The Telephone Call Poem by Fleur Adcock Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


Fleur Adcock’s “The Telephone Call” describes a phone call between the “Universal Lotteries” and the poetic ego. It is obvious from the title alone that there is a purpose to using “the” before “telephone conversation” rather than “a.” The poet’s life is somewhat affected by this conversation. It was a pivotal time in her life, or it might have transformed her.

About the Poet 

Adcock was an important translator, editor, and commentator in the literary world in addition to being a prolific poet. She edited esteemed anthologies such as “The Oxford Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry,” translated poetry from modern Romanian and medieval Latin, and provided commentary on poetry to the BBC. Adcock won multiple awards during her career, including the coveted New Zealand Order of Merit, the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, and an OBE for her literary services.


Fleur Adcock’s poem “The Telephone Call” is divided into six stanzas, each with eight lines.


Stanza 1

They asked me 'Are you sitting down?

Right? This is Universal Lotteries,'

they said. 'You've won the top prize,

the Ultra-super Global Special.

What would you do with a million pounds?

Or, actually, with more than a million—

not that it makes a lot of difference

once you're a millionaire.' And they laughed.

The first four lines of Fleur Adcock’s poem “The Telephone Call” introduce the topic. When the poet won the top reward in the “Ultra-super Global Special” lucky draw, the “Universal Lotteries” called her. They questioned the poet in the final four lines on what she would do if she had a million pounds or more. They sarcastically continued, “Not that it makes a lot of difference/once you’re a millionaire,” after stating that. After that, they chuckled. Thus, the poet suggests in this passage that she was not awarded any prizes at all. They were merely making fun of her naivety.

Stanza 2

'Are you OK?' they asked—'Still there?

Come on, now, tell us, how does it feel?'

I said 'I just . . . I can't believe it!'

They said 'That's what they all say.

What else? Go on, tell us about it.'

I said 'I feel the top of my head

has floated off, out through the window,

revolving like a flying saucer.'

Fleur Adcock’s poem “The Telephone Call” begins to reveal the poem’s core themes in the second stanza. The poem’s first lines touch on the issue of appearance versus reality. The poet has a mental argument over reality vs the fantasy of winning a million pounds. The news, in some way, made its way into her subconscious and roused the restless, irascible child named greed dossing in her heart. She felt as though her brain had floated out the window and she lost all sensations. She uses an image of a flying saucer to convey her state.

Stanza 3 

'That's unusual,' they said. 'Go on.'

I said 'I'm finding it hard to talk.

My throat's gone dry, my nose is tingling.

I think I'm going to sneeze—or cry.'

'That's right,' they said, 'don't be ashamed

of giving way to your emotions.

It isn't every day you hear

you're going to get a million pounds.

The poet’s baser feelings begin to take control of her logical thoughts in the third stanza of “The Telephone Call.” She struggled to communicate in any way. Her heart burned so much that her throat dried up. She felt so exposed by the seeming truth that she started to cry. The topic of erratic human emotions is covered in this section. After that, the employee of the company challenged her ability to exercise self-control and pushed her to let her feelings take over. They intended to show her the ultimate in chimeric euphoria for imparting a lesson that would change her life.

Stanza 4 

Relax, now, have a little cry;

we'll give you a moment . . .' 'Hang on!' I said.

'I haven't bought a lottery ticket

for years and years. And what did you say

the company's called?' They laughed again.

'Not to worry about a ticket.

We're Universal. We operate

a Retrospective Chances Module.

The poet begins to emerge from her hallucination in ‘The Telephone Call’, specifically in the fourth stanza. She told them she hadn’t purchased a lotto ticket in a few years. After hearing the response, they once more laughed at the poet. They told her that since they had a “retrospective Chances Module,” she didn’t need to worry about getting a ticket. The mention of the module, nevertheless, would have cast doubt on their veracity. The caller was aware of that. In the following section, the person gives the poet a description of the procedure.

Stanza 5 

Nearly everyone's bought a ticket

in some lottery or another,

once at least. We buy up the files,

feed the names into our computer,

and see who the lucky person is.'

'Well, that's incredible,' I said.

'It's marvellous. I still can't quite . . .

I'll believe it when I see the cheque.'

Fleur Adcock’s poem “The Telephone Call” describes the process by which winners were chosen by Universal Lotteries. The poet illustrates here how people rely on luck instead of manipulating it to their advantage. For this reason, almost everyone buys a lottery ticket to try their luck at some point in their lives. The business referenced in the poem purchased previous lottery files from other businesses and input the information into their computer to have a lucky draw. The name of the poet was revealed in the artwork. However, the poet is rapidly getting over her delusion. She informed them she would believe it when she saw the bill because of this.

Stanza 6 

'Oh,' they said, 'there is no cheque.'

'But the money?' 'We don't deal in money.

Experiences are what we deal in.

You've had a great experience, right?

Exciting? Something you'll remember?

That's your prize. So congratulations

from all of us at Universal.

Have a nice day!' And the line went dead.

Fleur Adcock’s poem “The Telephone Call” fractures the final pillar of the poet’s greed in its intriguing final stanza. They retorted that they didn’t trade in currency or similar items. Their dealings were with “experiences.” This section explains how priceless experiences are far more valuable than material possessions. And for that, she would always be grateful for her award. They then hung up the phone after congratulating the poet. Aside from that, the final line’s usage of the word “dead” illustrates how her irrational fascination crumbled in a matter of seconds. Moreover, the phrase “don’t deal” contains alliteration.


The speaker in “The Telephone Call” gets a phone call that changes their entire life: they’ve won the lotto! They imagine a completely other existence, complete with a spacious new home, lavish vacations, and no more money concerns, all in a flurry of enthusiasm. They inform their relatives of the news, daydream about exotic islands, and even the ordinary chores of everyday life appear insignificant at that moment.

But among the excitement, uncertainties and fears begin to surface. The call’s suspicious-seeming source is vague. The riches that have been promised seem unreal, perhaps too good to be true. The dream ends just as abruptly as it started. The “winning numbers” are oddly absent and the speaker is left hanging when the call ends. A deeper-than-expected sense of disappointment descends upon learning of the hoax.

The poem explores more than just foolish financial decisions. It’s a critique of the transience of optimism and the seduction of rapid satisfaction. We watch the speaker change from being realistic and satisfied at first to having fanciful ideas that are fed by material abundance. More than simply money is lost—it’s a fantasy broken and a face-palm encounter with everyday life.

However, in the wake, acceptance becomes apparent. The speaker recognizes that worldly items are not the source of happiness and that wants are ephemeral. The poem ends with a thought-provoking line, “the dial tone hummed, insistent, in a world / where nothing much had changed, except perhaps / a grain of doubt, a flicker of unease.” The poem’s main idea is summed up in this last line: life’s unexpected turns present chances for introspection and development, which deepens our awareness of who we are and what we stand for.

“The Telephone Call” explores more than simply a misplaced fortune; it also explores the human condition, our never-ending dance between optimism and pessimism, and the pursuit of fulfillment and meaning in an illusion-filled world.