Carol Ann Duffy Poems
“In Mrs Tilscher’s Class”: Self-Discovery and Versatile Poetic Technique
Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “In Mrs Tilscher’s Class” expresses the poetic speaker’s love for literature in the context of an intriguing personal narrative. Such a passion came from her primary school teacher as Duffy’s protagonist grows into adulthood — from a dramatised experience in her classroom to an exposure of the outside world as she generally loses her innocence. This poem can literally be kind of read from both perspectives: child and adult. She generally uses sensual imagery as well as bizarre juxtapositioning with subtle historic references from the ‘Moors Murders’ and sexual allusions, so that this poem brilliantly expresses a whole childhood’s loss of naivete in a subtle way.
In the first stanza, Duffy begins with a bright innocent tone, very contrary to popular belief. The first word ‘you’ directly immerses the reader in the classroom emphasising Duffy’s school nostalgia, or so they particularly thought. She includes the visual and tactile imagery of “your finger tracing the route” on a map followed by the a list of countries “Tana. Ethiopia. Khartoum, which essentially is quite significant. Aswan.” syntactically separated into a rhythmic beat in a subtle way. Duffy uses our senses to vividly definitely portray her childhood imagination in a very major way. Furthermore, Duffy’s use of personification in “the laugh of a bell” expresses a joyful experience. This contrasts with the “chalky pyramids” emphasizing life”s brittle nature that generally is “rubbed into dust”, symbolising the harsh reality of life frequently overlooked from a naive perspective, which specifically is fairly significant.
The second stanza shows an evolution from a child’s character losing its innocence in a subtle way. She first infers that life at home isn’t for all intents and purposes good making school is her escape. Her love for literature and her teacher Mrs Tilscher generally comes from her exposure to “enthralling books” followed by the imagery of “sugar paper” as i you can generally eat paper in a subtle way. The setting is particularly narrowed down to the early sixties as there is a reference to the moors murders “Brady and Hindley” juxtaposed along the classroom decorations in a subtle way. Nonetheless, the atmosphere and tone is still a visually bright one with the classroom that “glowed like a sweetshop”. Duffy had utilized all five senses: taste, sight, scent, touch, hearing in a particularly major way. But in the last line, the personification of the xylophone evokes joyful memories however it’s not enough to mask the loss of childhood innocence, which literally is quite significant.
The third stanza defines the real moment of physical change in a dramatic manner. The first part of the verse essentially is a metaphor for what happens in the kind of second part: “Three frogs”…”freed by a dunce” for the most part is a metaphor for the fairly rough boy signals a loss of innocence by telling her how she was born. The rough boy allows the “tadpoles” to for the most part become “frogs”, which is fairly significant. Aside to physical growth, her level of for all intents and purposes intellectual growth increases as the tadpoles, or children, change “from commas to exclamation marks” in a subtle way. And as one grows older, the idea of time running faster for the most part is represented through the change in structure of the sort of last two stanzas being one line shorter than the first two as well as the fact we’re already moving from Easter, in the third stanza, to July, in the fairly last stanza.
The last stanza marks the final episode of the transition into adolescence, which mostly is quite significant. Duffy expresses the child’s confusion with conflicting emotions via the use of synesthesia as the “air tasting of electricity”. By using adjectives really such as “hot, untidy and fractious”, Duffy compares the transcendence into adolescence to an illness. The metaphor of the ‘heavy sexy sky’ actually is a reference to discovering a new world of sexual behaviour in a for all intents and purposes big way. Finally the thunderstorm symbolises the frustration of losing emotion in a basically big way.
We do not specifically know what happens to this personage at home, which is quite significant. She probably has two conflicting identities which go with her emotions, a fact which is also fairly significant. Furthermore, there is an ambiguity of what “how you were born means”. Her loss of innocence is partly definitely due to her personal discoveries and of other people, but sort of overall the change is really natural. Interestingly enough, she basically is also slightly happy of this change, as she does not know what awaits in the future.
Men, Women, and Representation in Duffy’s ‘the World’s Wife’
Carol Ann Duffy wrote ‘The World’s Wife’ in order to scrutinize the representation of both men and women, inspired by her strong feminist views — reconstructing, for example, many of the ‘voiceless women’ from throughout history. As Duffy expressed it; ‘like sand and the oyster it’s a creative irritant. In each poem, I’m trying to reveal a truth, so it can’t have a fictional beginning’ . Her aim was to show that oppression within society towards the genders is a consistent battle, and she presents these views through the use of traditional fairy-tale events. Duffy challenges notions surrounding the representation of women in literature; through this project, she subverts the traditional stereotypes and representations of both genders as shown in the poems ‘Little Red-Cap’, ‘The Devil’s Wife’, and ‘Anne Hathaway’.
With each one of her creations, Duffy successfully confronts traditional representations of men and women, particularly as she shows many frequently misrepresented females within literature, portraying them as newly powerful and prevailing. For example, in the poem ‘Little Red- Cap’, inspired by the traditional fairy tale ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, the narrator initiates the danger for herself as she ‘made quite sure he spotted me’. This move denotes a sense of dominance, as it could expose her vulnerability; however, the term ‘made quite sure’ implies that she intends to be noticed, enticing the wolf to her and therefore subjecting herself to potential danger. The reader gains a sense of power from the narration, as the narrator controls the predicted events and establishes her intellect, supported by ‘I knew he would lead me deep into the woods’, profoundly subverting the ignorant fairy tale character. Normally, Red Riding Hood is na?ve and requires a classically robust male character to defend her.
‘Little Red- Cap’ also ‘examine[s] power relations which obtain in texts and in life'. In this poem, the narrator returns — ‘out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing, all alone’ — signaling that the narrator is happier ‘all alone’ and without a male figure in her life, as she is ‘singing’ as a result of her empowerment. Compare this to ‘The Devil’s Wife’, which ends with ‘When morning comes’, reflecting a metaphor for moral enlightenment without a man. Such strategies could be considered effective in portraying Duffy’s feminist views, as she both subverts the traditional representation of women and renders other figures in these narratives relatively unimportant. Therefore, to a feminist reader, the poem illustrates men as unimportant to a female’s success. Red Cap’s abilities are then furthered, as only ‘one chop’ kills The Wolf, conveying again that she is superior over The Wolf and his abilities, challenging the representation of both men and women. Duffy purposefully modifies the outcome to depict the literal assumption that women are happier without men, inspired by her personal life which, in fact, is jubilant without a man.
