The Uncles Analysis (By John Goodby)

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Okay, so this is something new I’ve decided to start. For different poems I’m going to begin uploading my own personal, researched and classwork analysis – for current A/O’Level students studying English Literature. I hope you guys enjoy, relate and may find these posts useful! @Songs of Ourselves Volume II, pg. 27-8 – Love and Family; 21.

Note: If you have any comments, critique, need any help of any sort, then I am reachable on email at:

Additional material: I wrote a complete essay analysing the structure, devices and themes all in congregation, with the inclusion of multiple new points and interpretations. Feel free to read the essay to further develop your knowledge of Goodby’s work:

The Poet:

Goodby is a professor that currently teaches at the University of Swansea in Wales. He is specifically interested and researched in both Welsh and Irish poems. This very poem won the Cardiff International Poetry Award in 2006. He is a world authority on Dylan Thomas’s poetry.


So the title is important in many ways, especially by instantly telling us that it will be an emotive and sentimental (to an extent) poem. Firstly, ‘The’ indicates that the poet is giving importance to whatever is in discussion (i.e. uncles), and capitalising the letters indicates or emphasises importance to the uncles. Also setting a title directly relevant to family members shows the level of respect the poet has for his uncles. This also shows a level of love for his family members, and shows relation to the uncles having a sort of paternal responsibility over Goodby. It’s also important to notice that Goodby does not personalise the uncles in title by writing ‘The’, and therefore may want the readers to be able to relate to the idea of importance and respect towards relatives who assume paternal-type roles in their lives. This can be referenced over to the end of the poem where he says ‘My Uncles’ as opposed to ‘The’. This shows the development of the poem from being generalised to personalised throughout the course of the poem from a generic idea towards specifically targeting the poet himself.


Pretty evident: it’s about love and family. This poem emphasises on the respect, love, and elevation of status and importance to family members (i.e. uncles) – despite there being a contrast between Goodby’s social class and that of his uncles he is constantly referring to throughout the poem. Goodby currently a professor at a highly rated university tells us that he assumes a middle or upper-middle working class status, and could possibly be mixed into the bourgeoisie whereas his uncles would be members of the working class as dictated by the level of physical and manual work seen in the poem. Despite his uncles being of a lower intellectual and academic capability (looking at things objectively), he still sees his uncles as very learned and academic. Why? This all comes down to love and his personalised bias towards his uncles’ status – which is of a very important standard to him. We wouldn’t see this bias as something unacceptable, rather we praise Goodby for his level of affection for his uncles.


No structure and free verse. Why? Maybe to show the work ethic of the uncles – how it is random and how they are short of time, all the time; as seen with how busy the routine portrayed from beginning to end in the poem – and thus to emphasis this the poet as used no specific structure to indicate that his uncles are short on time so they aren’t bothered about any specific structure or following any type of rule. There is no structural stipulation – and it’s irregular due to a consistent mix of punctuation marks. It may also show disorder and non-conformity to literature ideals and rules, as despite they are of the working class and make up the proletariat – they cannot rebel in society without facing repercussions (e.g. jail time, fines, etc) so by writing free-verse this could indicate not conforming to societal standards and expectations. This is an important point as seen with the idea of ‘communism’ brought up within the poem, thus tells the reader that socialist ideas are surfacing their minds and theories proposed by Karl Marx.


Pretty consistent tone in terms of the complexity of words used – ideas are thrown hither and tither thus indicating how disorder is common in the lives of the uncles in workshops and how ideas on work come and go very suddenly (seen by how the poet jumps from one idea to the next). Poet uses vivid imagery to build a landscape in the readers’ minds so they can grasp the scene and context of that of the uncles in their workshops. It also shows the progression of time and eventually revealing the personalised and internalised idea of the apparent importance of the uncles to the poet – especially with the final two words.

Expression and evaluation of language

Uses a bunch of buzz-terms, which is otherwise gibberish to students (at least I consider so..), which include:

camshaft, gimbal, crank, gunmetal, bore, grub-screws, flange, mounting panel, tolerance gauges, coolants, lubricants, banjo-hand, mower blades, welding shed.

The definitions are provided in the course-book, however could be found and researched online as well.

