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A Wider View: Worlds and Lives Analysis

A Wider View was written by Seni Seneviratne, who grew up in Leeds and has Sri Lankan ancestry.

The poem includes many references to landmarks in Leeds. These include “Marshall’s Mill”, “Temple Works”, “Tower Works”, and “Harding’s chimney”. The “Dark Arches” are mentioned as a network of brick arches built beneath the city’s railway station. They were constructed in 1869, the period during which the speaker imagines her great-great-grandfather walking through the city.

In the 19th century, cholera outbreaks killed tens of thousands of people across Britain. This disease particularly affected industrial towns like Leeds. Many initially believed it was caused by the smoke-filled, polluted air. However, Dr John Snow later discovered that it was a bacterial infection spread through contaminated water supplies.

Poem Summary

The speaker imagines her great-great-grandfather in 1869, walking through the industrial landscape of Leeds. She envisions him desiring space and a healthier environment for himself and his young family, away from the crowded houses and polluted air. He hopes to hear pleasant sounds above the loud noises of industry.

The poem then transitions to the present day, with the speaker walking the same streets. She reflects on her connection to her ancestors, finding this familial bond more significant than the practical, industrial design of the city.

The poem’s key message:

The poem explores the human desire for a better life beyond one’s current surroundings. It also emphasises the enduring strength of familial ties across generations, more powerful than ties to a single place.

Language

Language featureExamples and the effect of this
Alliteration and sibilanceAlliteration is evident in the line “craved the comfort of a wider view”, reflecting the speaker’s great-great-grandfather’s longing for a better life.

Sibilance (repetition of ‘s’ sounds) appears in the description “smoke-filled sky to stack his dreams”, creating a soft, whispering sound.

Alliteration and sibilance give these lines a poetic sound that enhances the dreamy quality of his aspirations.
Sound imagerySound imagery contrasts the man’s dreams with the reality of his environment. He desires to hear “ringing bells”, which could symbolise hope and freedom. But to hear these, he must drown out the industrial “din of engines, looms and shuttles”.

The present-day description of Leeds includes “the red brick vaults/ begin to moan”, personifying the architecture as old and in pain, suggesting a sense of decay and weariness.
MetaphorMetaphors are used to convey themes of hope in the poem. The phrase “a wider view” signifies the great-great-grandfather’s desire to see beyond the immediate confines of houses, polluted air and factories, symbolising his aspirations for a better life.

The “conicals of light” in the mill are metaphorical for hope shining in darkness.

At the end of the poem, the speaker contrasts the “geometric lines” of the city with “the curve of past and future generations”. This image of a “curve” symbolises a link to her ancestors and descendants that is more emotional and enduring than the city’s practical design.

Structure

  • The first three stanzas of the poem are written in the past tense. The speaker imagines the thoughts and feelings of her great-great-grandfather as he walks through Leeds.
  • The final two stanzas are in the present tense as the speaker describes her own thoughts as she travels through the same streets.

Form

  • The poem is written in free verse, with no set rhythm or rhyme. Enjambment is frequently used throughout the poem. This free-flowing style could reflect the speaker’s wandering thoughts as she links the past, present and future.

Themes

ThemeAnalysis
Lives in the cityThe 19th-century industrial city is presented as grim, joyless and dirty. The man works twelve-hour days in a dark mill “combing flax” (separating flax fibres so they can be spun into linen yarn). This leaves his eyes “dry with dust”. The sky is described as “smoke-filled”, and the poem references cholera outbreaks and overcrowded “back-to-back” houses.

In contrast, the modern city is portrayed as rundown and gloomy, with streets bathed in “sodium gloom”. The “Dark Arches and the red-bricked vaults” are said to be “collapsing into the River Aire”.

The speaker critiques both the original design of the industrial town and its modern-day neglect.
Hopes and dreamsDespite the grim setting, both the speaker and her great-great-grandfather are depicted as seeking hope in their situations. The man dreams of a life “beyond the limits of his working life”. Although the sounds of industry fill the city, he still listens for “the ringing bells” that represent a happier, brighter future.
FamilyThe speaker finds joy in the connections between family generations. She contrasts the rigid lines of the city’s design with a “curve” that “arcs between us”. This “curve” symbolises the joy and continuity found in connecting with her past and future relatives. Despite never knowing her great-great-grandfather, the speaker imagines his life, creating a bond between them.

Key Quotes to Learn

QuoteWhy is it important?
“my great-great-grandad searched for spaces/ in the smoke-filled sky to stack his dreams”The speaker envisions her great-great-grandfather wishing for a better life beyond the industrial city’s harsh conditions.
“imagined peals of ringing bells”The “ringing bells” could symbolise hope and freedom, and the man drowns out the industrial noises with this “imagined” sound.
“the curve of past and future generations/ arcs between us”This quote highlights the significance of heritage. The speaker emphasises the importance of the familial connection that links past, present and future generations, and how it can shape a person’s identity.