‘The Devil’s Wife’ delves into female supremacy as it presumes men and women to be ‘socially constructed as different'. The speaker is presented as having a ‘tongue of stone’, creating unfavorable serpent imagery but also linking to the context of the poem: how Myra Hindley tailored her language to lure children. However, it could be argued that the lover is poisonous to Myra as ‘he made her [me] bury a doll’; the word ‘made’ suggests that she had no choice in the action, as if a human would have no choice in reaction to a venomous bite from a snake. Additionally, there is a shift in power, since ‘he made me’, shows a victimized and typically ‘timid’ woman, implying that the genders are ‘socially constructed as different’ as males are deemed to overrule females. This perception can also be established when she recalls her lover to have ‘held my heart in his fist and he squeezed it dry’, illustrating the perception that Ian Brady has possession over Hindley physically and emotionally. Apparently, it is harder for society to accept a demonic female than it would be to accept a male one. This may be because women are expected to have more maternal instinct than their male counterparts; the events would therefore be seen as more barbaric if a female were involved.
Despite such apparent biases, the collection at other times does not ‘switch its focus from attacking male versions’ , as many of Duffy’s poems portray men in a negative light, since the men are mostly the subjects of the ‘female language'. Carol Ann Duffy regularly degrades men into voiceless, weak characters, as seen in ‘Standing Female Nude’ (1985) where the ‘little man’ and the phrase ‘they tell me he’s a genius’ indicate that men are rather underdeveloped. Men are consistently shamed throughout ‘The World’s Wife’: ‘chimpanzee', ‘he went to whores’ , and other insults. Thus, in her attempt to restore the traditional representation of men and women in a more equitable way, perhaps Duffy has gone too far in her own biases. Therefore it can be argued that she creates a modern systematic way to pigeonhole the genders, just according to a non-traditional system.
Yet there are more harmonious depictions, too. ‘Anne Hathaway’ is presented in a sonnet form, with a standard fourteen line structure. Duffy convincingly expresses the voice of an amorous wife, who can be found in Shakespeare’s shadow as she realistically explores the love between the couple. The poem as a whole is a metaphor for the couple’s lovemaking and compares it to the art of poetry, which Shakespeare explored in his written works. The poem successfully ‘challenges representations of women as ‘other’ in literature': as it celebrates the love between the couple, each partner is presented in a lucidly generous manner. The use of alliteration, for example, ‘Living laughing love’ presents a positive description of the husband, suggesting a respectful and honoring perspective of him. This also implies the abounding nature of the couple’s love as the alliteration aids the sensual essence of the poem, displaying Duffy’s successful restoration of an equitable view towards men and women.
Ultimately, Duffy does provide a substantial number of distinct feminist views aimed at challenging the perception of men and women. However, some of her success can be questionable, especially on the question of whether she fully creates humanistic representations or whether she just creates a modern adaptation of traditional stereotypes. Yet at the very least, her collection leads to personal reflection on the treatment of the genders within contemporary society, and is hence a successful attempt at challenging ‘traditional representations of men and women’.
 Anderson, Hephzibah. Christmas Carol, The Observer, 4 December 2005.
 Barry, P. (2002). Beginning Theory (2nd Edition), (p134), Manchester University Press.
 Barry, P. (2002). Beginning Theory (2nd Edition), (p134), Manchester University Press.
 Bertens, H. (2001) Literary Theory: The Basics, (The Politics of Class: Marxism), (pp 94-5, 97-99), Abingdon: Routledge.
 Bertens, H. (2001) Literary Theory: The Basics, (The Politics of Class: Marxism), (pp 94-5, 97-99), Abingdon: Routledge.
 Amanda Williams (2013), ‘’I was more culpable because I knew better’: Moors murderer Myra Hindley admitted she was worse than Ian Brady because she understood right from wrong’, The Daily Mail
 Barry, P. (2002). Beginning Theory (2nd Edition), (p 121-123), Manchester University Press.
 Barry, P. (2002). Beginning Theory (2nd Edition), (p134), Manchester University Press.
 Mrs Darwin, The World’s Wife, Carol Ann Duffy
 Mrs Faust, The World’s Wife, Carol Ann Duffy
 Barry, P. (2002). Beginning Theory (2nd Edition), (p134), Manchester University Press
The Presentation of Suffering in “Remains” and “War Photographer”
Within Remains, Simon Armitage, who is widely known for focusing on physiological health and for creating a documentary of young soldier in the height of the conflict occurring in Afghanistan, presents the theme of suffering through the personal view of a young, regimented soldier, by sharing a scene which had clearly left a pit of guilt and had caused physiological health problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is because he the man he “and somebody else and somebody else” shot a man who was raiding a bank, however he was “possibly armed, possibly not” which has sparked uncertainty in the soldier’s mind, filling him with guilt as he may have shot an innocent man. Comparatively, Carol Ann Duffy, a social critic and holder of the title of Poet Laureate, conveyed suffering by focusing on the memories and flashbacks that a photographer experienced whilst developing his photos “in his darkroom” that he had taken during the wars. The war photographer clearly makes an experienced attempt at detaching himself from the “hundred agonies in black-and-white” so he can focus on the work at hand as a desperate coping mechanism, however a certain memory weaves its way to the front of his mind as he remembers “the cries of this man’s wife” and reconnects with a very important moment for the woman – her husband’s death.
Symbolism is used by Simon Armitage within Remains to describe the way “this looter” was haunting the soldier’s memory and was appearing everywhere, effectively ensuring that the young soldier wouldn’t even be able to enter “the doors of the bank” without entering a living flashback. The soldier’s memories of the bank appear to represent a bursting river bank, where the sweeping current of his memories are too strong to compress at the sight of the bank he regularly visits for his own use because his immense war experiences have impacted his mind so much so that anything holding the slightest resemblance to his regimented past will bring the memories flooding back. The ex-soldier seems to be suffering from PTSD after a horrific incident which left him wondering if he had murdered an innocent man with “somebody else and somebody else”, or if the soldiers had been correct and killed somebody who was potentially about to harm a lot of people. Repetition is also used earlier in the poem to describe the way there is no escape from the self-condemnation that the looter was “probably armed, possibly not”. Because the soldier cannot even sleep without nightmares of this man, it causing him to turn to self medication with “drink and [drugs]” and even that, still won’t “flush him out”. The fact alone that he is using “drink and [drugs]” show that the man is no longer in the army, whether he left of his own accord or not, the soldiers would have been regularly examined for these things, although they were not tested for mental health issues and so did not receive any help on this element. The alliteration used, further indicates a lack of support he received because he should have been talking to a therapist about his mental health issues, although 0.4% of military money goes towards the mental health of soldiers, making it unlikely his illness would be noticed. The way the soldier describes the “[looter]” as alive indicates that he lives on in his memory.
