Forster examines growing up and growing apart in this childhood memory.
‘Brothers’ by Andrew Forster
Saddled with you for the afternoon, me and Paul
ambled across the threadbare field to the bus stop,
talking over Sheffield Wednesday’s chances in the Cup
while you skipped beside us in your ridiculous tank-top,
spouting six-year-old views on Rotherham United.
Suddenly you froze, said you hadn’t any bus fare.
I sighed, said you should go and ask Mum
and while you windmilled home I looked at Paul.
His smile, like mine, said I was nine and he was ten
and we must stroll the town, doing what grown-ups do.
As a bus crested the hill we chased Olympic Gold.
Looking back I saw you spring towards the gate,
your hand holding out what must have been a coin.
I ran on, unable to close the distance I’d set in motion.
Drifting Apart: The Relationship between the Brothers
Forster emphasises the difference in attitude and behaviour between the brothers. The older boys maturely ‘[talk] over’ their ideas and ‘[amble]’ while the younger boy ‘skip[s]’ and ‘spout[s]’ with childish energy. The word choice here emphasises the age difference, suggesting an incompatibility between the brothers. Forster also puts the words and actions of the older boys in separate lines from the younger brother, further separating them.
However, halfway through the poem, the speaker reveals that the speaker ‘was nine and [his friend] was ten’. It is only at this point that we realise how young the speaker was. In light of this, his rejection of the younger brother seems like a regrettable part of the process of growing up.
In the last stanza, Forster emphasises that they were still very much children. An adult might see running for a bus as an inconvenience. For the boys, however, it is an exciting opportunity for a bit of fantasy, as they ‘[chase] Olympic Gold’.
In the poem’s final image, the younger brother tries desperately to reach the speaker, ‘spring[ing] towards the gate’ and ‘holding out’ his hand with the coin that proves he can join them on the bus. Yet, instead of waiting or going back, the speaker ‘[runs] on, unable to close the distance [he has] set in motion’, a distance both physical and emotional.
Bridging the Gap: Tone and the Use of ‘Second Person’
Although the poem describes a childhood event, the tone is strikingly adult. It’s not written from the point of the view of the nine year old child. Instead, the speaker is grown up, reflecting maturely on this childhood event.
One of the most striking and interesting aspects of the poem is that the speaker addresses himself to ‘you’ – his younger brother. This direct address is a significant shift in their relationship since in this childhood memory the speaker shuns him. The last line isn’t exactly an apology – but the speaker does finally take responsibility for ‘setting in motion’ the separation between them. The use of ‘you’ goes some way towards reopening communication and rebuilding the relationship after estrangement.