Why is he including all of these terms? These terms are easily included to draw a contrast between studious academics who most probably wouldn’t be able to identify these terms and the uncles who are very used to these terms by now. Goodby is trying to make the reader consider the idea of the uncles’ intellectual capacity and capability that academics aren’t the only people with intellectual ability and curiosity. That although they may be of a lower class, they still possess knowledge that even academics usually wouldn’t have. This could be seen with the inclusion of all the above terms, thus an attempt at elevating their apparent considered state in society as working class men into knowledgeable and talented citizens. This is so, because the poet wants us to respect the uncles and workshop men the same way we respect academics – and possibly consider them equals. This also reinforces throughout the poem the idea of Goodby’s respect and admiration of his uncles; thus the language used is extremely important to emphasising Goodby’s thoughts and internalisation of respect for his uncles. Okay, down to the specifics: Goodby uses caesura in the first line to emphasis the imagistic nature of the poem. He writes’..Uncles Brickell’ (an urban neighbourhood in Miami), which indicates his line of thought jumping from one image/location to another. This tells us how he imagines his uncles in a variety of places, and despite being part of the working class, they too, have been around and it is not as if they are oblivious to the world around them just because they are considered by society to be of a lower level in terms of social stratification. Oxymoron where he says ‘Swarfega kings’, as in the subsequent line he describes them as being ‘measled’ covered with ‘grease’, etc. Goodby uses alliteration where he says ‘swarf and scobs’. Where he says ‘lithe’, he refers to them being thin yet hardworking (contrary to stereotypes) – and they have become so vehemently impactful with their hands and bodies that they are covered in these scars; they speak loudly to be heard and thus the poet appreciates them for all their hard work. ‘Emigre intellectuals’, as if they are relatable to academics of higher qualifications or academic calibre: thus once again elevating their status in society. The have excellent mathematical skills, as they are mindful of every penny of their income and trading procedures. Parenthesis is usually uncommon in poems, however Goodby uses brackets to again show the uncommon and unstructured nature of life and the work carried out by workers.’Fag-packets’, referring to cigarette packets. Also referring to how they write on these used-packets as their lack of resources and reinforcing their lower class position in society and the poets’ attempt at elevating their stereotypical status. Could be seen ironic that they are using products that are made by colossal corporations that are essentially taking advantage of the little resources they have – as they are spending money on cigarettes rather than paper to write on. ‘..feinting’, to indicate what they do is done in a precise and very quicker manner – ‘racing’, to indicate the speed of what they do and an analogy is made to ‘mild steel’, where he changes line of thought (very quickly) and talks about how they are mild, but not relating them to mild steel (which is an extremely hard alloy), thus the poet does not want to make any misconception considering he is making multiple references to workshop items thus does not want to be misunderstood when talking about the uncles being ‘mild’.’Congested, always.’ Take note to how he places ‘always’ at the end rather than prior to ‘congested’ – this adds some sort of finality to it and thus emphasis the level of being congested as an extreme. ‘Time-served’, to denote how they have spent time in prison however could be related to the time they are spending in the workshop as if it is the life they have been restricted to and spend this time earning for their family and children; also shows the repetitive nature of their lives in the workshop and in prison – how they are expected to consistently work. ’Release tab’, this is important because this refers to the sound of opening a beer bottle (onomatopoeic in nature), and the way the words are issued in the poem seems all too familiar and routine for the uncles. ‘Hard of hearing’, indicates all the noise pollution they suffer throughout their regular day in and out – thus they speak louder than usual. Also creates a routine and regular setting of their workshop to being very loud on a regular basis. The Uncles ‘talk politics’, which is referenced towards socialistic politics as the term ‘communism’ suggests (a political system of government – supported by the working class and usually referenced to as a plague by the bourgeoisie and ruling/upper classes). ’Missing half-finger’ and ‘not really missed any longer’, denoting how the uncles are hard workers and these are the problems they must face but must also deal with and thus they do not reiterate the problems they have faced in the past and move on quickly because this is the life they are essentially subjugated to by the bourgeoisie that consider them ‘wage slaves’ (as seen in this sentence). Hands are referred to prior as ‘banjo-hands’, also denoting each finger as individually skilled and albeit being lost – the worker has moved on regardless and thus shows his level of commitment and dedication. The poet is completely awestruck by this level of determination. ‘Confounding nephews’, used to denote how awestruck they are and how they may misunderstand the level of intellect invested in the uncles’ work (reference to the terms used and usually misinterpreted by most of the readers: Goodby wants us to not understand the terms at the start because it reinforces the intellectual capability and capacity of uncles working a working class occupation). ‘Epoch’: they do not have time to drink tea; reference to how busy they are and back to the idea of the irregular and free verse nature of the poem. They do not have time to ensure that the poem is following the rules of literature and instead are busy at work earning money for their families. Eventually, with the ending lines, they do not want to be forgotten and disposed into oblivion and thus the poet refers to them as being ‘..immortal’, showing us how the poet has personalised the poem eventually by the end and although in nature they may be deceased they are never-dying for the poem as he is completely overwhelmed and stupefied by their intellectual and academic capabilities. He uses the setting and language ‘..welding shed’ and ‘..neon’ – Why? He wants them to be remembered in a specific way; hard at work and how they will spiritually live on to the author. The ending, as mentioned previously, is extremely important because it adds flare to the entire poem and summarises the poem as being evocative, emotional, personalised and impactful to the author as the reader can relate to the poem throughout, however by the end we realise that the poet was reliving and resonating the idea of his immortal uncles.


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