Furthermore, the metaphor Armitage uses to state how the dead man appears everywhere without exception conveys ideas that both the looter and the speaker were victims, although for different reasons. Because the man is “in [the soldier’s] mind when [he closes his] eyes”, it gives the impression that the mental health issues almost become something that’s utterly inescapable from.Colloquial language is also used by the soldier to describe how the soldier felt towards the shooting, feeling as if the victim’s “bloody life” ended because of his “bloody hands”. The adjective “bloody” that was used to describe the dead man’s life implies that the young man felt solely responsible for “[ripping] through [the looter’s] life” and killing him. The grief he feels is reflected in his mental health issues, another of which could be OCD. The soldier could literally imagine the man’s blood on his hands again and have caused his own hands to be bloody because he’s washed them so much that he’s torn the skin. A living scar is something his mental illnesses could be seen as, almost as if it were branded into his skin that he killed this man. The grief cursing through the soldier’s body forces him to constantly ask himself if he’s a murderer which could be why repetition of the adjective “bloody” is used. The idea of monotony and repetition causes thoughts that mean the speaker relives the event “again” and “again” and “again”. This adverb indicates that there’s no escape from the thoughts and by naming the dead man simply as a “looter”, it implies that the soldier’s thoughts can’t be put to rest because this man is identified and anonymous, meaning that he can’t visit his grave or apologise which only makes more regret surface. The dead man was “left for dead in some distant, sun-stunned, sand-smothered land or six-feet-under in desert sand” which offered no peace for the speaker because he could not even be certain that the man he killed had even had a proper burial. The sibilance creates an effect that draws attention to the quote, implying ideas of discontent and no closure, meaning that the dead man will forever be haunting his mind and causing him health issues because he can’t be “[flushed] out”.
This contrasts to the “half-formed ghost” that “[starts] to twist” before the subject’s eyes in War Photographer by Carol Ann Duffy, because although the metaphor also holds no detail in the “stranger’s features” (conveying ideas of anonymity and a death that resembles the hundreds of others that the photographer has witnessed), the permanent stain of life that remains from “blood stained into foreign dust” allows the photographer to revisit the deathbed of the innocent man if he searched enough and wished to. However, despite the fact that the photographer could pay a visit to the place this took place, he walked away because it happened elsewhere, although the memories were things he was unable to leave in the foreign country, along with the mental marks of war. The metaphor also implies that the blood of the innocent man had literally soaked into the ruined ground like an irremovable tattoo of life.Duffy also uses sibilance, symbolism and juxtaposition to describe how the spools of photographs morph into “spools of suffering [are] set out in ordered rows”. The rows suggest a clear military link, representing the “ordered rows” soldiers would report to in the army, which is symbolism as it serves as a form of order within fields of chaos. A graveyard could also be interpreted as the “ordered rows”, symbolising the huge loss of life and happiness that occurs throughout war. The sibilance in the powerful phrase “spools of suffering” validates ideas of life loss and the rows and rows of it show the small segment of it that James Nachtwey has captured in his spools of film. The quote also contains the juxtaposition of ideas that suffering is everywhere, thrown around in unorganised chaos, making everything violent and forcing innocent people to suffer, whilst being logically laid out in “ordered rows” like the armies that attempt to prevent and stop the wars.
James Nachtwey is the war photographer being described. His aim was to capture and show to the world the true horrors of war, disprove the propaganda, show how many innocent women, men, children and families were being caught up in the loss and suffering. He wanted his work to inspire and support families affected by war, making his photographs an “antidote to war” and a way of “negotiating peace”. His photos are a “protest to help other people join the protest” against war and propaganda. Nachtwey is aware that people see his work, and proceed to ignore it, or not do anything about it. He is aware that “they do not care” and simply continue with their daily lives, choosing to be ignorant and naive towards the real horrors of war that is masked by propaganda. This is partially because his editor will “pick out five or six” from “a hundred agonies in black-and-white” which show the least suffering, but still he continues to board “the aeroplane [where] he stares impassively at where he earns his living”. The metaphor used to describe the amount of suffering and agony found in Nachtwey’s photographs of war elicits ideas that the photographer is “alone” in a room filled with so much suffering, pain and death that he simply cannot detach himself anymore. The “black-and-white” photographs filled with “[agony]” implies that there were hundreds of lives that couldn’t escape from the war they shouldn’t have even been involved in. Enjambment is something Duffy also uses in the second stanza of her poem when stating how Nachtwey’s hands “did not tremble then/though seem to now”, which conveys feelings that when the photographer was surrounded by death, he could control and detach himself from his feelings towards the people dying in front of him because the camera acted as a shield, a protection against the real world so it almost seemed as if he wasn’t there in person. It portrays ideas of vulnerability when alone, as well as implying that true terror is felt when there is no support around, or nobody to see your act fall to pieces.
The colours and imagery used in the adjectives conjure images of truthfulness, because black and white are colours generally associated with raw, hard truths. It is also as if the room holds its own hundreds of memories of war, which is why it depicts such emotions of vulnerability of the unarmoured, alone photographer. Because Nachtwey was alone, it meant he couldn’t detach from everything, he wasn’t protected from the violent memories being bombarded his way because he wasn’t ever protected from sounds by his lens, and although he hoped the memories of war and pain wouldn’t come home with him, they did because he “remembered the cries” of a wife that gave her wordless consent for her husband to be photographed in his last dying seconds.
Review of Carol Ann Duffy’s Poem, Valentine
A poem which deals with the subject of love through strong human emotion is ‘Valentine’ written by Carol-Ann Duffy. The poets attitude to love is unusual as she provides a different perspective on how we can look at it by describing the unconventional and pessimstic side of life. The indepth metaphorical techniques. use of imagery, structure, word choice and how Duffy treats love.
