"From the Journal of a Disappointed Man" appears in Andrew Motion's 2009 collection The Mower: New and Selected Poems. The poem describes this man's observations of an ill-fated construction job, during which a work crew tries to drive a pile (support column) into a pier. The crew encounters a mysterious problem, gives up on solving it, and abandons the job. Much as the crew leaves the pile hanging "in mid-air," the incident leaves the speaker hanging—and the poem leaves readers hanging, demonstrating how real life often denies us the tidy resolutions we seek.
I discovered these ...
... long wire hawser.
Everything else was ...
... tight": all monosyllables.
Nevertheless, by paying ...
... a great difficulty.
I cannot say ...
... the whole business.
The man nearest ...
... crack of Doom.
I should say ...
... and finally ceased.
One massive man ...
... what they saw;
though one fellow ...
... relieve the tension.
Afterwards, and with ...
... me of course.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
The Poet's Life and Work — A biography of Andrew Motion via the Poetry Foundation.
An Interview with the Poet — Andrew Motion on writing and inspiration.
The Poet's Role — Andrew Motion discusses the poet's place in society.
More on the Author — Additional resources and media related to Andrew Motion, courtesy of the Poetry Archive.
Pile Driving and Piers — Watch a video of workmen (successfully!) setting up dock piles with a pile driver.
1I discovered these men driving a new pile
2into the pier. There was all the paraphernalia
3of chains, pulleys, cranes, ropes and, as I said,
4a wooden pile, a massive affair, swinging
5over the water on a long wire hawser.
6Everything else was in the massive style
7as well, even the men; very powerful men;
8very ruminative and silent men ignoring me.
9Speech was not something to interest them,
10and if they talked at all it was like this—
11"Let go," or "Hold tight": all monosyllables.
12Nevertheless, by paying close attention
13to the obscure movements of one working
14on a ladder by the water's edge, I could tell
15that for all their strength and experience
16these men were up against a great difficulty.
17I cannot say what. Every one of the monsters
18was silent on the subject—baffled I thought
19at first, but then I realized indifferent
20and tired, so tired of the whole business.
21The man nearest to me, still saying nothing
22but crossing his strong arms over his chest,
23showed me that for all he cared the pile
24could go on swinging until the crack of Doom.
25I should say I watched them at least an hour
26and, to do the men justice, their slow efforts
27to overcome the secret problem did continue—
28then gradually slackened and finally ceased.
29One massive man after another abandoned
30his position and leaned on the iron rail
31to gaze down like a mystic into the water.
32No one spoke; no one said what they saw;
33though one fellow did spit, and with round eyes
34followed the trajectory of his brown bolus
35(he had been chewing tobacco)
36on its slow descent into the same depths.
37The foreman, and the most original thinker,
38smoked a cigarette to relieve the tension.
39Afterwards, and with a heavy kind of majesty,
40he turned on his heels and walked away.
41With this eclipse of interest, the incident
42was suddenly closed. First in ones and twos,
43then altogether, the men followed. That left
44the pile still in mid-air, and me of course.