Five O’Clock Shadow

Five O’Clock Shadow

By John Betjeman

This is the time of day when we in the Men’s ward
Think “one more surge of the pain and I give up the fight.”
When he who struggles for breath can struggle less strongly:
This is the time of day which is worse than night.

A haze of thunder hangs on the hospital rose-beds,
A doctors’ foursome out on the links is played,
Safe in her sitting-room Sister is putting her feet up:
This is the time of day when we feel betrayed.

Below the windows, loads of loving relations
Rev in the car park, changing gear at the bend,
Making for home and a nice big tea and the telly:
“Well, we’ve done what we can. It can’t be long till the end.”

This is the time of day when the weight of bedclothes
Is harder to bear than a sharp incision of steel.
The endless anonymous croak of a cheap transistor
Intensifies the lonely terror I feel.

Summary of Five O’Clock Shadow

  • Popularity of “Five O’Clock Shadow”: The poem “Five O’Clock Shadow” by John Betjeman, a British poet, writer, and activist, is a wonderful poetic piece. This poem first appeared in 1972 in his collection, John Betjeman’s Collected Poems. The uniqueness of the poetic diction lies in the presentation of a new idea related to the patients and their feelings about the callousness of the doctors and nurses.
  • “Five O’s Clock Shadow” As a Representative of the Situation in Hospitals: The poet presents the situation of a patient. He is musing on his bed saying more pain would mean he would surrender to death and thinks that this is the worst time when he does not feel that he would live long. He hears the doctors playing foursome and a Sister leaving the room. He thinks that they are betraying the patients as it is the time that they should take more care of them. This specific patient is also hearing his relatives from the window of his room, chatting freely that they have done their part and leaving the patients to die. The last stanza tells that this moment of the callousness of the people turns him to pay attention to his own situation. He feels bedclothes too heavy to bear. He, then, feels terror due to the loneliness and the croaking sound of the transistor.
  • Major Themes in “Five O’Clock Shadow”: Helplessness, the callousness of the world, and the loneliness of the patients are three major themes of the poem. Betjeman opens the poem with this helplessness stressing upon the surges of pain after pain and callousness of the world, as doctors and nurses are playing with each other, making patients feel betrayed, for their primary task is to take care of their patients. On the other hand, they feel lonely as their near and dear ones, too, are leaving them at the mercy of this hospital staff which is enjoying life leaving.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Five O’Clock Shadow”

literary devices are unique strategies used to impregnate poems with meanings. The analysis of these devices in the poem “Five O’Clock Shadow” as given below shows this fact.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /e/ in “when we in the Men’s ward”, /o/ in “A doctors’ foursome out on the links is played” and the sound of /a/ in “Rev in the car park, changing gear at the bend.”
  2. Alliteration: It is a device that means to use words in quick succession having initial consonants such as /s/ sound in “sitting-room Sister.”
  3. Comparison: The poem shows the use of comparison and contrast in day and night in the end of the first stanza such as “This is the time of day which is worse than night.”
  4. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /w/ in “This is the time of day when we in the Men’s ward”, /s/ and /r/ in “A doctors’ foursome out on the links is played” and the sound of /t/ and /s/ in “Making for home and a nice big tea and the telly.”
  5. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example;

This is the time of day when the weight of bedclothes
Is harder to bear than a sharp incision of steel.
The endless anonymous croak of a cheap transistor
Intensifies the lonely terror I feel.

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. The poem shows the use of imagery such as “When one who struggles for breath can struggle less strongly”, “Is harder to bear than a sharp incision of steel” and “The endless anonymous croak of a cheap transistor.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different. The poem shows pain has been compared to a wave and breath to an opponent, used as metaphors.
  3. Personification: The poem shows the use of personifications such as a transistor, showing a life of its own like that of toads or frogs.
  4. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from literal meanings. The poem shows the use of the symbols of pain, breath, beds, and bedclothes to convey the meanings of a hospital and the situation prevalent in it.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Five O’Clock Shadow”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: Although the diction is bedecked with metaphors and personifications, its tone is tragic and serious.
  2. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows ABCB rhyming pattern. This continues in all the four stanzas
  3. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. This poem comprises four stanzas, each having four stanzas.
  4. Repetition: The poem shows the use of a rhetorical device of repetition such as “This is the time of day.”

Quotes to be Used

These lines from “Five O’Clock Shadow” are relevant to use when teaching about the callousness of the world and pragmatism.

Below the windows, loads of loving relations
Rev in the car park, changing gear at the bend,
Making for home and a nice big tea and the telly:
“Well, we’ve done what we can. It can’t be long till the end.”