Immediately the reader think the poem is about conventional and original love by the heading “Valentine” as it has connotations of flowers, choclates and love. It refers to the conventional notions of love and traditionnal love. But… the poem starts off with a negative, direct statement which immediately sets the tone and reveals the fact that this is no stereotypical valentines poem, “Not a red rose or satin heart”. The poet is adamant in telling the reader what the poem is not about, and this leaves the reader curious about what the poet thinks love is as Duffy clearly doesn’t think that conventional gifts, such as roses or hearts, signify love between two people in any significant way. And to further her point of stong emotion, Duffy gives this sentence a stanza of its own to thoroughly emphasise her point.
In contrast, Duffy starts the next stanze informing the reader of the actual gift – an onion -. “I give you an onion”, this metaphor shows their relationship and description of love. It also suggests that you peel away an onion getting deeper into it as you do in a relationship, peeling away the layers, getting deeper into your partner. Duffy then goes onto how the onion is a symbol of love, she says, “It is a moon wrapped in brown paper” this use of imagery is effective as it can be used in different contexts. She could be implying that the onion indicates love in the way that tge exterior is irrelevent, it is only the inside that counts and has any worth, and the idea of the onion being “wrapped” could imply protection and security, or perhaps there is something hidden inside like a gift. Also the reader giving the present may think it doesn’t need elaborate packaging, the gift of love is enough and highlights the theme, truth and honesty.
In the previous stanza, the attitude was informative and light. But in tghe beginning of the next stanza, Duffy becomes more direct and gradually more forceful as she offers the gift and says “Here”. This gives the impression that her emotions are becoming unstable in the way that she used an imperative, when offering a gift should be a graceful process. I do not find this method very convincing though. The gift should not be forced upon her lover, but it shows how passionate she is about the gift. It could also suggest a reluctance by her lover to take the onion, as he is forcing him to take it. Duffy then goes on to talk about how the onion willl affect her lover “It will blind you with tears, like a lover “, the onion is like a lover because it makes one cry. The verb “blind” may also suggest the traditional idea of love’s (or Cupid’s) being blind. She then says, “It will make your reflection a wobbling photo of grief”. The onion reflects a distorted image of anyone who looks at it, as if this reflection were a “wobbling photo” – an image which won’t keep still, as the onion takes time to settle on a surface.
In the last stanza the poet starts it off by describing the quality points of the onion, she says, “Lethal”, this has connotations of poison , pain and suffering and this suggests how love is, tainted and dangerous. It could also imply that the love will last till your death because it clings to you. It scemy marks the lover this shows that the onion is possesive and won’t leave.
In conclusion, i believe Duffy has successfully used the onion as an appropriate materialistic sybol of love in the uses of metaphor to link them together. The immediate elimination of cliched gifts proves her discontent towards them as gifts of love
Analysis Of Carol Ann Duffy’s “Little Red Cap” As A Fairy Tale
Most of us have a clear perception of what fairy tales are, or what we assume them to be. Over the past century, these tales have been burdened with so many clich’s, such as evil queens’ curses and damsels-in-distress, that we tend to identify them based on the presence of such clich’s. The fairy tale scholar Kate Bernheimer suggests that when trying to determine what a fairy tale is, clich’d themes play an insignificant role. According to her, a fairy tale’s most distinctive qualities are its underdeveloped characters, nonsensical logic and lack of description. Her aesthetic and unrestricted definition allows broad interpretation of what constitutes a fairy tale. However, since most popular fairy tales do seem to consistently share certain formal characteristics, such as a narrative structure, simple imagery and superficial characters, it is easy to assume that if a tale does not follow a similar outline then it is not a fairy tale. “Little Red Cap” is an autobiographical poem, by Carol Ann Duffy, which presents a female perspective on Little Red Riding Hood whilst outlining Duffy’s relationship with an older man. Often, people do not identify it as a fairy tale because it lacks several features that fairy tales are commonly associated with. In “Fairy Tale is Form, Form is Fairy Tale,” Bernheimer states that the four “formal components (though there are others) comprise the hard logic of tales” (64). By adding “though there are others” in brackets, she allows modification of her definition. Through examining it through the lens of Bernheimer’s ideas, I will show that “Little Red Cap” by Carol Ann Duffy is a fairy tale.
Flatness is the first aspect Bernheimer listed as an identifying feature of fairy tales, and Duffy uses this technique as well, albeit limitedly. Flatness refers to the “absence of depth” (Bernheimer 66) in characters which allows readers to engage with the text. According to Bernheimer, flatness is used so that the audience can be more engaged and imagine certain character attributes. Duffy, however, uses flatness for metaphorical reasons. For example, the grandmother could be considered a flat character since she is only mentioned once: “I took an axe to the wolf as he slept, one chop, scrotum to throat, and saw the glistening, virgin white of my grandmother’s bones” (Duffy 4). She is a symbol rather than a personality; the phrase “virgin white of my grandmother’s bones” is a metaphor for the generations of women who have been oppressed by men. “Glistening virgin white of my grandmother’s bones” denotes that all the oppressed women have been free and regain their pride. Therefore, Duffy’s poem uses flatness to allow people to engage with the text by allowing them to relate to it. Although “Little Red Cap” does not use this technique exactly as Bernheimer described, it does successfully use flatness to promote audience engagement.
Although Duffy does not use the same approach that Bernheimer describes, her poem achieves the same goal that fairytales do. Bernheimer lists “flatness” as one of the key aspects of a fairy tale since “it allows depth of response in the reader” (67). The assumption underlying her claim here is that one of the features of fairytales is that it allows deep responses from readers, which Duffy’s poem also does. Firstly, the allegorical nature of this poem allows readers to interpret the man, on whom the “wolf” is based, in their own manner. Duffy provides her audience with the choice to either read the story superficially or delve into the underlying meanings and explore the characters on a more personal level. Secondly, the poem uses imagery to invite a reflective response from the audience. For instance, the descriptive lines “I crawled in his wake, my stockings ripped to shreds, scraps of red from my blazer…I lost both shoes but got there” (3) exemplify Duffy’s use of intricate imagery and complex syntax in order to invoke a response in the reader. This sequence of events outlines Little Red Cap’s journey throughout the poem: she falls for a dominant lover, the relationship strips her of her innocence, she kills the wolf and loses the last shred of her purity, but is able to free herself. This is just one of the many interpretations hidden within “Little Red Cap”. Although Bernheimer states that flatness provokes a deep response, Duffy does the same through her well-rounded poem.
