Analysis of The Tally Stick by Jarold Ramsay
By captain, May 4, 201 Qufu Normal University
In the poem” The Tally Stick,” Jarold Ramsay uses the symbol of a tally stick to
express the strength and endurance of the relationship between an old couples. It seems that these two kinds of things have nothing to do with each other. However, Jarold Ramsay endows the tally stick a special meaning. It symbolizes the common memories of the couples. From the poem we can learn that maybe there are some crises in their marriage, so the protagonist says” it is time to touch and handle what
we know we share” (5). He believes the strength and endurance of their relationship and hopes to mend the relationship by cherishing their common memories as well as by forgiving each other’s faults
Jarold Ramsay begins by describing the origin of the tally stick to show the positive attitude of the protagonist in treating his relationship and to show how much the protagonist loves his wife. From these two lines “Here from the start, from our
first of days, look:/ I have carved our lives in secret on this stick” (1--2), we can learn
that the protagonist has kept in his mind their lives from the every beginning of their relationship. This indicates that in the protagonist’s eyes, what he has experienced
with his wife in their life occupies a place of high importance. Jarold Ramsay’s
“secret” means that the protagonist is not just to put on a show by carving the tally stick but to treasure their relationship from the bottom of his heart. By saying “of
mountain mahogany the length of your arms/outstretched, the wood clear red, so hard and rear” (3---4), Jarold Ramsay tells us that the stick is not casually chosen but with careful consideration. The tally stick being kept as long as his partner’s outstretched
arms indicates that the protagonist hopes to make their love as a long—term and
lasting relationship from the beginning. “Clear” shows that the wood is not
multicolored but single--colored which symbolizes the purity of their love. Jarold Ramsay employs the word “hard” to signify that the relationship between the couples is as strong and endurable as the hard wood which is invulnerable. The mahogany is previous because it is a rare plant, here Jarold Ramsay implies that as far as the protagonist is concerned, his love is as previous as mahogany. All these words show us his positive attitude towards his relationship with his wife.
After saying “It is time to touch and handle what we know we share” (5), Jarold
Ramsay begins to describe the common memories shared by the old couples together. The protagonist only cares about and cherishes those memories only relevant to them, while pays little attention to those big events which has little to do with their own life. He treats his relationship with his wife with great care, so he remembers the details clearly and can “read it through with a thumb and tell you now” (8). The protagonist
begins to carve the tally stick from his wedding. Each mark carved symbolizes a particular events include both good ones, such as “who made up the songs, who meant
us joy” (9), “they are the birth of our children”, as well as bad ones, such as “the
deaths of our parents, the loss of friends” (13). All these particular events are shared
by the couples together. Although the protagonist has carved some important events, such as “Here is the Year the World went wrong,/ we thought, and here the days the Great Man fell” (17--18) in history and in the world. Such events only have a slight influence on their relationship, so they are chiseled randomly. Here Jarold Ramsay makes a contrast between the most commonplace and the big events which serves to emphasis that to the protagonist’s point of view, nothing is more important than the
common experiences shared with his wife, even a big one which has the power to affect the world and the history.
In the last stanza, with these two lines “See our tally stick is whittled weary end
to end;/ delicate as scrimshaw, it would not bear you up” (20—21). Jarold Ramsay
tells us that behind the colorful memorizes there also hides some crises in their relationship. However, the protagonist holds an optimistic attitude towards their relationship and he is confident to eliminate the crises. Although “Regrets have
polished it, hand over hand” (23), the protagonist would not to give up the
relationship with his wife. He suggests that he and his partner “take it up and as our
fingers/ like children leading on a trail cry back/ our unforgotten wonders, sign after sign” (23--25). Here Jarold Ramsay employs a simile: the protagonist wants to mend their relationship by recalling the good memories like innocent children without considering those regrettable ones. At last the protagonist presents his last hope that they forgive each other’s mistakes which cause the crises in their relationship and accompany each other until their “eyes go blind”.
Jarold Ramsay wrote “The Tally Stick” to show the protagonist’s sincerity in
the attempt to mend the relationship with his wife. The stick symbolizes the relationship between two individuals. The notch, arrowheads, and other symbols all represent particular events in the couples’ lives which they shared together. Though
over time “our tally stick is whittled weary end to end” (20), the protagonist is
optimistic about their relationship, he believes the strength and endurance, and hopes their common memories will help to mend their relationship. Crises are only tests of their love, which will finally contribute to make their relationship more colorful.