Areas of comparison

The Ferryman’s Arms

Nil Nil can be compared to The Ferryman’s Arms in its use of structure and contrast.


Both poems begin with a long stanza that is followed by a shorter second stanza that clarifies the central theme of the poem.


Both poems share a theme of duality and each draws many parallels - in The Ferryman’s Arms we have the speaker playing snooker against his doppelganger; in Nil Nil we have the fate of a football team paralleled with the fate of a fighter-pilot.


Each poem uses everyday events to introduce wider questions about existence. In The Ferryman’s Arms the poet moves from the ordinary pool game to the implications of death; while in Nil Nil the ordinary event of a football game and the demise of a team suddenly switches to the story of the fighter pilot. The mix of tragedy and absurdity in his death clarifies the wider theme about the meaninglessness of existence.

11:00: Baldovan

Both Nil Nil and 11:00: Baldovan explore the theme of change and the loss of familiarity and individual significance.

Each poem begins rooted in the ordinary – the first with a bus trip, the second with a football match. They quickly move from this to incorporate the surreal and absurd.

11:00: Baldovan becomes an apocalyptic vision. What is familiar to the boys is lost in the nightmare - the shop owner doesn’t know the sweets they want and they don’t recognise their own voices.

Similarly in Nil Nil the iconic heroism of a fighter-pilot is reduced to the ridiculous - first through the parachute replaced by socks, and finally to his gallstone used as a ball.

There are elements of language that also connect: the charred wreck of the bus in the first poem recalls the black shell of Skelly Dry Cleaners in the second.

The description of the ruined small town where the swings have stopped and the allotments are dead relates with the land the boys return to in 11:00: Baldovan with the black waves, the sherbet rain and their weird-sounding, grown-up voices.

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