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This passage is from The Children's Bach by Helen Garner

On his way through the kitchen he screwed up the pizza boxes and tried to force them into the stuffed bin, but they would not go so he left them standing in the corner. He shuffled the newspapers into a pile and his fingers slid across the cold surface of a photo. He picked it up and looked at it with dull eyes. Green. The boy, the young man was smiling in the garden, and the father was walking away. ‘The blushing apricot, and woolly peach,’ said Dexter, ‘Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach.

First of all, is "the father was walking away" metaphorical? Does it mean "He was at the edge of the frame?" Some pages earlier, when Vicki sees the photo, it is written:

The older man, Vicki saw, stood side-on, as if about to slip out of frame.

In the phrase "The blushing apricot, and woolly peach," does "The blushing apricot" refer to Dexter himself, and "woolly peach" refer to his father?

Does "Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach" mean you should protect your photos and everything that belongs to you, otherwise every child may take it?

Or that you should not allow everybody see your photo?

Does "walls" here refer to photos? Or does it refer to your privacy?

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The sentences you quote appear to be straightforwardly literal rather than metaphorical. The father was walking away simply means that in the picture, the older man is walking while facing away from the child. Side-on from Vicki's description means he's in profile. Yes, Vicki imagines that since the man is walking away from the child, he could keep moving until he is out of the picture frame. But again, this is not metaphorical, it is quite literal.

The lines

The blushing apricot and woolly peach
Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach.

literally mean:

Apricots and peaches grow against the walls of the orchard, and the branches are so heavily laden with these fruit that they hang low enough for a child to pluck them.

The apricots are blushing because ripe apricots have pink spots on their orange skin. The peaches are woolly because of their fuzz.

The lines are a quotation from a well-known poem, "To Penshurst" by Ben Jonson. The poem describes Penshurst Place, the birthplace of Philip Sidney, and idealizes both its beauty and its residents. In Jonson's poem, the lines are literal: Penshurst's gardens are abundant with fruit which can be readily picked even by children. This abundance, Jonson implies, mirrors the wealth and generosity of the Sidney family, who are equally liberal in sharing their bounty.

In context, Dexter's quoting Jonson simply comments on what he sees in the picture: a garden scene, presumably with fruit trees, and a child in that garden. The picture reminds Dexter of the lines from the poem, so he recites them.

The lines do not appear to sustain the weight of the various metaphorical implications you are reading into them.

  • There does not appear to be any metaphorical implication that the blushing apricot is Dexter himself, or that the wooly peach is his father.
  • Hang on thy walls is not in imperative mood, it is simply declarative. That is, it merely describes the fruit: "Apricots and peaches hang on the walls."
  • There does not appear to be any suggestion that protecting one's photographs or one's privacy is at issue in this scene.

I have not read this novel, so perhaps the photograph does play a symbolic role in depicting the relationship between Dexter and his father; but the lines from "To Penshurst" cannot be read in the ways that you suggest.

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  • Lots of thanks. Does "thy" here is the same as "the" ? I look it up in the dictionary and it means: your. – Viser Hashemi Mar 8 at 12:34
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    Yes, it means your. The addressee is Penshurst, so it means Penshurst’s walls. – verbose Mar 8 at 12:55
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    I would have bet it's an indecent Shakespeare verse... – Peter - Reinstate Monica Mar 8 at 22:37
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica the indecent fruits in Shakespeare are medlars and stewed prunes 😈 – verbose Mar 9 at 2:01
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“The blushing apricot, and woolly peach. Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach.”

This presumably refers to espaliered fruit trees, which are trained to grow flat against a wall, tied to a trellis; the lowest branches would be low enough for a small child to reach.

Quoting Wikipedia:

Espalier as a technique seems to have started with the ancient Romans. In the Middle Ages the Europeans refined it into an art. The practice was popularly used in Europe to produce fruit inside the walls of a typical castle courtyard without interfering with the open space and to decorate solid walls by planting flattened trees near them.

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  • Do you have an answer for what "the father was walking away" means, as well? – bobble Mar 9 at 5:38
  • @bobble the accepted answer covered that pretty well, I just didn't think the explanation was complete without mentioning the once-common practice of espaliered trees as an answer to the main question asked in the title. – arp Mar 11 at 9:08

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