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For Heidi With Blue Hair by Fleur Adcock

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
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.
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.)
‘She discussed it with me first –
we checked the rules.’ ‘And anyway, Dad,
it cost twenty-five dollars.
Tel them it won’t wash out –
not even if I wanted to try.
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.
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.
“For Heidi With Blue Hair” is a poem written by Fleur Adcock, during the 1980s. The
poem presents the readers with a central image of a child being sent home from school
for dye-ing her hair blue. The poem can be seen as one in a narrative form since the
poem is being described like a story, with several dialogues used. Using different literary
devices and imagery, Adcock manages to transform such a minor event and convey the
different issues face in adolescence’s life such as friendship, solidarity, school life, home
life, family relationship, independence and the many social boundaries that they are
being confronted with. The poem deals with independence and individuality in human
beings. The main character- Heidi, in the poem has obviously grown up, and has
developed her own thoughts and personality, and this can be seen in the headmistress’s
tone, being unused to students dyeing their hair ‘blue’. The poem successfully shows
how important relationships between parents and children are, as without her father’s
help she would not have achieved her independence. Her father is recognised as a
“freedom-loving father”, showing the support he gives to Heidi, which is not very usual
among parents. From the poem we can also see Heidi’s strong determination in
achieving what she wants, as she is strong minded “Tell them it won’t wash out-not even
if I wanted to try”. This shows her courage in standing up to what she believes in, and
the courage to strive for what she desires. The poem uses some imagery, and a metaphor
is used “shimmered behind the arguments”, demonstrating how they were all aware of
the depressing news of her mother’s death, and that it was a major problem that she
was going through. Despite this the poet regains Heidi’s justice and strongly states his
firm and that by dyeing her hair blue was not to rebel against her mother’s death, “It
would have been unfair to mention your mother’s death, but that shimmered behind the
arguments.” The poet however, manages to evoke the reader’s feelings, such as to feel
what Heidi is going through, having to face her mother’s death, “The school had
nothing against you; the teachers twittered and gave in.” From this we can see that the
death of her mother may have caused the school to back out of pity, yet the issue…

Poet’s Background

Fleur Adcock was born of English parents in Papakura, New Zealand, in February 1934. Her
family moved back to England, where she spent the war years. Travel was set to become a
dominant factor in her life with her childhood years filled, during the war period, with
rootless travel that involved changes of school and address.
In 1947 she returned to New Zealand to complete her education and developed a keen interest
in poetry. She graduated in Classics from Victoria University of Wellington. She married the
poet Alistair Campbell in 1952 and divorced him in 1957. Feeling very smothered while in
New Zealand, she left in 1963 to live permanently in England. She has worked as a freelance
writer since 1979 and has published many books of poetry. She continues to travel widely.

Her poetry often deals with observations drawn from her travels throughout Ireland, Holland,
England and Nepal, and her attempts to find a sense of place and home. She also has
produced more intimate works dwelling on social issues, social mores, family, love and sex.

Her poems have no air of stridency: her characteristic tone is restrained, rational,
conversational. Adcock herself has talked about this poetic strategy: “The tone I feel at home
in is one in which I can address people without embarrassing them; I should like them to
relax and listen as if to an intimate conversation”. (‘Not Quite a Statement’, Strong Words,
Bloodaxe Books, 2000).
Background

Fleur Adcock was born in New Zealand but spent her early childhood in England. At the end
of the Second World War, she went back to New Zealand where she completed her studies,
earning an MA degree in Classics. Soon after, she left for England where she continues to
live to this day.

By training, Fleur Adcock was a classicist and this is reflected in the formal construction of
her poems. Over the years her poems took on conversational tones, moving away from the
formal and rigid structure. “For Heidi With Blue Hair” is one of the best examples of this
shift. Here she sympathizes with her wayward niece who has broken a school rule by coloring
her hair a startling blue.

Metaphorical Inference

Rather than deep seated metaphors, Fleur Adcock’s poems are marked by an undercurrent of
sarcasm and irony. This poem, “For Heidi With Blue Hair” belongs to the period when she
started experimenting with everyday language and informal structure. This poem, addressed
to a head-strong niece, is sympathetic and understanding in tone. The coloured hair stands for
small acts of rebellion which indicate the turmoil in the girl’s mind. She has just lost her
mother, leaving her confused and unable to cope with the grief. Her father is understanding
and tries to explain to the school authorities. The poet herself led an unconventional life
which may have brought her into conflict with authority.

