In the poem ‘Breathless’, Noyce expresses the great difficulty and exhaustion he faces while attempting to climb a mountain. The poem shows the long distance and steepness of the hike that Noyce has trouble conquering. However, this poem does not focus the physical difficulty, instead opting to show his emotional turmoil, and the conflict within himself.
The poem is not aligned properly, but is narrow and tall to resemble the steepness and shape of the mountain Noyce is facing. By turning the poem to the side, we can see a very rough path with many upwards and downwards slopes. This can also shows that Noyce’s road ahead is not smooth, and he will have to face many difficulties. ‘Breathless’ is a free-verse poem, with no actual pattern. The lack of structure shows how exhausted the poet is while climbing the 21,200 feet. There are also no stanzas in the poem, and the poet opts for one unbroken unit, resembling the long and seemingly endless journey that he is currently facing. In the poem, Noyce mostly uses short sentences and monosyllabic words. It shows that he is winded because of the long journey that he is currently facing, leaving him breathing in short, ragged gasps. The short sentences can also be used to conserve space, just like the poet is trying to conserve his breath when scaling the mountain, as there is ‘hardly enough breath’ (scant, line 4). The full-stops can also be seen as indications of when the poet stops to take a breath. Finally, the poem has a circular structure, with the first and last four sentences being repetitive, which shows that Noyce’s journey seems never-ending.
The tone of the poem is conflicting. For one, the use of imperatives throughout the poem shows the poet’s determination to succeed in climbing the mountain. The phrase ‘don’t look up’ in line 19 is one example of Noyce’s use of imperatives, ordering himself not to look up so as to keep his morale up. On the other hand, the poet also seems hopeless and exhausted. In line 6, the question ‘why at all?’ is rhetorical. It implies that the poet’s attempts to climb the mountain are futile, and that he will never succeed. The poem clearly shows both the internal and external conflict of the poet, the internal conflict between his determination to reach the top and his feeling of hopelessness in the situation, while the external one being the struggle between himself and the cold and harsh mountain. Overall, the poem contains a negative and pessimistic tone, with several moments of self encouragement, but those hopes are dashed when the poet finds the ‘stone no nearer’ (line 35).
In the poem, the poet compares his body with that of a failing machine. The words ‘grind’ (line 17) and ‘wrench’ (line 23) are typically used to describe the motions of a machine, but the poet currently uses them to describe himself. He also shows that his own body is starting to fail, organ by organ, starting from his heart, to his lungs, followed by his legs, tailed by his hands and limbs and finally his throat. This is similar to a failing machine with parts breaking one by one. Noyce shows that his body is slowly losing the will to live and fight against the relentless mountain, and is giving up hope, which serves to increase the feeling of hopelessness in the poem.
Noyce applies numerous sensory descriptions in the poem, mostly tactile, serving to increase the reality of the poem giving the reader a better idea of what the poet is facing and easily picture the harsh and relentless mountain. From the beginning, Noyce shows his difficulties directly using tactile sensory description. The words ‘ache’ (line 1) and ‘pant’ (line 2) shows both his pain and exhaustion in scaling the mountain. This is followed by many more examples; such as ‘prod’ (line 9) and ‘slack’ (line 28). The imperative ‘look up’ serves to engage the reader in the poet’s journey, and gives the reader a slight urge to look up at the previous lines, making them notice the steep slope between the lines of the entire poem, and make them sympathize for the poet as he has to face this in reality. The use of onomatopoeia in the poem also serves to paint a picture. It arouses our senses and tries to change our attitude to the poem, and to make us empathize with the poet.
The rhyme scheme for this poem is ABCB, an alternate rhyme scheme. Not only does it encourage the reader to read faster, providing them with the feeling of breathlessness once they are finished, it also creates a regular pace that symbolizes the poet’s footsteps, heartbeat and breathing. Enjambment is used many times throughout the poem, like in lines 11 and 12 ‘a flat step is holiday’. The phrase is split into two lines, resulting in the hastening of the pace of the poem and relating the readers to the rapid breathing pattern of the poet which prevents him from speaking full sentences. The anxiety of the readers who want to finish the poem quickly mirrors the way Noyce wants his experience to be over. Overall, the use of enjambment and the regular rhyme scheme and rhythm serves to give the reader a realistic and repetitive sense of climbing up the mountain step by step.
Ultimately, the poet mainly focuses on his difficulty and determination to climb the mountain through his pain and exhaustion. This results in the lack of imagery used in the poem, as he does not stop to take in the scene, instead just looking down at his feet or up at the summit. This corresponds to the way difficulty and pain blinds us, causing us to lose sight of the beauty of nature, and what makes things worth doing.