Every Friday, Huffington Post Culture picks a poem for your weekend. Today: Coat by Vicki Feaver.
Vicki Feaver is an award-winning poet living in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. She was born in Nottingham in 1943 and studied Music at Durham University. She became Emeritus Professor at University College, Chichester where she teacher creative writing and literature. She has published three collections of poems, Close Relative (1981) The Handless Maiden (1994) which won a Heineman prize and The Book of Blood (2006).
Sometimes I have wanted
to throw you off
like a heavy coat.
Sometimes I have said
you would not let me
breathe or move.
But now that I am free
to choose light clothes
or none at all
I feel the cold
and all the time I think
how warm it used to be.
Feaver once described writing as 'a kind of gutting' and Coat illustrates this as well as any of her poems. The short verse length and use of a solitary metaphor - the ‘heavy coat’ of a past relationship - gives the poem a starkness and simplicity that heightens the emotional punch when, in the final line, it reflects on the feelings of inner emptiness and loss that accompanies the end of a love affair.
The idea of a lover being like a coat that stifles and restricts is less straightforward metaphor than it first appears. It’s actually rather strange to think of a coat stopping us from 'breathing' or 'moving' - the clothes we wear are an expression of our personal taste as well as our free will. We only force ourselves into items that don’t fit because we think they make us look good - was that the real problem in the poet’s relationship? Were they putting outward appearances before their private happiness?
The second part half of Coat deals with the period after the relationship, in which 'choosing light clothes' can be interpreted as pursuing less serious relationships, and ‘or none at all’ could mean either being celibate or indulging in casual sex, depending on how much you read into the image of the poet being nude. The sexuality in this verse - what are 'light clothes'? Night gowns? Lingerie? - provides another possible motive for what went wrong. Perhaps the poet’s ‘heavy coat’ didn’t make them look or feel sexy enough, so much so that at times they wanted to 'throw it off'.
The final verse is where the poet realises their 'heavy coat' had qualities they'd forgotten about - the comfort, security and warmth that comes from being in a relationship. But how sincere is their sense of regret and melancholy? Is it an expression of loneliness, or love?
Coat, like all great poems, leaves the reader with unanswered questions. And like all great poems it is one that suddenly resurfaces in the reader's mind when life begins to ask the very same difficult questions of them.
Got a favourite you'd like to appear in The Friday Poem? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!