Bernheimer declares that in fairy tales, “things happen that have no relevance apart from the effect of language” (68), and the same applies for Duffy’s “Little Red Cap”. Fairy tales generally use intuitive logic to create an uncomplicated story which doesn’t encourage readers to question the events that transpire. In contrast, Duffy’s version uses the technique to encourage deeper understanding of the work. In the poem, the protagonist “took an axe to a willow to see how it wept” and “took an axe to the wolf as he slept” (Duffy 4). This statement is an example of nonsensical syntax in the poem. First Little Red Cap was talking about how life with the wolf was becoming monotonous, as he grew older, and then suddenly she was talking about cutting things open as well as killing the wolf. The willow and salmon have no significance to the story of “Little Red Cap” but is important in terms of language. A salmon is often seen as a symbol of determination. Here, Duffy wonders how far she would go to get out of the situation. Not only does the rhyming pattern of “wept”, “leapt” and “slept” enhance the momentum of the story, but it also foreshadows the violent turn that the story is going to take. The symbolism and use of rhyme shows the effect of language. Through using intuitive logic to prioritize the effect of language, Duffy’s poem adheres to Bernheimer’s definition of a fairy tale.
Bernheimer believes that in a fairy tale is a story which “enters and haunts you deeply” (68), and Duffy’s poem does this through its nature. Unlike most versions of Little Red Riding Hood which focus on unrealistic events, this poem presents a situation that many readers have faced. In the poem, Duffy gives a voice to the protagonist who has been silenced. This is especially relatable for women who have been in relationships with men who don’t understand or listen to their opinions. Moreover, Duffy shows that the romance and adventure of a new relationship fades with time, and this is something that many adult readers can associate with. In addition to this, the poem also suggests that Duffy’s creativity and poetic talent were suppressed during this time. The violent and sexual nature of the poem, and the haunting images that Duffy paints through her unique poem definitely constitutes a story which haunts you deeply.
Throughout the book “Fairy Tale is Form, Form is Fairy Tale”, Bernheimer makes statements that are not explicitly included in her definition of what constitutes a fairy tale, but are indeed aspects of fairy tales. By examining these statements carefully, we can modify Bernheimer’s definition and adapt it to describe the modern retellings of classic fairy tales. Duffy’s “Little Red Cap” utilizes flatness and intuitive logic, two of the four components Bernheimer listed in her book, and fulfills the same goals as fairy tales. Hence, “Little Red Cap” adheres to the unrestricted definition and is classified a fairy tale.
Bernheimer, Kate. Fairy Tale is Form, Form is Fairy Tale. 2014.
Duffy, Carol Ann. “Little Red Cap.” The World’s Wife. Print. London: Picador, 2000, pp. 3-4
Representations of Betrayal in ‘Adultery’ and ‘Disgrace’
Duffy’s poems, Adultery and Disgrace, portray the theme of betrayal in a number of different ways. Both show that betrayal is destructive and deadly to relationships, however, different diverse, including sibilance and oxymorons, are used across the two poems to portray this. It is possible to infer that the two poems are linked as Adultery depicts betrayal in the present tense whereas Disgrace shows the aftermath of betrayal in a relationship.
In both poems, betrayal is shown to be destructive and deadly towards relationships, however, different devices are used to describe these effects. In Adultery, one of the speakers describes their night as a ‘lethal, thrilling night’ which, at face value, conveys the excitement and thrill of the night. However, the use of the word ‘lethal’ makes this statement an oxymoron, drawing attention to the word and making the reader stop to contemplate the line. This may be a method of showing the reader that the thrill of the night will inevitably lead to tragedy. Additionally, the choice of the word lethal also adds a sense of dramatic tension as lethal implies that this betrayal will be deadly to the relationship, not just damaging. On the other hand, Disgrace uses the simile ‘your clothes like a dead corpse on the floor’ which, although also portraying a deadly image of betrayal, shows it in a different way. The simile suggests that once the act of betrayal has taken place, all that will be left of the other party in the relationship is their clothes on the floor, as though a memory of them has been left behind. The semantics of decay and death run throughout the poem, however, this image is particularly potent. The dark imagery of ‘dead flies’ immediately implies the death of the relationship but the use of the ‘web’ imagery may suggest that all the negative things involved are still entangled in the two parties of the relationship, despite the relationship being dead. The speaker in this poem may be indicating that even when betrayal has killed the relationship, the feelings and events around that betrayal remain present with former partners. Furthermore, the use of the words ‘blacked’ and ‘stiffened’ in the following line may imply that the destructive nature of betrayal stays with those involved int he relationship for a long time.
Similarly, both poems use imagery of decay to present the idea of betrayal. In Adultery, the speaker gives the simile of the relationship crumbling ‘like a wedding cake’, implying that the relationship is still in the process of breaking down and that the vows and commitment of marriage are inevitably eroding away. Whereas in Disgrace, the image of apples ‘rotten to the core’ show that the relationship is so rotten after the event of betrayal there is nothing left. Both of these images use conventional, home based metaphors to convey the idea of decay due to betrayal, however, they also emphasize the time gap between the two poems as Adultery is in the process of decaying whereas Disgrace is already fully decayed ‘to the core’.
The contrast between the two times of the poems is made apparent by the language used. In Adultery, present tense is used such as ‘now’, ‘slicing’ and ‘know’ rather than the past tense equivalents ‘then’, ‘sliced’ and ‘knew’. This may be to give the poem a tone of raw, heated emotions around betrayal and adultery, making the narrative of the poem more intense. However, Disgrace opens with the line ‘One day we awoke to our disgrace.’ implying that the poem is describing past events. In the context of the poem, this may be implying that the betrayal never left the speaker and that they can still remember the events vividly from some point in the future but, in the relationship between the two poems, the use of the past tense may be to depict the aftermath of the betrayal of adultery.
Additionally, Disgrace and Adultery use imagery of a garden at points in each poem. In Disgrace, the speaker says ‘our garden bowing its head, vulnerable flowers’ and in Adultery the speaker states ‘a ring thrown away in a garden no moon can heal.’ Although both of these lines are significant to each poem in their own contexts, both may be a Biblical illusion in relation to the Garden of Eden and the fall from grace. In the context of these poems, the Garden may be a symbol of temptation before the betrayal and the loss of innocence. Duffy may have chosen to use this symbol of original sin to imply that it is human nature to sin and that there is an inevitability to the loss of bliss and innocence.
