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Poems of the Decade (Edexcel)

7. Ian Duhig – The Lammas Hireling

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In this module, we read through Ian Duhig’s ‘The Lammas Hireling’, focusing in particular on: (i) what ‘Lammas’ is, and what a ‘hireling’ is; (ii) the literary and cultural resonances of Lammas (1 August), including Romeo and Juliet and The Wicker Man (1973, dir. Hardy); (iii) what actually happens in the poem – as far as we can make it out; (iv) the strange language: “I […] blew the small hour through his heart”, “to go into the hare”, “casting ball from half-crown”; (v) the figure of the hireling himself and his series of transformations in the poem – from hireling to the speaker’s dead wife, to some kind of animal, to… nothing at all (“There was no splash”) ; (vi) the other transformations that take place during the poem – from heifers “fat as cream” to a herd that is “elf-shot”, from “dreams of my dear late wife” to “I don’t dream”, etc.; (vii) the importance of the “dear late wife”; and (viii) the religious framing of the poem (“It has been an hour since my last confession”) and the (potential) allusion to the Pharaoh’s dream in the Bible (Genesis 41).


In this course, John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores the twenty poems that make up the ‘Poems of the Decade’ cluster for A Level English Literature (Edexcel). Each poem is read in detail, with a short commentary highlighting aspects of language, style, themes, motifs, and so on. In the case of Patience Agbabi’s ‘Eat Me’, for example, we think about the extent to which we can identify the speaker of the poem with the author herself, the question of whether the couple of the poem can be decribed as happy, and the influence of Robert Browning’s ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ (1836) and Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (1865). When we come to Simon Armitage’s ‘Chainsaw Versus the Pampas Grass’, we think about the theme of man versus nature, the concept of ‘anthropomorphisation’, and the final lines of the poem in which it has become clear that the pampas grass has beaten the chainsaw. And so on for the whole selection.

The poems discussed in this course are:
1. Patience Agbabi – Eat Me
2. Simon Armitage – Chainsaw Versus the Pampas Grass
3. Ros Barber – Material
4. John Burnside – History
5. Julia Copus – An Easy Passage
6. Tishani Doshi – The Deliverer
7. Ian Duhig – The Lammas Hireling
8. Helen Dunmore – To My Nine-Year-Old Self
9. UA Fanthorpe – A Minor Role
10. Vicki Feaver – The Gun
11. Leontia Flynn – The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled
12. Roderick Ford – Giuseppe
13. Seamus Heaney – Out of the Bag
14. Alan Jenkins – Effects
15. Sinéad Morrissey – Genetics
16. Andrew Motion – From the Journal of a Disappointed Man
17. Ciaran O’Driscoll – Please Hold
18. Adam Thorpe – On Her Blindness
19. Tim Turnbull – Ode on a Grayson Perry Urn


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2021, January 09). Poems of the Decade (Edexcel) - Ian Duhig – The Lammas Hireling [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Poems of the Decade (Edexcel) – Ian Duhig – The Lammas Hireling." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 09 Jan 2021,