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Homing: Worlds and Lives Analysis

Homing was written by Liz Berry and published in 2014. Berry was raised in the Black Country, and she often wrote about the area and used the local accent and dialect in her poems.

The Black Country is an area in the Midlands of England, covering towns such as Dudley, Tipton and Walsall. It was a pioneering region during the Industrial Revolution, known for producing coal, glass, bricks, iron and steel. The area earned its name due to the soot and air pollution.

Poem Summary

The speaker remembers how a deceased relative’s accent would sometimes change. They mostly talked with Received Pronunciation (RP), the standard and most highly regarded form of spoken English. However, they would occasionally use the Black Country accent of their childhood. The speaker expresses a longing to hear her relative speak in this regional accent once more.

The poem’s key message:

The poem celebrates the beauty and heritage of her hometown’s local dialect and accent. It portrays these regional speech patterns as more meaningful and historically rich compared to Received Pronunciation, which people often use to mask their original accents.

Language

Language featureExamples and the effect of this
Extended metaphorAn extended metaphor of a locked box is used, symbolising how the speaker’s relative concealed their accent and dialect. The box’s lock is described as having “rusted shut”, indicating that the relative hasn’t used their original accent and dialect in a long time.

The speaker’s wish to have the box “jemmied open/ to let years of lost words spill out” highlights her regret that her relative kept their local language hidden.
Images of industryThe poem draws on images of industry to describe the hidden accent and dialect’s beauty. The “vowels” of the accent are likened to being “ferrous as nails”, with “ferrous” referring to a compound containing iron, a key material from the Industrial Revolution.

Also, the speaker compares forming the accent in her mouth to a “blacksmith’s furnace”. She is suggesting that using the accent requires skill and precision, similar to a blacksmith’s craft.
SimileThe poem concludes with a simile, comparing the rediscovery of the lost accent and dialect to “pigeons,/ fluttering for home.” This imagery of homing pigeons, known for finding their way home over long distances, suggests that, although the accent and dialect haven’t been used in a long time, they are still firmly embedded in the local culture and can be reclaimed.

Structure

  • The first two stanzas focus on the speaker’s memories of her relative’s hidden Black Country accent and dialect.
  • In stanzas three to five, the speaker reveals her desire to embrace and reclaim the traditional accent and dialect once used by her deceased relative.

Form

  • The poem is written in free verse, with no regular rhythm or rhyme scheme., and uses enjambment, with sentences continuing across lines. This form reflects the speaker’s preference for unstructured, naturalistic speech over conventional, ordered speech.
  • It is written in the first person, conveying the speaker’s feelings about her relative’s speech. It is also addressed directly to the deceased relative, as seen in lines like “For years you kept your accent/ in a box”.

Themes

ThemeAnalysis
HeritageThe speaker expresses a strong desire to preserve the traditional dialect of the Black Country. She celebrates the area’s unique language with words like “bibble, fittle, tay, wum”. While these words might not be widely understood across the country, she values them for their regional identity and connection to local history.

The speaker associates this language with the industry of “the pits,/ railways, factories”. The Black Country was a prominent area of the Industrial Revolution, so these industries – and the language of the people working in them – are deeply embedded in the local history.
ClassThe relative felt compelled to exchange their local accent for Received Pronunciation (RP), commonly associated with the middle class. This reflects class discrimination in the UK, where traditionally, working-class individuals were expected to abandon their regional accents to achieve success.

The enforcement of RP is illustrated by the harsh “teacher’s ruler across your legs”, suggesting it was imposed by force, rather than adopted through their own free will. The use of the word “escaped” to describe the relative’s occasional reversion to their regional dialect implies that their authentic language was silenced, not willingly abandoned.
ConnectionThe speaker wishes to reclaim and celebrate the accent and dialect that her relative was forced to hide. She expresses a desire to “swallow” and “forge” this language in her mouth, and envisions it making her so proud that she would “shout it from the roofs”.

This act represents not only a personal connection to her relative but also a reconnection with the traditions and heritage of the Black Country.

Key Quotes to Learn

QuoteWhy is it important?
“For years you kept your accent/ in a box beneath the bed”This line metaphorically illustrates the relative’s hiding of their accent, treating it as a hidden, almost forbidden part of their identity. It is not entirely discarded but kept out of sight.
“vowels ferrous as nails”The speaker admires her relative’s traditional form of speech. She uses the industrial terms “ferrous” and “nails” to symbolise the strength and resilience embodied in their accent.
“send your words, like pigeons,/ fluttering for home.”This imagery suggests the speaker’s longing to revive her relative’s regional accent and dialect. It evokes the idea of these elements of speech returning after a long absence, like homing pigeons instinctively finding their way back.