The Ferryman’s Arms describes a man taking himself on at a game of pool in the backroom of a pub. The pub shares the same name as the poem. Paterson uses this scenario to explore the idea of being both a winner and a loser and also to explore life and death.
The first stanza deals with the pool game and explains in detail how the speaker is lured into the room, potting the black ball in
an immaculate clearance. The atmosphere is sinister, created by the apparent gloom and the quiet where only the faint humming of the light above the pool table can be heard. Through the use of language, Paterson quickly implies that this poem is not simply a description of pool, but one that addresses more complex ideas surrounding death and how we, as humans, regard its inexorable presence.
The second stanza develops the concepts explored in the first by describing the arrival of the ferry at the shore. On a literal level the speaker leaves the pub to get on the ferry while on a metaphorical level the ferry on the ‘black’ water comes to represent the boat used in Greek mythology to carry the dead over the River Styx and into the underworld. In light of this we are forced to consider who exactly is the
losing opponent in the game and that none of us can avoid our fate.