Wilfred Noyce’s, “Breathless” is a heavy poem about a man encountering physical difficulty whilst climbing a mountain. The tall structure of the poem and the difficulty of reading the poem, help the reader identify with the relentlessness the climber is experiencing, leaving the reader somewhat exhausted and irritated. The reader cannot help but feel that in a time of severe difficulty pessimism extinguishes even the strong virtue of optimism, neglecting the splendors of ones surrounding hence enervating morale.
The structure of the poem is narrow and tall resembling the steepness and shape of the mountain. This not only gives an automatic visual image of the dire difficulty of having to hike up such steepness but also provides insight to the voice’s state of mind, limited to only verticality. The lines of the poem are irregular and cannot be grouped into stanza, presenting an immediate difficulty because to follow the jagged structure of lines is confusing. The verticality and the short phrases can also represent conservation, the tall structure of the poem and the two-worded lines, attempt to conserve space just as the voice meticulously conserves the ‘dry air’.
The use of enjambment and the regular rhyme scheme ushers the reader to read the poem quickly. The anxiety that the reader feels to finish the poem corresponds to the way in which the voice fretfully wants his experience to be over. However, the repetition of the first four line at the beginning and end of the poem create a cycle. In addition to these four lines emphasizing the integral discomfort-the ‘sorry, scant’ air, phrases such as ‘dragging feet’ and ‘faltering limbs’ create a heavy and relentless mood.
Although the poem seems downcast and pessimistic, with the painstaking drudgery of ‘one step, one heart-beat’ , there are moments of self-support. The voice encourages himself by saying ‘must look up’ and ‘go on’ which opposes the previous instructions to not ‘look up’. However, the hint of optimism is fleeting as the interminable relentlessness starts again with the counting of steps of the ‘dragging feet’, only to realize that the voice is a ‘stone no nearer’ to his destination.
The poem revolves around the severe difficulty of climbing the steep mountain with no advantageous avail. The negative and pessimistic tone of the poem leaves me with a feeling of discomfort and frustration. The power that the ‘dry air’ so ‘sorry, scant’ has in overcoming the mind to the extent of neglecting the finer things of the experience, i.e. the scenery, nature…etc., parallels the way in which difficulty could cause us to discard the appreciation and beauty of our surroundings which will inevitably debilitate us.