.

I suppose there is also a connection to the theme of mortality/ageing as we see the deterioration of his grandfather and there are slight suggestions that he is also aware of the impact of ageing for his parents.

Content

The ‘story’ to this poem is really straightforward.

Sheer goes home to visit his family after sometime away. He is now an adult and presumably has his own life, house and all the other accoutrements of growing up. However, he returns to a household that hasn’t changed at all and he is embraced and treated just the same as when he was a child.

You might not recognise this feeling yet as it is something that only really comes when you’ve spent a prolonged period of time away from your family home. When I went back to my parents this Christmas, the house, routine and life just felt completely familiar and comfortable despite my 12 years of living away. I was able to pick up my life as a teenage boy with my mum making me sandwiches and my dad fixing the broken shower in the shared bathroom. Although I tower above my parents and am currently rocking a rugged beard, they care for me and in many ways treat me as if I was still a child.

I hope I explained that well, it’s a lovely feeling, even if you know in the back of your head that this isn’t really your life anymore. Having that comfort and security of home is something that is always where your parents are (assuming you have nice parents!).

For Sheers, Mum is baking for him in the kitchen, dad is still sorting out the house and garden to keep the family in order and grandfather is still pouring the wine… or helping out and providing for the family.

However, there is a lot of deeper meaning hidden in his imagery and language, which we will explore below.

Language and techniques

The title immediately tells us Sheers has been away. ‘Coming Home’ also indicates that even as an adult and someone who doesn’t live in this house anymore it still retains a place in his mind where he is completely secure and in comfort. ‘Home’ is such a powerful concept that tells us so much about our feelings for a place as opposed to ‘a house’ or ‘my house’.

Don’t be tricked into thinking that Sheer’s isn’t completely at comfort in these images he creates because he describes his mother’s hug as ‘awkward’. This merely suggests that he doesn’t fit anymore. He is not the child he was when this place became his home. However, I think the fact that the hug is still the same and it is ‘as if [it was]… reserved for a child’ show that his mother still sees him in the same light. I see this as being a deeply warm image of a mum who still provides the same level of care for this ‘body of a man’ as if he were still just her little boy.

I think the key to analysing this poem in depth lies with exploring the connotations of the imagery around each of Sheers’ family members. Remember everything is deliberate and thus we need to ask ourselves: why does Sheers choose to show us his mother baking?

As ‘she kneads the dough’ she prepares it, ‘flipping it’ when it needs to be help in a different area and ‘patting’ it so it will rise nicely in the oven. If you didn’t know, this is how you go about making bread. However, could we also view this as an analogy for the role of a parent in bringing a child up; she has prepared him with everything he needs, gives him a push in the right direction when he needs it and supports him emotionally so he has what he needs to be ready for the big world of… being a loaf of bread. Notice that she is ‘laying in again’ if necessary to make sure it comes out just right!

I really smiled at the following image. ‘The flour makes her over… smoothing out wrinkles’ gives us an image of a mother made young again (the flour/her role once again as mother acting as some sort of miracle make up) by being able to provide for and care for her boy.

We have a similar analogous image in the second stanza, but a more masculine one. Dad braves the rain and ‘soaks’ himself and is ‘frozen’ and battered by the conditions leaving him ‘wild’ or dishevelled in appearance. This represents the role of parents in the tough times or doing the tough jobs. Clearly the hedge grows wild and unshapely constantly and needs someone to put in the hard work to make sure it can be a really successful and beautiful hedge. I don’t think I need to make the point about how this could relate to raising a child.

If we weren’t convinced of the difficult aspects of parenting we see how hard dad is working as he is ‘up to his elbows’ in the hedge, meaning he is fully committed and not just having to trim the edges. This isn’t just something that happens as a one off as it ‘reappears every Winter’ and it clearly takes its toll on dad as it his ‘frozen breath is snagged on the blackthorn’. I am reminded of my father having arguments with my older brother (I am the younger angelic child :D) and sometimes being left quite hurt and bashed by what he was having to put up with. Despite these bashings, the role of a parent is to guide and support their child in the best way they can and clearly Sheers’ dad and my papa were prepared to put in the hard and dirty work of parenting.