Summary

The poem plunges head long into its central image. A young girl has dyed her hair blue and
for this, has been sent back home from school. The school authorities, represented by the
headmistress are a befuddled lot. There is nothing in the rule book against dyed hair per se,
but they object using the flimsy argument that blue is not one of the school colors. On his
part, the father tells the headmistress that Heidi’s ‘act of rebellion’ needs to be seen merely as
a hair style. Heidi is reassured by her father’s support. She is determined to keep her hair
color which anyway is a permanent one that will not wash off. Heidi’s father does not wish to
mention her mother’s death in this context nevertheless there are suggestions that the mental
trauma Heidi is going through may have influenced her decision. The school has no strong
arguments to make and they do not pursue the issue any further. However, the next day, in an
act of solidarity, Heidi’s colored friend arrives in school with her hair dyed in school colors,
turning the headmistress’s argument on its head.

ANALYSIS
Stanza 1
Heidi has dyed her hair ultramarine and cut it in spikes. For this act of defiance she is sent
back home.

Stanza 2
The headmistress’s argument is that though coloring of hair was not specifically forbidden,
Heidi had do so in blue which was not a school color. This argument, which is almost
farcical in nature, shows that the school’s rules are arbitrary.
Stanza 3
Bach home, Heidi is in tears but her father stands up for her, remonstrating with the school
that Heidi is not against authority and the blue hair is just a style statement. This support from
her father cheers up Heidi who dries her eyes which are also not in school color, incidentally.

Stanza 4
Heidi’s father further tells the headmistress that Heidi’s decision to color her hair was not her
own but one made after consulting her father. They had not found anything in the rule book
that prohibited it expressly. By now, Heidi has recovered sufficiently enough to say the hair
color was an expensive one that would not wash off even if she had wanted to.
Stanza 5
The father desists from mentioning Heidi’s mother’s demise as an explanation but somewhere
behind his arguments, its presence can be felt. The school cannot say anything further and it
does not pursue it any further.
Stanza 5
The next day, Heidi’s colored friend comes to school with her hair dyed in precise school
colors. This is delicious irony. She turns the headmistress’s argument on its head.

Transcript of For Heidi with Blue Hair

Poetic Devices
No rhyme scheme:
shows the unconventional style, reflecting the theme of rebellion and individuality
Dialogues:
unconventional and vividly
Use of simple vocabulary
Loose Structure:
reinforcing the idea of rebellion
Punctuation:
brackets--shows the informality
Point of View&Tone
This poem narrates the story of a high school girl who were sent home from school because
she dyed her hair blue--'not in a school color.'

It is told from a second person point of view (you), and it creates a unique poetic effect. It
feels as if the poet is talking to you, and making you sympathise with the girl.

The tone of the poem is conversational and informal because Fleur uses mostly simple
vocabulary and dialogues.

Who do you think is telling this poem?


Poem
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
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.

T
ears in
t
he kitchen,
t
elephone-calls
to school
f
rom your
f
reedom-loving
f
ather:
'She's not a punk in her behaviour;
it's just a style.' (You wiped your eyes,
also not in a school colour.)

- Wrote "For Heidi with Blue Hai" during 1980s


- Has been awarded the 2006 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, becoming only the seventh
female poet to receive the award in 73 years.
- In 1996 was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire)
'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.

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.

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.
Adcock was trained as a classicist and much of her early work emphasizes structure, rhyme,
and meter. Since 1980, Adcock's poetry has changed. She experiments with different voices
and speakers. Her themes continue to include ancestry/history, love, death, and childhood.
Also, Adcock's poetry is characterized by her experiences. In this poem, we can see her use of
loose structure.
More facts about Fleur Adcock
Vocabulary
Crest:
Head or top of something.
Twittered:
To talk lightly and rapidly; chatter.
Flaxen:
Pale yellow color.
Witty:
Humorous or funny.
Solidarity:
Unity or a group of people with the
same interest.

Form and Structure


- Arranged in 6 stanzas (each stanza has 5 lines, overall 30 lines)
- Use of Caesuras (a mark of punctuation that comes within the line)
- Use of complex sentences
- Use of run-on (lines written that in the middle of the natural flow of a sentence)
Ex: "because as the headmistress put it, although dyed hair was not specifically forbidden,
yours was, apart from anything else, not done in school colors."
- Shift in last stanza moves forward to the next day, shifts from argueing and fighting to
solidarity and winning the competition
Theme
-Deals with independence and individuality; part of growing up
-Shows important relationship between parents and children
-Heidi; developed her own thoughts and personality with the support of her father
Figurative Language
- Uses imagery
Ex: "at least
ultramarine
for the
clipped sides
, with a
crest
of
jet-black spikes
on top"
- Vivid image of how she has styled her hair.
- Uses metaphor
Ex: "shimmered behind the arguements"
- Demostrates how they were all aware of the depressing
news of her mother's death and that it was a major problem that she was going through
- Heidi's hairstyle shows the rebellious and wild side of her character

Go back to poem for alliteration


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