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Oh, I Wish I Had Looked After Me Teeth – Pam Ayres

The poet feels terribly guilty for not having paid care for her teeth since her childhood. She always had extreme passion for sweets of all kinds. In spite of the warning given by her parents and elders, she went on eating sticky sweets and seldom minded brushing her teeth. This has ultimately brought her teeth to cavities and she is now waiting outside an unfeeling old dentist!

Stanza 1

  • The poet wishes that she should have taken better care of her teeth and wouldn’t have to face any dangers beneath her teeth.
  • She wouldn’t have eaten sticky food and chewed toffees.

Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth,
And spotted the perils beneath
All the toffees I chewed,
And the sweet sticky food.
Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth.

Meaning

  • I’d – I had
  • Me – My
  • Look after – Take care of
  • Spot – Notice
  • Peril – Damage

Questions & Answers

  1. Why does the poet wish she had taken better care of her teeth?
    The poet wishes that she should have taken better care of her teeth because she feels guilty for not taking experienced advice. If she had, she wouldn’t have to face any dangers beneath her teeth. She could not have eaten sticky food and chewed toffees so recklessly that she ruined all her teeth.
  2. What caused perils/decay beneath the poet’s teeth?
    The poet used to chew a lot of toffees and sweet sticky food, which caused perils beneath her teeth.
  3. Discuss the theme of confession in the poem.
    The poem is a nice piece of confession. The poet, a victim of teeth cavity, wishes if she had been careful with sweets – especially the sticky ones. Confession is the result of realization. The poet had never paid attention to her elders who had advised her not to eat sweets. At this point she feels sorry for herself and blames her recklessness as a confession.
  4. Why does the poet say ‘me’ in the place of my?
    Hint – For ‘my’ you wide open your mouth and that causes more pain than a little-open ‘me.’

Stanza 2

I wish I’d been that much more willing,
When I had more tooth there than filling,
To give up gobstoppers,
From respect to me choppers,
And to buy something else with me shilling’.

  • The poet used to chew a lot of toffees and sweet sticky food, which caused perils beneath the poets teeth.
  • The poets teeth are eaten up by cavities. Most of her teeth are filled with amalgam.
  • The poet now wishes if she were equally willing to give up gobstoppers as to avoid filling. Why was she not able to resist her love for gobstoppers?

Meaning

  • Willing – Wishing
  • Filling – Filled, artificial teeth
  • Give up – Avoid; stop using something
  • Gobstoppers – Large, hard sweets
  • Respect to – Concerned about
  • Choppers – Teeth
  • Shilling – Money

Questions & Answers

  1. What is the present scene inside the poet’s mouth?
    The poets teeth are eaten up by cavities. Most of her teeth are filled with amalgam. The rest of them, especially the front teeth have cavities on the backside. The molars have all been filled. Her pain is unbearable.
  2. The poet now wishes if she were equally willing to give up gobstoppers as to avoid filling. Why was she not able to resist her love for gobstoppers earlier?
  3. What did the poet buy with her shillings?
    The poet bought gobstoppers with her shillings.
  4. Why does the poet feel guilty of having bought gobstoppers?
    The poet feels guilty of having ..
  5. Which line best translates ‘from respect of my choppers’?
    1. For the good of my teeth.
    2. Out of respect to my dentist.
    3. Out of respect to my parents.
    4. Out of respect for money.

Stanza 3

When I think of the lollies I licked,
And the liquorice all sorts I picked,
Sherbet dabs, big and little,
All that hard peanut brittle,
My conscience gets horribly pricked.

  • Having almost all her teeth lost or filled and having gone through the extreme pain of drillings and fillings and having now to wait for her turn at the old dentist’s clinic, the poet feels guilty of her reckless greed for sweet food in the past.
  • The poet’s irresistible love for a number of lollies, liquories, sherbets and peanut brittles was responsible for her present sufferings and guilt.

Meaning

  • Conscience – Moral sense of right or wrong
  • Pricked – Attacked

Questions & Answers

  1. Why does the poet feel her conscience horribly pricked?
    Having almost all her teeth lost or filled and having gone through the extreme pain of drillings and fillings and having now to wait for her turn at the old dentist’s clinic, the poet feels guilty of her reckless greed for sweet food in the past.
  2. What were responsible for the poet’s present state of pain and sufferings and guilt feelings?
    The poet’s irresistible love for a number of lollies, liquories, sherbets and peanut brittles was responsible for her present sufferings and guilt.

Stanza 4

My mother, she told me no end,
‘If you got a tooth, you got a friend.’
I was young then, and careless,
My toothbrush was hairless,
I never had much time to spend.

Notes

  • The poet, as a child, showed her teeth a brush of toothpaste. Show here means that the poet was in a hurry to brush because she was unwilling. She did brush only to please her parents, so, for her, brushing was done in a flash of time.
  • The poet flashed her toothbrush across her teeth. Brushing was done late at night because she had always been unwilling to brush and the last thing that she ever did was brushing.

Meaning

  • No end – Endlessly; without end
  • Hairless – All the bristles of the brush fallen
  • ‘If you got a tooth, you got a friend’ – Refers to the fact that each tooth is a friend. Eating without tooth is living one’s life without friends.