You could see the final line here as representing the little initial reward that Sheers’ dad has got from his task. If his ‘pockets are filled with filings of hay’ it suggests he’s not got a lot to show for his effort. Well, parents generally don’t get anything out of their efforts and frustrations, but the children or the hedges come out of things looking good and developing the way they should be.

Another thing to comment on in this second stanza is the word ‘still’ in the opening sentence. Just like his mother’s hugs still representing the warmth of love from a parent, his dad’s graft and effort are another form of continuing support and guidance that they will provide no matter how grown up their boy becomes.

In the final stanza we have a similarly supportive image of Sheers’ grandfather who here helps provide materially for the family. ‘Wine’ defies mortality – as it ages gets better – and often serves as a symbol for strength and life. Here it is used as a symbol for the grandfather helping to preserve their family by supporting his children and grandchildren.

While playing this protective role and supporting the Sheers dynasty, the grandfather himself is seen to be deteriorating each year. His ‘unsteady hand’ implies a growing frailty and the glasses ‘shiver’ as he cannot support the weight of the wine bottle anymore and has to rest it on the glass as he pours. This tingling sound is imagined as music and it is ‘faster each year’ because the wobbles keep getting worse as grandpa heads towards the grave.

 

Structure

Just the one thing I’d comment on here.

Firstly the different lengths of the stanzas stand as a recognition of the contribution of the different members of his family. If you think of the opening two stanzas as being the two sides of a parents role (the supportive and loving vs. the tough and guiding side) rather than just representing what dads should do on one hand and mums on the other.

Grandfather’s stanza represents the role of the extended family who are still able to provide support, but do not offer it in such a primary and crucial manner in terms of security, guidance and comfort.

I’d welcome any comments on the lack of regularity between lines in each stanza, lack of rhyme and use of enjambment if you see any significance.

Tone

Respectful and with a hint of nostalgic joy. He is enjoying the fact everything stays still at home and you’ll always know where you are and what’s going on.

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

36 thoughts on “Coming Home”

  1. Dear Mr. Sir,

    Would it be possible if you could post a pupil analysis of “Coming Home” by Owen Sheers? It’ll be of great help to all of us. Hoping for a postive response
    Thanks a lot 🙂

    1. Hi AN8,

      Sorry, I’ve stopped taking essay submissions so haven’t got one to add about ‘Coming Home’.

      Cheers,

      Mr Sir

  2. Dear Mr Sir,

    Your analyses are a great help in understanding the IGCSE poems, so thank you for starting these website.
    Was there a particular reason for the removal of some of the IGCSE analyses?
    Are you going put all of them back on the website or just the ones you have re-uploaded right now?

    Regards,
    Eli

    1. Hi Eli,

      Sorry, your comment initially came through as spam.

      No, the links died because I had some issues with the site. Hopefully they are now all working again and you can access any notes you need. However, if you find a dead link, please let me know.

      Cheers,

      Mr Sir

  3. in coming home how does the overall structure and form of the poem play a role in disclosing the themes in the poem

  4. Mr sir
    is it proper to say that this poem has no rhyme scheme to show how this home coming is a bit monotonous to the persona and rather feels ‘bored’

    1. You could possibly say that. Maybe also that the lack of rhyme reflects the disharmony and change in this environment for him as he goes back as an adult.

