“Rhyme of the Dead Self” by A.R.D. Fairburn conveys the anguish of disappointment with dark humour. The speaker of the poem chooses to murder his younger self because he is fed up with his naive illusions about love and life. He wins over his old body, portraying it as a discarded “snakeskin” that was only ever suitable for ridiculous “dreams of love.” However, the poem implies that the speaker’s rejection of this half of himself is unfortunate. The poem emphasizes that while youthful innocence and idealism may be naive, dying them off entirely means abandoning oneself to dreary cynicism.
As the speaker shouts that he has finally slain his innocent younger self, it appears that he intends to leave all sorts of faults and miseries with that self’s body. This “pale lily-white lad” believed in “dreams of love” that the speaker now sees as “ruinous folly”—words that indicate a painful experience destroyed the speaker’s romantic ideals. He expresses his grief not just by rejecting “pretty love-tales,” but also by singing “heighho the holly”. Life’s failures have convinced this speaker that he is better off without his young expectations and goals.
Below, you’ll find the full poem.
Tonight I have taken all that I was
and strangled him that pale lily-white lad
I have choked him with these my hands these claws
catching him as he lay a-dreaming in his bed.
Then chuckling I dragged out his foolish brains
that were full of pretty love-tales heighho the holly
and emptied them holus bolus to the drains
those dreams of love oh what ruinous folly.
He is dead pale youth and he shall not rise
on the third day or any other day
sloughed like a snakeskin there he lies
and he shall not trouble me again for aye.
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