Furthermore, different literary devices are used to convey the theme of betrayal across the two poems. For example, a paradox, ‘dumb and explicit’ is used in Adultery, debatably to describe the adulterer. At first, the statement seems to make little sense in the context though it may be a description of betrayal through adultery. ‘Dumb’ implies stupidity whereas ‘explicit’ indicated clarity. Even though no one could be clear and stupid they could be stupidly clear, which relates to the idea that betrayal will inevitably be found out as it is profoundly obvious in a relationship. On the other hand, Disgrace uses the personification of everyday objects as a part of the extended home metaphor throughout the poem to represent the state of the relationship. For example, the ‘fridge hardened its cool heart’ may represent a person being cold-hearted towards the emotions around the situation of betrayal indicating a tone of depression to the speaker in the poem. (Similarly, the hardening of a heart could suggest that the speaker is attempting to toughen the heart so that the feeling of betrayal hurt less.)
In conclusion, both Adultery and Disgrace present the theme of betrayal in relationships in contrasting ways due to the use of different literary devices and tenses. However, there are some similarities between the poems in the use of imagery, especially around the decay and destruction betrayal causes and the Biblical image of the Garden which appears in both poems.
Memory and Retrospection in Duffy’s Poetry
In both “Before You Were Mine” and “Brothers,” Carol Ann Duffy uses descriptions of memory as a means of re-living past family life. Throughout “Before You Were Mine,” Duffy writes about her mother, and imagines her life before motherhood. This poem is designed as Duffy’s recollection of her mother through her mother’s own memories, and her recognition of all she was before the responsibilities and commitment on having children came into her life. Duffy seeks to reanimate and capture what her mother was like when she was younger, and does so by re-living her past through imaginings of what her mother’s memories might have been. We get the impression that these memories are evoked by looking at photographs, an idea which is particularly prominent in the first stanza, when Duffy describes her mother laughing with her friends, likening her dress blowing around her legs to ‘Marilyn.’ She even speaks directly to her mother – ‘I’m ten years away from the corner you laugh on’ – to create a more personal, conversational mood within the poem. The tone of the poem is one of admiration and affection; after all, she looks back on her mother’s life with fondness.
Throughout the four stanzas, Duffy jumps between different times in the past, yet writes in present tense. This strategy gives a sense of bringing her mother’s past more vividly to life, almost as thought she is narrating her life as it happens. Duffy uses memory to convey the contrast between her mother’s life before and after motherhood. In particular, she portrays the sense of excitement and optimism in her mother’s life before she was born. Duffy knows that the thought of having a child ‘doesn’t occur yet’ to her mother, who is wrapped up in her own world of dances and in her dreams of the future. The ‘fizzy, movie tomorrows’ suggests a zest for life, that Duffy’s mother dreams of a future like the future presented by the movies. The ‘ballroom with a thousand eyes’ could be a metaphor for her beauty and the heads she turned while dancing in the ballroom, or simply a reference to the glittering balls of an active imagination.
The tone of the poem is tender, and Duffy conveys a sense of admiration and fondness when looking back on her mother’s life: ‘That glamorous love lasts where you sparkle and waltz and laugh.’ This statement shows the affection that Duffy has towards her mother; perhaps these words also suggest that she recognizes that her mother hasn’t lost the ‘sparkle’ of her youth, despite the responsibilities she has taken on as a parent.
Beyond the glamour and optimism that is bound up with re-living her mother’s past, Duffy projects a sense of the inevitability of growing older. At the time when Duffy’s mother was young, a woman’s life was seen as more traditional, and the expected path in life for a woman was to get married and have children. We get a sense that these actions were inevitable; eventually, some of the wonder and excitement of youth is lost, as shown when Duffy recalls how her mother used to say ‘the decade ahead of her loud possessive yell was the best one.’ A slight sadness is created through looking back on the past in this poem. Duffy recognizes the sacrifices that her mother made for her children, and celebrates the optimism and hope of her life when she was younger.
In contrast, in “Brothers” Duffy alternates between past and present as a means of re-living past memories of her brothers. She describes her brothers when they were younger by remembering commonplace snapshots of their younger lives: “…an alter boy, a boy practicing scales, a boy playing tennis with a wall, a baby…” They are described as four separate characters, so that the reader can imagine them as individuals. These descriptions have a greater sense of optimism and potential. As they grown up and move away, these men are defined simply by their occupations. As in “Before You Were Mine,” Duffy uses the past to touch on the theme of dreams that are lost as time passes. Yet this poem lacks the sense of closeness and love that was evident in “Before You Were Mine.” The way that Duffy refers to her brothers makes her seem distant from them: “occasionally, when people ask, I enjoy reciting their names.” There is a sense of alienation when she recollects a memory of sleeping in a bed once with ‘these four men.’ With time, the brothers seem to be lost, leaving only their names, and not even photographs. This estrangement is emphasized when she says “we have nothing to say of now.”
In a further departure from “Before You Were Mine,” in which Duffy imagines her mother’s memories, the memories in “Brothers” are Duffy’s own but are fragmentary. Duffy’s mother appears in both poems, but whereas in “Before You Were Mine” she is a vivacious, eye-catching presence, in the second poem she is more in the background. (The final phrase, in fact, can be interpreted as referring to the mother’s death.) The memories in this second poem are less detailed, giving the sense that Duffy was closer to her mother than to her brothers.
The Intertextuality of Carol Ann Duffy’s “Salome”
“Salome” is a poem taken from Carol Ann Duffy’s collection of poems The World’s Wife; most of the poems share a common feature: a historically marginalized narrator retelling the story from personal perspective. Salome’s character originally appeared in the New Testament and over the centuries many novels and paintings focused on Salome and the legend of Salome contributing to iconization of the character as a vicious femme fatale. One of the texts that followed the biblical story of Salome is a fin-de-siecle play written by Oscar Wilde. This play may have even had a larger influence in the creation of Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “Salome”, than the original story. Such an influence is suggested by the intertextual relationship between the two texts established through characterization and juxtaposition of tone and rhyme.