  5. Hello Sir, i am writing my poetry paper tomorrow just wanted ask if i should keep anything in mind when writing the paper

  6. I wanted to add that this poem has some biblical connotations as well. The baking of bread is not merely a displacement mechanism of the mother to bring back the early years of her son’s childhood in her mind, but also an allegory to the flesh of Christ, along with the wine (blood of Christ) in the third stanza. This arguably shows that the return of the son is reminiscent of the repeated birth of Christ every winter – a joyful event. However, the bread and wine are also allegories to the primarily “awkward”, rather strained, but ultimately relieved feeling one gets during Communion – a welcoming of God for his children to admit their sins and continue their lives. Then Sheers continues to describe his grandfather’s feeble nature, which evokes a sense of finality and lets the reader reach the understanding that all people are mortal but gathering together as human beings, remembering the familial, but also the universal values, we are able to cope with this “temporary condition called life”.

  7. I would like to add that the Grandfathers stanza is noticeably shorter compared to the previous two, therefore reflecting the short time left in his life.

    Danke Sehr

  8. Mr sir,
    I think there are contrasting views in how the poet looks at his family. He uses a personal pronoun for his mother, ‘my’, but calls her mother which is formal. Then for his ‘dad’ he uses no personal pronoun but refers to him informally. He uses ‘my’ for his grandfather as well. So, is he close to his mother in a way because he is possessive about her and calls her ‘mother’ to show respect. OR is he close to the father, because he calls him dad informally and they have a better relationship?
    Shloka mashru

    1. Good observation.

      Rather than suggesting a closer relationship with one of the other, maybe the contrast of personal and formal links again to the change in relationship that has occurred now he is an adult and no longer quite fits into his childhood home and preexisting relationships.

      This is definitely something interesting to drill into in an essay. Good spot!

      Mr Sir

  9. How does Sheers strikingly convey the contrasts between Home and being at home in the poem Coming Home?- i saw this question somewhere.
    is it possible to even get such a question, and if it is then what points can we talk about?

      1. She didn’t see that in any paper! It was a question just given to us in class by our teacher who said a question like that might come but, is not very likely

    1. Yes, definitely possible to be asked it. However, don’t panic as it is really a theme based question wrapped up a bit.

      The question basically wants us to focus on how relationships/love/family changes over time. Or that’s the way I would interpret it. In your introduction take charge of the question and explain how you will be addressing it:

      Sheers presents a view of familial love as being at both constant and ever changing through the contrast between the warmth and familiarity of his childhood home and his feelings of somehow now being an outsider that has changed and no longer quite fits.

      Hope this gives you an idea of how to deal with it,

      Mr Sir

  10. Hi Sir,
    I feel that the shorter last stanza could represent the sad but inevitable death of the grandfather speeding towards the family, particularly as there are other images of death in the last stanza, for example the ‘shiver’. The shorter stanza almost represents the time speeding up and the increasing frequency of the tune played on the glass represents the building up to the death of the grandfather.

    1. Hi George,

      Sorry, you were originally in my spam folder and I’ve just had a look through now.

      Good idea, I hadn’t thought of that, but it is certainly a point that you could make and develop.

      Cheers for contributing,

      Mr Sir

  11. Hmm, very interesting analysis. I understood this in a rather different way with it being much less of a happy place but rather initial impressions being the same with the same people and the same things, but the son feeling estranged from it all when he returns home. Eg. pleasant initial ‘hug’ which is then contrasted to the much harsher aural imagery of ‘awkward’ . Also a ‘space between her open arms’ suggesting an emptiness or a sadness and quite an emphatic ‘not’.

    I also thought about the fathers activities as being the same thing that he used to do, but now pointless with no achievement on the blackthorn since it ‘reappears every winter’ and only accomplishing getting soaked and simply filling his pockets with useless ‘filings of hay’. The word ‘still’ sort of has negative connotations for me, like it’s not something he should be doing.
    I also thought that ‘frozen breaths snagged…’ was imagery of death.

    Then the final stanza sums up how nothing is the same as it was, with the image of formality in ‘all seated’ and the grandfather being the head of the family and pouring the wine, but he isn’t stronger any more, and the ‘tune’ (possible melancholy connotations?) is much faster and he’s much weaker. I also thought the shorter last stanza could show that his life is shorter and coming to the end, with the implication of the grandfather’s death ending the stanza – and therefore the whole poem – on a sad note, and what should be a hap[y ‘coming home’ turning into a more sad moment and what was his home isn’t ‘home’ to him anymore.