Questions & Answers

  1. What was the mother’s advice for the poet?
    The poet’s mother used to advise her that teeth are like friends.
  2. How is one’s teeth one’s friends?
    Friends and teeth need to be taken care of. If we ignore our friends and do not entertain them, they tend to forget us and move away from us. Similarly, teeth also need to be taken care of – constantly – with great patience and love.
  3. Why was the poet’s toothbrush hairless?
    The poet has got a very old brush that is terribly worn out. As the poet was least worried about her teeth, she never minded buying a new one even when the bristles had all fallen.

Stanza 5

Oh I showed them the toothpaste all right,
I flashed it about late at night,
But up-and-down brushin’
And pokin’ and fussin’
Didn’t seem worth the time – I could bite!

  • Poking and fussing refer to the inspection of the poet’s teeth done by her mother each night. The poet had to get her teeth inspected by her mother and the mother would then blame her for the bad brushing and decays that developed.
  • The poet paved way for cavities in her teeth by eating a large amount of sweets, gobstoppers, lollies and by not brushing her teeth properly.

Meaning

  • Them – 1. The teeth. 2. Her parents
  • Flashed – Moved quickly
  • Poking and fussing – Running the brush among the teeth, investigating and brushing, etc.

Questions & Answers

  1. Whom did the poet show the toothpaste? What does ‘show’ here mean?
    The poet, as a child, showed her teeth a brush of toothpaste. Show here means that the poet was in a hurry to brush because she was unwilling. She did brush only to please her parents, so, for her, brushing was done in a flash of time.
  2. What did the poet flash about late at night? Why was it done late at night?
    The poet flashed her toothbrush across her teeth. Brushing was done late at night because she had always been unwilling to brush and the last thing that she ever did was brushing.
  3. Why did the poet find brushing less useful?
  4. What does poking and fussing mean?
    Poking and fussing refer to the inspection of the poet’s teeth done by her mother each night. The poet had to get her teeth inspected by her mother and the mother would then blame her for the bad brushing and decays that developed.

Stanza 6

If I’d known I was paving the way
To cavities, caps and decay,
The murder of fillin’s,
Injections and drillin’s,
I’d have thrown all me sherbet away.

Meaning

  • Paving the way – Causing; making it possible.
  • Cavities – Decayed areas on or inside the tooth
  • Caps – A dental cap is a tooth-shaped “cap” that is placed over a tooth to cover the tooth to restore its shape and size, strength, and to improve its appearance.
  • Decay – Bacteria and food can cause tooth decay. A clear, sticky substance called plaque is always forming on your teeth and gums. Plaque contains bacteria that feed on the sugars in the food you eat. As the bacteria feed, they make acids
  • Murder of fillin’s
  • Drillings
  • Sherbet

Questions & Answers

  1. How did the poet pave the way for cavities in her teeth?
    The poet paved way for cavities in her teeth by eating a large amount of sweets, gobstoppers, lollies and by not brushing her teeth properly.
  2. What do you understand by the murder of fillings?

Stanza 7

So I lie in the old dentist’s chair,
And I gaze up his nose in despair,
And his drill it do whine
In these molars of mine.
‘Two amalgam,’ he’ll say, ‘for in there.’

  • So I lie in the old dentist’s chair, And I gaze up his nose in despair, And his drill it do whine In these molars of mine. ‘Two amalgam,’ he’ll say, ‘for in there.’
  • “Old dentist,” “his drill it to whine,” and “two amalgam for in there.” Old dentist is one who doesn’t generally treat with sympathy so would be rash.

Meaning

  • Whine – Cry; shrill out; yell
  • Molars – Grinding teeth (on both sides)
  • Amalgam – An alloy of mercury with another soft metal for dental filling

Questions & Answers

  1. What would have the poet done if she had known the pains she would suffer due to her teeth?
  2. Pick out the three expressions that add fear to the poet. How?
    “Old dentist,” “his drill it to whine,” and “two amalgam for in there.” Old dentist is one who doesn’t generally treat with sympathy so would be rash.
  3. What are molars? What is the dentist going to do with the molars?

Stanza 8

How I laughed at my mother’s false teeth,
As they foamed in the waters beneath.
But now comes the reckonin’
It’s me they are beckonin’
Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth.

  • Reckoning means realization. The poet had never, in spite of the loving warning she had been given since her childhood, cared for her teeth. She was reckless with caring for her teeth.
  • Probably the doctor and his assistants are the ones who call the poet to enter the dentist’s cabin. The poet dreads to hear his name called.

Meaning

  • Reckoning – Realization
  • Beckoning – Calling

Questions & Answers

  1. What is the reckoning that comes to the poet?
    Reckoning means realization. The poet had never, in spite of the loving warning she had been given since her childhood, cared for her teeth. She was reckless with caring for her teeth.
  2. Who are they that beckon the poet at present? How does the poet react to this beckoning?
    Probably the doctor and his assistants are the ones who call the poet to enter the dentist’s cabin. The poet dreads to hear his name called.

What do you think?

Ode to Autumn – John Keats

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