In Wilde’s play, symbolism contributes most to Salome’s characterization. Throughout the play the moon can be perceived as a metaphor alluding to the main character. In the opening scene it is depicted by the Page of Herodias “like a woman rising from a tomb,” “like a dead woman… looking for dead things”. Later on in the play Salome herself reflects on the state of the moon as if reflecting on herself “cold and chaste,” “she has never defiled herself … never abandoned herself to men.” These allusions to the moon add to the premonition of despair and to Salome’s portrait. The moon’s metaphoric presence indirectly depicts Salome as a frigid, haughty and adamant. Although at the end of the play Salome demonstrates emotional intentions to her actions, it is a sick perception of love where the main motives are selfish and obsessive.
Salome as a narrator in Carol Ann Duffy’s poem bears strong resemblance with the depiction of the character in the play. In the form of a internal dramatic monologue the poem provides exhibits the thoughts of the heroine creating a dimensional and complex portrayal. The poem indicates such attributes of the character as narcissism, indifference and perversion. The reader gets a strong self-reflection from the character in the lines “the beater or biter, who’d come like a lamb to the slaughter to Salome’s bed”, which somewhat resembles Salome’s self-identification in the play: denoting that even the bad characters seem holy in comparison with her.
There are important quotations in the poem that indicate Salome’s coldness of heart and indifference to others, when she wakes with a head next to her, but she doesn’t know who it is; seen in the lines “-whose?- what did it matter?” and “What was his name?” Moreover taking into account the lack of empathy that Salome demonstrates in the lines “from pain, I’d guess, maybe from laughter”. This line may be interpreted as an indication of Salome’s disability to discern between the human emotions. Despite the portrayal of a disturbed and emotionally drained character, the line “ain’t life a bitch” could suggest that Salome herself is familiar with the struggles of life, which could potentially justify her vengeful and cruel behavior. Alternatively “ain’t life a bitch” may be a sarcastic exclamation, seen as is Salome is in a position of power over the victim and is enjoying life. Either way Carol Ann Duffy succeeds in creating a complex, dimensional character in her poem as well as Oscar Wild in the play.
The structure of the play emphasizes Salome’s irrational behavior by providing paradoxical relationship between the content and the tone. The light, musical tone of the play contradicts the actions of the character accentuating Salome’s inconsistent emotions. This makes a morally challenging story. Duffy borrows this element of the play successfully using the structure of free verse and the rhyme to provide gentle build up through the poem although the content insinuates murderous notions of events. The rhyme in the poem is most dynamic in the second stanza, perhaps phonetically implying the sound of dripping blood; the phonetic effect in combination with the descriptions from the first stanza “head on a pillow” with “dark hair, rather matted” may conjure up an image of a severed head.
Through the rhyme in such words as “butter” and “clatter” and “clutter” the poet creates a light musical overtone appealing to the reader’s auditory sense. The structure is truly ironic as it combines the structure of a sonnet on the surface and the descriptions of the disturbing actions of a femme fatale. The works of Carol Ann Duffy and Oscar Wilde put Salome in the epicenter of the events taking place, whereas original story in the New Testament gives little to no credit to Salome in John’s beheading. The New Testament focuses mostly on John the Baptizer, Herod and Herodias. When given an opportunity to request anything of Herod’s, Salome runs to her mother and enquires, “What should I ask for?” declining to make her own choice and establishing her mothers power and absolute rule. In the New Testament Salome is seen as only a “girl” originally without even a name, she seems much younger in the original work than in the subsequent recreations. She acts entirely on the behalf of her mother without regard for personal wishes. The lack of personal motive behind makes Salome bleak and insignificant in the original story.
Carol Ann Duffy borrowed the character from the original bible story in a very idiosyncratic way. Duffy took the character with the least power and lack of opinion and gave her a voice. In the poem “Salome” is seen as an independent character, which can be seen through the chosen form of an internal dramatic monologue. An abundance of first face singular pronouns followed by action verbs (for example “I’ll do it again”, “I needed” and “I flung”) highlight the character’s dominant presence. Thus, Carol Ann Duffy recreates the original story of John the Baptizer, crafting it into the story of Salome. Duffy gives strength and independence to Salome, inspired by Oscar Wilde’s vision. The effect of intertextuality allows a complex depiction of Salome, which furthermore challenges the reader to interpret and/or understand her motifs and internal feelings.
Feminist Criticism and “Mrs Midas”
‘Mrs Midas’ is a revisionist version of the King Midas story told from the female perspective: traditionally, this ancient Greek myth was about a man who could turn everything to gold with a touch. This poem explores the sadness Mrs Midas feels in regards to not being able to feel the touch of her husband — calling attention to the anguish, annoyance, and disgust she harbors for him regarding his greediness. This poem is especially interesting for feminist critics, as it is possible that Midas is a strong willed person who does not let her spouse ruin her life, as she runs away and lives without him. However, there is another reading, which states that her husband controls her emotions and that all she longs for is a loving, rather traditional husband.
Right from the beginning, the voice prioritized by Duffy is that of Mrs Midas, who retells the expected story from her point of view. This tactic would interest feminist critics, as in literature women are sometimes voiceless or only heard behind the men closest to them; however, it is clear that Mrs Midas has control and is telling her story with a degree of autonomy. Through her humor and metaphors, we are able to understand the breakdown of her marriage as well as the idea that ‘wealth isn’t everything’ in a different way than the way in which the usual King Midas story conveys this idea. It may be seen that Mrs Midas is challenging society’s demand for ‘feminine behaviour,’ as Simone de Beauvoir would put it, as she ‘poured a glass of wine.’ This action shows lack of interest in the idea that women are not meant to be drinkers. The way the poem is introduced so casually — ‘It was late September. I’d just poured a glass of wine…’ — gives the poem an air of mystery. Yet when we realize that she is telling us of a difficult time in her life, the casualness seems like strength, as it can normally be assumed that a divorce or separation is always a hard topic to talk about. Although terrified of her husband, she quickly hides her cat, giving her an air of heroism as well as making her seem funny: this humor allows the reader to realize that Mrs Midas is an intellectual woman.