    Also, do you think there is any significance to the formal ‘mother’ and ‘grandfather’ but the less formal ‘dad’? Maybe he feels closer to his dad? Though I can’t really see how that links to the rest of the poem.

  12. Hi Mr Sir I think I’ve commented for quite a few now. ????
    Anyways !!
    Listen to this ( literally ) ????
    YOU MAKE MY LIT SOOO EASY . ✔️
    Thanks 100 times.
    Cheers

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Sorry, the first time you comment your comment has to wait for approval. You are now approved, so comment away. I’ve deleted your other comments saying the same thing. 🙂

      Glad to help.

      Mr Sir

  13. Hi sir,

    I had a few question on coming home and could answer when you get time[ no hurries]

    1. Can we explore the aspect of changing times. Like the poet seems to define a very stereotypical family where the dad works and the mom is the housekeeper. Can we say that the poet being of the modern era is unlikely to be able to raise his children in such a type of family .

    2. Can we explore the conflict between the parents aim to see their children grow into successful[ which the poet achieves by securing admission in oxford] and self sufficient being but the speaker wishes to go back to his childhood.

    3. Lastly is home an allegory[ i think thats the right device. Is it?] for the warmth and love of a family

    Thank you

    1. Hi Yoloman,

      You can definitely explore anything you want to explore about any poem… as long as you have a clearly reasoned idea that relates to specific ideas within the text. That said, I will briefly comment on each of your ideas and how I see thing:

      1. You could certainly make this as a passing comment, but I wouldn’t spend a great deal of time on it as it would likely involve a lot of speculation and not addressing the poem directly. However, I think that if your essay was able to comment on this old fashioned/stereotypical family unit and perhaps recognising the value of these roles that seem to be changing, that could be interesting. Make sure you practice writing this and don’t do it for the first time in your proper exam as I think it might take a bit of work to get your ideas straight.
      2. I’m not sure I recognise this conflict. I think you might be inferring too much from the context and I don’t think the poem reveals a conflict in this respect. However, there is certainly a bit of conflict between his feeling like he’s still the little boy and the reality of him growing up.
      3. Allegory would be an appropriate term to describe the poem as a whole, not just the word ‘home’. An allegory is a story with a message. Is the poem trying to get us to focus on how bloody smashing our families are? In a way, definitely.

      Hope this helps.

      Mr Sir

      1. Hi sir,

        Thanks for your insights. I noticed that your interpretation varies from my teachers.[ Which is interesting as you can see how one should not stick to what is seen but rather see beyond] I have my IGCSEs in june 2016. Do you think while studying I should stick to one interpretation or study both and use them as required[ probably by mixing the points]. What do you think is more beneficial on a board exam point of view.

        Thank you

      2. I think the best way is to develop your own interpretation. If you mix other people’s ideas then you might end up getting pretty confused during an essay and its flow might be severely disrupted.

        I’m not suggesting that you make up a view entirely independent of mine or your teachers’, but determine what you agree with and what you don’t. If you write about your interpretation you’ll be much more confident and not lose track of ideas.

  14. can we say that Sheers is feeling nostalgic about the wonderful times he has spent with his mother in the past. The make-over obtained by his mother due to the flour made his mother look younger. So maybe he started remembering her as a younger female whose hands are open for the body of a child to embrace. the intensity of affection and care shown by his mother is the same after all these years, but he is unable to receive that kind of love he experienced when he was younger as he has grown into a man now.

    1. Yes, you can. Also, Sheers seems to provide a rather monotonous and condescending tone to the poem, although, this is contradicted by the praise he provides to his family members. This paradox shows that Sheers was perplexed about his position in the family and whether he is really welcome.

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