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English Literature

Jean Sprackland: Hard Water

Structure and language

Hard Water is written in free verse [free verse: A style of poetry that contains lines and verses of varying lengths and composition, usually without consistent rhyme patterns. ] and divided into three stanzas, with each stanza following one main idea. The first stanza briefly describes soft water the narrator experienced in Wales. The second stanza explores the idea of hard water representing home, and the final stanza encapsulates the idea of belonging to Burton-on-Trent and its water.

Event though this poem is in free verse, it is an ode, meaning a poem in praise of something or someone, usually given in the title. Odes were first written in classical Greek and divided into three parts, so Sprackland follows the traditional form.


Sprackland uses snatches of dialogue, shown in italics, to portray the accent of her hometown. The colloquial vocabulary helps to give the reader an idea of how it should sound. The dialogue lends a down-to-earth tone to the poem, especially the "blunt" phrases at the end of the poem.

The difference between soft and hard water is demonstrated through vocabulary and punctuation. In the first stanza polysyllabic words (with many syllables) and long phrases accentuate the "excitable" soft water, but when the narrator moves on to describe hard water in the second stanza, she begins by using short words and several full stops in quick succession: "Flat. Straight." This shortness and use of punctuation makes the reader pause, and creates the idea of bluntness, which the narrator later identifies as a feature of her hometown.


Drakelow Power Station Behind Houses

Although this is an ode to hard water, and the tone is positive, the imagery is sometimes negative: hard water is linked to the "sour steam of cooling towers" or it has a "swimming-pool smell". In the same way the rain in the final stanza "scald[s]" her "eyelids and lips". Paradoxically (seemingly contradictory), these are regarded as good qualities, defining the water as "honest": it "tasted of work".

There is a hint that the narrator sometimes feels a little isolated: the phrase "in spite of my book-learning" has a defensive tone, as if people around her resent her education. This is picked up in the two quotations at the end "don't get mardy" and "too bloody deep for me", possibly referring to arguments, and perhaps separation from her family or friends.

The hard water is personified. In the second stanza the narrator describes how she lets "the little fizz of anxiety settle" in a glass of the local water. This personification also suggests that she is projecting her own emotions onto the water, so that it becomes a character in its own right.

Water is a unifying force in the poem, which marks the narrator as "belonging" no matter what happens. This may explain why the narrator even regards the acid rain as acceptable: she opens her mouth to the rain at the bus stop even though it is "thick with a payload of acid".

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