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uk/category/subjects/gcse/english/poetry-of-carol-ann-duffy Analysis by theme Carol Ann Duffy CHILDHOOD Notes from Originally Repeatedly returns to the metaphor of childhood as a country echoes of L.P. Hartley s !he past is a forei"n country# they do thin"s differently there. Notion of past $ein" intimately associated %ith place& and that adulthood is a 'ourney a%ay from it. (ll childhood is an emi"ration.) I %ant our o%n country. *ear of $ein" in an alien place as a child reflected in the alienation of adult life. I lost a ri+er& culture& speech& sense of first space and the ri"ht place Duffy reflects on mo+in" house as a child& and the %ay she lost her first senses of the %orld as the $ecame accustomed to some%here ne%. I stared at the eyes of a $lind toy& holdin" its pa%. ,etaphor the past& her childhood is no% lifeless $ut she clutches to it hopelessly. Notes from Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team a fi--in" hope& .ar"lin") %ith /imto 0ense of e1citement and s%eetness con'ured in the onomatopoeia of fi--in" and ima"ery of /imto childhood %as sensual and e1citin". !he smell of my cle+er satchel e+o2es a particular fra"rance and e+o2es ideas that the satchel itself is cle+er& that this sym$ol of childhood is synonymous %ith the intelli"ence he felt in 3456. He continues lamentin" the ease he felt in childhood& $efore the comple1ities and compromises of adult life. 7+erythin" seemed $lac2 and %hite& ri"ht or %ron"8 !he Nile rises in (pril. 9lue and :hite.) !he hummin" $ird s son" is made $y its %in"s; His achie+ement is reflected in the ima"e of him salut<in"= the ans%ers to his teacher and the predicta$le tone of 0ir>... Correct. It is summarised $y his enthusiasm for life at the time& no hands& famous& learnin"; !he first of these ima"es is su""esti+e of a rec2lessness& a sense of in+inci$ility and assurance %hich is sho%n as hu$ris $y the poem s end.

("ain& Duffy "i+es this period of life a "eo"raphic country $ut in the final stan-a it is su$+erted from its idealised +ision and ali"ned %ith Rhodesia& a country that has $een a$olished and no lon"er e1ists as a political entity <it is no% 2no%n as ?im$a$%e=. !he $itterness of this poem is a star2 contrast to the %arm& sepia@ tin"ed romance of the others& and the narrator laments his thic2 2ids and stale %ife. 0tale forms an interestin" comparison %ith the fi--in" youth and %e sense the e$$in" a%ay of e1citement and freshness& "i+in" %ay to the flat and mundane. POP CAL!AR7) :(R) !H(!CH7RI0,) C(PI!(LI0, Notes on Poet for Our Times !his poem is a departure from the more personal poems concernin" memory $ut still addresses some similar ideas. Here& Duffy adopts the persona of a ne%spaper hack %hose sole concern is reducin" hu"e stories to sensationalised headlines. !he narrator is odious and o$seBuious& tryin" to in+ei"le his %ay into the reader s affections. He uses colloBuial& o+erly@friendly lan"ua"e <sBuire& cheers& punters& 2no% %hat I mean& ta& 7t cet.