For Heidi With Blue Hair
Line By Line Analysis
When you dyed your hair blue
(or, at least ultramarine
for the clipped sides, with a crest
of jet-black spikes on top)
you were sent home from school
Narrator clearly talking to Heidi directly, suggesting that this poem is written for her about an incident sometime in the past.
Parenthese here show an aside which add more detail to the simply ‘blue’ hair. ‘Blue’ is what the teacher and the school call her hair, yet ‘ultramarine’ is a more elegant and more glamorous word, showing that her hair is actually a source of pride. Adcock goes on to write a detailed description of her hair, from the ‘jet-black spikes on top’ to the ‘clipped sides’. Techniques used in these lines include alliteration between ‘clipped’ and ‘crested’ creating a sharp sound, like something ‘clipping’. The fact that the word ‘crest’ is at the end of a line before the enjambment suggests the line itself is coming to a peak before falling into the next line, perhaps mirroring the waves which are the same colour as her hair.
General language and tone is conversational, showing her talking directly to Heidi about a memory they share. Creates a sense of informality and closeness.
because, as the headmistress put it,
although dyed hair was not
specifically forbidden, yours
was, apart from anything else,
not done in the school colours.
Stanzas enjamb, creating an incident in the first stanza and then the reason for the school’s response in the second. ‘As the headmistress put it’ devolves blame to the headmistress, and shows the headmistress trying to change the rules or interpret them in a way which suits herself. Sense that the poet does not agree with the headmistress. Phrases like ‘specifically forbidden’ and ‘apart from anything else’ mimic the headmistress’ speech, showing the poet satirizing her.
The idea that to dye one’s hair it has to be done in the school colours suggests that in a school everything has to conform, and the poet sees this as a flimsy reason to stop her niece dying her hair. What the school requires seems to be extremely unreasonable, almost farcical.
Tears in the kitchen, telephone-calls
to school from your freedom-loving father:
‘She’s not a punk in her behaviour;
it’s just a style.’ (You wiped your eyes,
also not in a school colour.)
‘Tears in the kitchen’ immediately presents an image of the grief this causes her niece, creates a sense of a mutually known ‘kitchen’ where perhaps they both go. Alliteration of ‘t’ creates a sharp sound in this line. Also creates sympathy for Heidi. The poet writes that Heidi’s father is ‘freedom-loving’, perhaps not the expected role of a father who may usually be strict. Creates a sense of closeness in their family. Juxtaposes freedom with the implied lack of freedom that the school gives Heidi. Long, enjambed lines mimic the long telephone calls and sequence of actions that her father takes to try to help her.
Quotation from her father trying to explain that she’s not ‘a punk’, so not a bad child - punk would have been a movement at the time which enjoyed non-conformity - but it’s ‘just a style’ exaggerating the lack of importance for this hairstyle for anyone else.
The niece wipes tears away from her eyes, ‘also not in a school colour’, showing with a tone of sarcasm how emotion cannot be regulated by school rules, although they might try to do so. Shows how unfair it is that the school is making her cry for the sake of enforcing their rules.
‘She discussed it with me first –
we checked the rules.’ ‘And anyway, Dad,
it cost twenty-five dollars.
Tell them it won’t wash out –
not even if I wanted to try.
Stanza shows the support of her father even when the school is against her. The fact that she discussed it with him first shows that she isn’t disrespectful or rebellious, encouraging us to sympathise with her. The fact that they ‘checked the rules’ shows that the school is definitely being unreasonable. Perhaps some humour created here for the reader in the equally flimsy excuses that she then tries to make to try and stop the school from making her dye it back, e.g. that ‘it cost twenty-five dollars’, fairly typically for teenagers. The last line where she says ‘not even if I wanted to try’ betrays the fact that the she isn’t going to try and get rid of this, and does suggest a small tone of rebellion.
It would have been unfair to mention
your mother’s death, but that
shimmered behind the arguments.
The school had nothing else against you;
the teachers twittered and gave in.
Finally gives us the deeper reason behind the drastic change, her ‘mother’s death’, which ‘shimmered behind the arguments.’ ‘Shimmered’ suggests that this is something intangible which is a glimmering backdrop to what is actually happening, suggests that people should be able to see it if they fried - but the school is not trying.
‘It would have been unfair’ raises the question about who it is unfair to. Perhaps it would be unfair to Heidi because it would remind her of this, perhaps it would be unfair because it would show the stupidity of the school’s shallow argument.
‘The school had nothing else against you’ suggests that the school cannot find any other fault with her, suggesting that Heidi is a good student. However, ‘against you’ does suggest a slight threat from the school, who are looking for arguments against her.
The alliterative description of the ‘teachers twittered’ compares them to birds, suggesting that they sound silly and childish. The fact that they then ‘gave in’ suggests that they want to argue for the sake of it, but cannot back up their arguments.
Next day your black friend had hers done
in grey, white and flaxen yellow –
the school colours precisely:
an act of solidarity, a witty
tease. The battle was already won.
Fleur Adcock (1934-)
Her friend, who Adcock identifies, then has her own hair dyed in ‘grey, white and flaxen yellow’, which are ‘precisely’ the school colours shows her mocking the school for their strict rules. Shows solidarity and love not only from her father, but from her friends as well. Humorous incident has a tone of triumph, as though Adcock strongly approves of this, showing it as a natural consequence of the stupidity of school rules.
The fact that the ‘battle was already won’, shows that Heidi’s rebellion against stupid school rules is won, also shows that Heidi’s inner battle is won due to the love of her friends supporting her. Poem juxtaposes the inner cry for attention and change due to her mother’s death with the more superficial battle to keep her blue hair.
The words ‘done’ and ‘won’ rhyme, creating a very subtle sense of closure which doesn’t eliminate the free verse of the poem. Free verse represents Heidi’s own freedom.
Poem is about a girl who dyes her hair blue - a typical teenage rebellion - yet also in the wake of her mother’s death, suggesting that it is a way for her to cope with her grief. The poem shows the ‘solidarity’ between Heidi and her friends who support her, satirizing the school when one of her friends dyes her own hair in the school colours.