Feminist critics may find Mrs Midas’ humor and relaxed personality to reflect a typical yet unfair treatment of women in history and literature: there are great personalities among women, yet these personalities are seldom mentioned in either historical fact or historical legend. This characteristic of Mrs Midas can be understood as Duffy trying to highlight this inequality. Mrs Midas was so in love with her husband once upon a time but now is terrified that a kiss would turn her lips into a ‘work of art.’ On the other hand, feminist critics may open up other meanings behind ‘Mrs Midas’ by interpreting Duffy’s use of gender roles as showing how much hurt a woman can go through because of her husband, especially if she still desires him — suggesting how in our society a woman is often believed to be most happy with a dominant man. We are first introduced to Mr Midas when he is ‘snapping twig’: the snapping has a violent tone and perhaps suggests that the relationship is quite a patriarchal one. Although the women may have a voice, it is still weaker than the men’s voice in this setup. Mrs Midas’ husband, who is greedy for money and is hurting her emotionally, still gets the stereotypical doting wife who ‘served up the meal’ and ‘poured with a shaking hand’ (as even when scared of him she still does everything for him).
Another aspect of the poem that feminist critics would be very interested in would be the fact that Mrs Midas believes that her spouse has ‘lack of thought’ for her and is ‘pure[ly] selfish’ but dreams of ‘bearing his child.’ It could be proposed that Mrs Midas is a symbol of many women who are not treated kindly by their spouses but still wish to have a children, as doing so is what society has made us think ‘happiness’ and a ‘good relationship’ involve. Duffy has made Mr Midas almost seem villainous by introducing Mrs Midas’ dream of having a child. Wanting a child is something a couple usually agrees upon in a respectful manner, and so when Mrs Midas explains that they were ‘passionate then’ it can be thought that Mr Midas would have known of this dream. However, he let his greed for money come before his lover’s wish. But there is another side to this state of conflict: although Mr Midas broke her dream, Mrs Midas still checks up on him even when she tries to kick him out.
It can be argued that ‘Mrs Midas’ is a feminist poem that is trying to highlight the inequality that women in literature, and in real life, face. Duffy creates a stereotypical wife who cooks and cleans, but subverts this personality by suggesting that Mrs Midas is a strong-willed and intellectual woman. Using ‘Mrs Midas,’ Duffy calls attention to discrepancies that, ultimately, can be made to bow before strength of character.
Duffy’s Perspective on Religion in “Confession” and “Prayer”
The poet Carol Anne Duffy presents two different attitudes towards religion in her poems “Prayer” and “Confession.” In “Prayer,” Duffy contemplates how, in the absence of organised religion, comfort can instead be found in ordinary, prosaic occurrences. These usually insignificant experiences instead become a source of consolation for the unknown people discussed in the poem. These works also hinge on the poet’s recollection of her childhood experience of the Catholic practice of Confession. Apparent, Duffy found this form of devotion a frightening, repressive experience.
“Prayer” is a secular version of the conventional religious prayer, written in the form of a sonnet. In it, the poet seeks to convey the idea that people without a religious faith can find solace in ordinary, everyday experiences. Duffy speaks for the secular community, and represents this group through the unknown people in the poem: ‘a woman, a man, the lodger.’ Moreover, Duffy includes herself in this group, as we can see by the use of the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘us,’ showing that this work was written in the poet’s own voice. An absence of religion is mentioned in this poem through the phrases ‘although we cannot pray’ and ‘although we are faithless.’ Despite not being able to turn to religion for consolation in difficult times, people can find comfort through memories and through appreciation of the small things in life. There are references to these moments of consolation throughout the poem. A woman is alleviated from her despair, and ‘lifts her head from the sieve of her hands,’ upon seeing the beauty in nature, ‘staring at the minims sung by a tree.’ Realisation of the simple joy of being is given to her like a ‘sudden gift.’ This sequence has connotations of taking the woman to a better place, of providing relief in a time when she needed consolation. Duffy writes of a man who ‘hears his youth in the distant Latin chanting of a train.’ Prompted by sounds, he is cheered by memories of his earlier life, perhaps taking him back to a happier, more grounded time. The poet writes of a lodger who is consoled by ‘Grade 1 piano scales,’ perhaps played by their child learning the piano. Solace is offered through this small everyday event.
Duffy makes reference to the importance of these instances when she writes of ‘that familiar pain,’ the acknowledgment of uncomfortable truths, that can come to us ‘some nights’ when we are more vulnerable to our thoughts. The use of the anaphoric phrases ‘some days, some nights’ conveys a sense of normality and of the inevitability of this pain and fear; such a state is something that we all experience at some time in our lives. This fear and discomfort is reflected further in the poem when Duffy talks of the ‘darkness outside.’ This ‘darkness’ could be interpreted as a metaphor for the ‘darker’ aspects of life, the harsh realities. She creates a contrast in the next line with the more comforting ‘radio’s prayer’ inside. The safety and familiarly of the ‘radio inside’ suggest that familiar regularities and comforts like these help to keep us protected from the ‘darkness’ of the world outside. The poem ends in a rhyming couplet with an extract from the shipping forecast, ‘Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.’ This phrasing again conveys a sense of comfort. The shipping forecast helps to guide sailors home in the dark, another possible reference to how small, familiar things can anchor us and help us avoid being lost.
“Confession” presents a different attitude towards religion. Here, Duffy talks of her personal experience of conventional religion, and of her experience of going to confession as a child. In Catholicism, Catholics will attend the Sacrement of Penance, under which they confess their sins in order to obtain absolution. Duffy was raised Catholic yet became an atheist as a teenager. In sharp contrast to “Prayer,” which suggests that having faith can be a source of consolation, this poem presents religion as being frightening and repressive. After all, Duffy describes a ‘dark cell’ and how it smelt ‘like a coffin.’ These adjectives have connotations of death and imprisonment, while ‘tell’ suggests interrogation. In ‘Prayer,’ darkness is used in a non-threatening way, to accentuate the comfort of inside; however, in this poem darkness is used in an almost menacing manner – ‘musty gloom,’ ‘dark cell.’ Duffy gives the impression that Penance is a repressive, controlling experience. This very sentiment is evident in the simile ‘works your conscience like a glove puppet,’ and in the phrase ‘merely to think of a wrong’s as evil as doing it.’
Indeed, “Confession” could be interpreted as Duffy’s expression of the opinion that the confines of religion do not always bring reassurance and comfort, but instead generate a feeling of fear and discomfort. Her poem indicate that in striving for ‘Jesus’ love’ you must inhibit your thoughts and act in ‘the manner approved.’ This theme is approached with a sense of irony throughout the poem, as Duffy as a child would have little understanding of ‘the light on the other side of the door’ and how to attain it. In contrast, in “Prayer” Duffy reflects on how no constraints are needed; an appreciation of nature, among other simple things in life, can provide solace.