= %hich does more to alienate us. !he lan"ua"e of his %or2 is closely associated %ith +iolence. He tal2s of the need to $an" %ords do%n on paper li2e they re screamin" fire. !he use of hyper$ole succinctly con+eys the hysterical tone of a ta$loid ne%spaper. !he first t%o headlines %e encounter& C7CIL@C7(D0 RO: 0HOCC !7LL0 7D7!I7 :(I!7R and 7N.L(ND *(N C(LL0 :HIN.7IN. *RO. ( LI(R. !he first t%o headlines %e encounter& C7CIL@C7(D0 RO: 0HOCC !7LL0 7D7!I7 :(I!7R and 7N.L(ND *(N C(LL0 :HIN.7IN. *RO. ( LI(R $oth contain racist commentary %hich forms a sharp critiBue of the 1enopho$ic traits of such ne%spapers. !he 'ourno insists that you +e "ot to "ra$ attention) %ith 'ust one phrase. !his is an admission that depth of reportin" and factual content are not priorities to the ta$loids they need to "ra$ attention in order to sell ne%spapers& and Duffy is clearly passin" 'ud"ment on a ne%s industry that considers its profit the first priority. Indeed& the narrator e+en confesses I +e made mista2es too numerous to mention $ut he speeds past& proudly proclaimin" that no% %e print the $u""ers inches hi"h. !he mista2es ha+e not made him circumspect or reflecti+e& he has 'ust $ecome increasin"ly fren-ied. !he headlines that round off this stan-a are demonstrations of the use of se1 to sell papers. !hey refer to a

P(N!I7 RO,P and a R7N! 9OD. Later& %e are told of other stories featurin" DIPLO,(! IN 97D& 9ONCIN. and a politician %ho is ( NI.H!CLA9 !(R!. !he arro"ance of the narrator seems un$eara$le %hen he claims that his %or2 ma2es him a sort of poet) for our times. !his $etrays a lac2 of understandin" of %hat poetry is. He laments that it is $ecomin" harder to shoc2 his audience and must $ecome increasin"ly lurid. He %ishes to ha+e $een around %hen the !itanic san2 purely to %rite the headlines. He is $ereft of compassion and entirely self@ser+in". !he narrator continues his idea of $ein" a poet $y confessin" he %ishes that 2ids %ill 2no% my headlines off $y heart& as thou"h they %ere poems tau"ht in schools. *inally& he reflects on the poems of the decade8 0tuff EemF and .otchaF In the 34GHs these %ere definin" headlines for 2ey cultural moments& $ut as per the hac2 s demand& they ha+e $een reduced entirely. Ironically& these ha+e indeed $ecome so %ell 2no%n that fe% people& certainly of that "eneration& do not 2no% %hat they are a$out. !o some e1tent& $y %ritin" the poem& Duffy is complicit in perpetuatin" them in the popular memory. !he final line %or2s as a pun& com$inin" the phrases tits and arse %ith the $ottom line& mer"in" them into the tits and $ottom line of art. Duffy is meshin" her main threads to"ether in a sin"le line $y su""estin" that se1ualised ima"ery that sells papers is the $ottom line <the ultimate "oal= of 'ournalism& and e1poses the narrator s ideas as ridiculous. !he final "oal of his art is profit& %hereas the $ottom line of poetry and art is an e1ploration of truth. (PP7(R(NC70) CL(00 Notes on Litany !he poem deals %ith the falsities of middle@class su$ur$an life in the 345Hs& and is a reflection on Duffy s early childhood. Here& she ali"ns the reli"ious litany %ith that of the conspicuous consumption of the era. 0he lists off the must@ha+e items for a respecta$le household& candle%ic2) $edspread three piece suite display ca$inet. !he a$sence of punctuation to this "i+es it a monotonous drone %hich is intended to mimic the deli+ery of a latin litany.

