(Please note that “context” is not an assessed element of this component of the WJEC GCSE in English Literature.)
Owen Sheers is an author, poet and playwright, who was born in Suva, Fiji, in 1974, and was brought up, from the age of nine, in the village of Llanddewi Rhydderch near Abergavenny. He read English at New College, Oxford and then went on to study an MA in Creative Writing at University of East Anglia, under the former poet laureate Andrew Motion.
In an interview with the Wales Arts Review in 2013, Sheers claimed to be ‘interested in the concept of the writer as a conduit for other voices beyond their own; in using poetry and theatre to bridge the distances that appear to be ever widening in our society’.
Owen Sheers is currently Professor of Creativity at Swansea University.
 ‘Poetry Interview: Owen Sheers’, Wales Arts Review, 11 June 2013. Available HERE!
Comments on the Poem as a Whole
The complex and paradoxical feelings of a woman who seems to have been in a violent relationship are conveyed with understatement and a refusal to provide resolution. Violence is implicit in the language and imagery – particularly the dull thumps of fists. Yet the poem voices Antonia’s belief in ‘the persistence of love’, and acknowledges her grief. The poem is troubling because it does not reveal the wider facts that might allow judgement of both the man and Antonia; this air of uncertainty, of an unspoken story, contributes to the sombre feeling of the poem. There are a series of mixed emotions that are suggested throughout the poem, including relief, regret, loss, love, guilt and even shock.
The poem is structured around the fall of the man, the events leading up to this and the aftermath or grief caused by his death. The poem coheres through the use of repeated auditory imagery, repeated phrases or words which take on different tones and meaning according to their position in the poem. Like much of Sheers’s poetry, this poem is interspersed with natural imagery, but here also the external and bodily sounds are important.
Eight lines of the poem begin with the word ‘and’, creating the impression of something that is ongoing, continuous or even everlasting, as well as possibly inevitable. Could this be suggestive of the ongoing cycles of violence within their relationship? Or, the ‘persistence of love’ that is spoken of by the poem’s narrator? Or even, the ongoing emotional pain that is now experienced by Antonia ‘each night’?
Sleep is a prevalent motif in the poem, and it is used both literally and figuratively. It assists with the dreamy, hypnotic mood of the poem – particularly when we hear Antonia’s version of how she saw the man ‘lying on the lawn’. The prominence of sleep throughout the poem seems to support the idea that ‘Antonia’s Story’ expresses a degree of guilt. Shakespeare used sleep as a motif in Macbeth to highlight Macbeth’s guilt throughout the play: “Macbeth does murder sleep” (Act 2, Scene 2, Line 36). Antonia’s possible culpability in the man’s fall could therefore lead to a guilt that is manifested in her restless ‘dark sleep’.