By Tony Harrison


“V” by Tony Harrison is a stirring and controversial poem that first appeared in 1985. Written during the tumultuous times of the miners’ strike in the UK, the poem captures the intense social and personal conflicts. Tony Harrison, known for his mastery of verse and commitment to bringing “high” art to the working class, uses the poem to explore themes of class, identity, and the impact of economic policies on individual lives. The title “V” intriguingly plays multiple roles, referring perhaps to the “versus” of conflict, the “victory” in personal and social struggles, or even the “vulgarity” Harrison confronts and employs as a poetic tool. 📜✨

Moving on to the meaning of the poem.

Meaning of V

Opening section In the opening stanzas of “V,” Harrison sets the stage at a Leeds graveyard, where the poet encounters the vandalized graves of his parents. The graffiti, filled with obscenities, serves as a stark canvas reflecting societal divisions and personal loss:

  • “Here’s the grave of my parents, done over, done in, destroyed, all their lifetime’s savings sold off.”

Mid section As the poem progresses, the middle sections delve deeper into a confrontation between Harrison and an imagined skinhead, representing the opposing side of the social and class divide. This dialogue exposes the raw nerve of societal conflicts and personal identity:

  • “The language of this class that’s trashed us? What good’s a class that’s classless, eh?”

Concluding section The concluding sections of “V” reflect on the potential for reconciliation and understanding, despite the deep-seated divisions. Harrison contemplates the transformative power of language and poetry as a means to bridge divides:

  • “I refuse to let this graveyard of wasted lives stay that way, stand by the earth we share to say: it’s time for us to bear our share.”

In-depth Analysis

Stanza 1:

  • Techniques: Use of vivid imagery and personal narrative.
  • Analysis: Sets a personal and reflective tone, connecting the reader to the poet’s intimate experiences.

Stanza 2:

  • Techniques: Dialogue and rhetorical questions.
  • Analysis: Highlights the social discourse and confronts ideological conflicts directly.

Stanza 3:

  • Techniques: Symbolism (the graveyard) and contrast.
  • Analysis: The graveyard symbolizes both physical and metaphorical death, reflecting societal decay and lost potential.

Stanza 4:

  • Techniques: Metaphor and alliteration.
  • Analysis: The alliterative “b” sounds in “book” and “bomb” evoke the violence and the potential of words as weapons or healers.

Stanza 5:

  • Techniques: Irony and sarcasm.
  • Analysis: Critiques societal values and the misplaced priorities of contemporary culture.

Stanza 6:

  • Techniques: Juxtaposition and direct address.
  • Analysis: Harrison contrasts his scholarly pursuits with the skinhead’s destructive behavior, questioning societal values and personal choices. “You’ve got the whole of the bloody creation, and you deface it,” he accuses, highlighting the senselessness of vandalism against broader existential concerns.

Stanza 10:

  • Techniques: Irony and extended metaphor.
  • Analysis: The poet uses irony to criticize the reduction of human experiences to mere objects of historical or political manipulation. The graveyard, a place of rest and memory, ironically becomes a battleground for contemporary issues.

Stanza 15:

  • Techniques: Symbolism (the graffiti) and dramatic monologue.
  • Analysis: Graffiti, often seen as a petty crime, symbolizes deeper social unrest. Harrison’s dialogue with the imagined antagonist gives voice to different societal segments, fostering a deeper understanding of the poem’s themes.

Stanza 20:

  • Techniques: Allusion and imagery.
  • Analysis: Allusions to historical events and figures enrich the poem’s texture, linking personal grievances to collective memory. Vivid imagery of “wounds” and “foreign bodies” suggests painful yet necessary societal introspections.

Stanza 25:

  • Techniques: Paradox and visual imagery.
  • Analysis: The stanza explores the paradox of cultural decay amidst material prosperity. Visual imagery of the desecrated graves juxtaposed with the city’s industrial backdrop poignantly critiques economic disparities.

This in-depth analysis reveals Harrison’s ability to weave complex social issues with personal emotion, using a variety of literary techniques to enhance the poem’s impact and resonance.

Poetic Devices used in V

DeviceExample from the Poem
Alliteration“Battered books” (Stanza 32)
Assonance“It’s time to tear up the vapid verse” (Stanza 8)
Consonance“Back, bleak slag” (Stanza 45)
Enjambment“I thought of the cobbles I trod…” (Stanza 9)
Metaphor“The armoured language of the ruling class”
Oxymoron“Living dead” (Stanza 12)
Personification“The sunken pit of anger” (Stanza 17)
Simile“Like a wound working a foreign body out” (Stanza 20)
Synecdoche“Leeds is the mouth that bites me back”
Hyperbole“And every word I write is like a risk”

V – FAQs

What inspired Tony Harrison to write ‘V’?
Bold: Tony Harrison was inspired to write “V” after visiting his parents’ graves in Leeds and finding them defaced with graffiti. The poem reflects his personal outrage and broader societal issues, particularly the economic hardships and social strife of the 1980s in Britain.

What are the main themes of ‘V’?
Bold: The main themes of “V” include class conflict, the power and impact of language, and the search for identity in a changing societal landscape. The poem also explores the intersections of personal and public histories.

How does ‘V’ relate to contemporary issues?
Bold: Despite being written in the mid-1980s, “V” remains relevant as it addresses issues like social inequality, political division, and cultural conflict, which continue to resonate in today’s society.

Is ‘V’ appropriate for all audiences?
Bold: “V” contains strong language and themes that may not be suitable for all audiences. It is often studied in higher education settings where mature themes can be discussed in a critical context.

What poetic form is used in ‘V’?
Bold: “V” is written in verse and uses a mix of traditional and modern poetic forms, blending classical meter with contemporary vernacular to enhance its themes and emotional impact.

Now, let’s develop the study guide.

V Study Guide

Exercise: Identify and list all the poetic devices used in the following verse from Tony Harrison’s “V”:

“Leeds is the mouth that bites me back,
And each sharp syllable’s a tooth,
And every word’s a wound or whack,
Or every word’s a wound or truth.”


  • Metaphor: The entire verse uses the city of Leeds as a metaphor for a biting, antagonistic force.
  • Alliteration: “sharp syllable’s a tooth” uses alliteration with the ‘s’ sound to emphasize the painful impact of words.
  • Anaphora: The repetition of “Or every word’s” at the beginning of the last two lines highlights the dual nature of words as both harmful (“wound”) and enlightening (“truth”).
  • Consonance: The ‘w’ sound in “word’s a wound or whack” brings a harsh tone to the reading, enhancing the feeling of being attacked by words.

This guide should help students in recognizing and analyzing the intricate use of language and poetic devices in Tony Harrison’s “V.”