Duffy descri$es the %omen assem$led for coffee in their $uttoned@ up and repressed couture8 stiff@haired %i+es $alanced their red smiles. !he +eneer of %ell@$ein" is paramount to these %omen and their society and these small details act as a synecdoche for the %ider %orld they inha$it. 9y usin" the details of the era& Duffy is a$le to pro+ide sharp ima"es %hich ser+e dual meanin"s. !he terri$le marria"es crac2led <sho%in" discomfort and a persistence throu"h unhappiness= and this static is echoed $y the cellophone) round polyester shirts. !he loun"e is a picture of a%2%ard appearances8 it $ristle<s= %ith eyes and sharp hands are poised o+er $iscuits. !here is a palpa$le sense of not %antin" to $rea2 the social con+entions no matter ho% uncomforta$le the participants are. !he lon" first sentence of the second stan-a& %hich ramps up the escalatin" tension& comes a$ruptly to a halt %ith an em$arrassin" %ord. !he false appearances cannot %ithstand the de+astatin" deli+ery of a %ord of truth. !he poet "oes on to e1plain ho% these rules& this code& %ere learned %hen her mother $elie+ed her dau"hter to $e readin"& o$li+ious of the actions of her friends. In this society& no one had cancer& or se1& or de$ts&) and certainly not leu2aemia. !here is a sense of mischie+ous hyper$ole in Duffy 'u1taposin" cancer and se1& as thou"h either %ould $e eBually horrifyin" to the repressed %omen. !he poem is in some %ays an e1ploration of Duffy s childhood and her attempts to ha+e her lan"ua"e heard. Her mother is afraid of the dama"e an unpleasant truth may cause& $ut her dau"hter stri+es a"ainst this. 0he descri$es her $ur"eonin" self@a%areness in the metaphor of the $utterfly <%hich= stammered itself in my curious hands. !here is a sense of %onder& $eauty and circumspection to the ima"e& as thou"h Duffy is careful not to harm that %hich is so fra"ile her o%n self. !his contrasts %ith the "ra+e of %asps; in a 'am 'ar. !he natural %orld has $een tempted into the austere house and has $een 2illed. !he metaphor of Duffy s o%n natural instincts and desires could not $e clearer. !he desire to e1press herself in this cloyin"& o+erpo%erin" atmosphere is understanda$le and Duffy sho%s her re$ellion a"ainst it $y retellin" ho% a schoolmate told me to fuc2 off. !he effect on the room is electric and the child is thrilled at the malicious act she has performed. 0he has 'olted the %omen from their complacency. Her 2no%led"e that her mother %ould administer a stiff punishment does not concern her& and she tastes the salt on her ton"ue of an imminent storm. ("ain& Duffy is ali"nin" herself %ith the natural %orld %hile anticipatin" the ine+ita$le punishment. !he silence is $ro2en $y a short& pointed

sentence8 !hen) uproar. !here is another sense of Duffy s mischief here& su""estin" that pandemonium has erupted o+er a child ma2in" a social "affe. 0uch is her +ie% of the $rittle society of her mother its +eneer is so easily shattered. *inally& Duffy lists off the names of the %omen present& echoin" the litany once a"ain. !his time it is addressin" the shame of her mother and her desire to atone for her dau"hter s sin. !he incident has $urned the names into Duffy s consciousness& as has her mother s mute shame and the taste of soap& this finally sense@ ima"e ma2in" clear the old punishment for s%earin"8 to ha+e one s mouth %ashed out %ith soap and %ater. !his final idea has ideas of an artificial cleansin" attached& and su""ests its effect is not permanent& as the poet s attitude as an adult testifies. !I,7) (.7IN. Notes on eantime !he poem $e"ins in a strai"htfor%ard lament for a passin" relationship or friendship. Duffy plays %ith the turnin" $ac2 of the cloc2s e+ery autumn and the seemin" theft of li"ht from my life. !his is an easy enou"h metaphor %ith the li"ht representin" happiness. !his does not seem a million miles from the sense of re"ret in her poems a$out childhood. Ho%e+er& in this instance she is %ritin" as an adult a$out adult life. 0he is mournin" our lo+e. !he notion of loss is hei"htened $y the connotations of death in this line& "i+in" the end of a relationship eBual status %ith the loss of a life. In the second stan-a the do%n$eat tone continues as she tal2s of unmenda$le rain the %ord playin" on t%o le+els8 the first indicatin" that this is a sadness)rain she can do nothin" a$out& she is po%erless a"ainst it# the second plays on the idea of $ro2en rain& spells of rain $ro2en $y relief. In this