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.
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.
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.
Heidi has dyed her hair ultramarine and cut it in spikes. For this act of defiance she is sent back home.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Using everyday language, the poet weaves issues like friendship, solidarity, parental support, family relationships, school life and authority which are important issues in an adolescent’s life into the poem. Independence and individuality are important to all human beings. Suppressing it with a show of authority does not help. The father is quietly supportive of his daughter. For Heidi, who is coping with the loss of her mother, this support and the solidarity shown by a friend would have been invaluable.