case& the rain is unendin"& un$ro2en and cannot $e fi1ed. !he streets she descri$es are $lea2 and her heart "na%<s=) at all our mista2es. !he personification "i+es a sense of her heart una$le to lea+e the relationship& instead returnin" a"ain and a"ain to re+isit the mista2es that ha+e led to this point. Duffy continues& o+ercome %ith re"ret <a"ain& not unli2e her childhood poems= %ishin" for a different chain of e+ents <%here the stolen time) dar2ness) sadness did not occur= and she could ma2e different decision8 there are %ords I %ould ne+er ha+e said) nor ha+e heard you say. (t this point& the poem $ecomes $roader <indicated $y 9ut at the start of the line= in its thematic approach& s%itchin" from the

intimate and personal to the philosophical& al$eit %ith little let up in the fatalistic tone. 0he tries to come to terms %ith life s ine+ita$le process of loss. %e %ill $e dead& as %e 2no%&) $eyond all li"ht. !he parenthetical information sho%s that %e all understand that life is $rief and nothin" can remain %ithin our "rasps fore+er. !his leads $ac2 to her metaphor of li"ht and dar2& and that death ta2es us all $eyond li"ht. <!his seems ironic considerin" the Catholic content of her other poems& su""estin" the poet no lon"er $elie+es in an afterlife& of li"ht after death.= (s soon as this is understood& Duffy mar2s e+ery li+in" day as shortened and e+ery ni"ht as endless. !his has echoes of Na$o2o+ s idea that& common sense tells us that our e1istence is $ut a $rief crac2 of li"ht $et%een t%o eternities of dar2ness. *rom the fifth stan-a on& Duffy %arms to the $roader idea $ut it is tin"ed %ith optimism. :hile people may not $e reli"ious <or $elie+e in an afterlife=& she contends that %e can find prayers in e+eryday situation. Prayer here is used in a loose interpretation& a sound that e+o2es hope and solace in the person prayin". Ho%e+er& Duffy sees prayers in sounds rather than %ords. 0ome days& althou"h %e cannot pray& a prayer) utters itself. !he %orld around us is offerin" its o%n reassurances& un$idden. ( %oman in the par2& holdin" her head in the sie+e of her hands <a succinct ima"e con+eyin" the idea that her hands cannot contain %hat is fallin" throu"h them her tears# she is "rie+in"= can find respite in the minims sun" $y a tree. Here& the personification of the tree carries connotations of a choir& or a reli"ious reassurance& althou"h this is metaphorical& the son" $ein" either $irdson"& or the sound of the lea+es. !he natural %orld offers up its o%n solace to the %oman. !he si1th stan-a a"ain addresses the idea of solace to those %ho are not reli"ious8 althou"h %e are faithless) the truth enters our hearts. !his ties directly to the openin" lines of the pre+ious stan-a& as Duffy continues to ar"ue that the non@reli"ious can find ceremony and faith out%ith a traditional concept of .od. In this instance& li2e Proust s ,adeleine& a man hears the Latin chantin" of a train <pilin" on the reli"ious ima"ery throu"h the personification and onomatopoetic similarities $et%een the rhythm of the train and those of a Latin mass= and then is dra%n sharply $ac2 to hear<in"= his youth. Duffy employs similar de+ices in her childhood poems to contrast the pleasure of youthful optimism and the small familiar pain $rou"ht $y the adult sense of a finite e1istence. !he po%er of memory is e1tended into the penultimate stan-a %here the lod"er loo2s out across) a ,idlands to%n. !he idea of a lod"er in this instance is effecti+e as it has connotations of isolation and loneliness# a person %ith no home of their o%n. :hile the lod"er can find consolation in .rade I piano scales& their a"ein" condemns them to pan"s of sadness as in the dus2 <a"ain& the

%ithdra%al of li"ht=& someone calls) a child s name as thou"h they named their loss. !he recollection of a child $ein" called $y a parent reminds the lod"er that their childhood is passed& and the child s namin" <as $oth ,adeleine and metaphor= ma2es e1plicit the lost optimism of youth. !he final stan-a& half as lon" as the others& finds a $itters%eet tone. :hile there is Dar2ness outside& loss and "rief in %aitin"& Inside& %here there is li"ht& a listener finds their prayer in the hushed& re"ular tones of the radio shippin" forecast. !he final line follo%s the traditional reelin" off of the shippin" re"ions& $ut Duffy carefully finishes %ith *inisterre land s end& %hich carries connotations of finality and %ith it& finity. IN*ID7LI!D) 07IA(LI!D Notes on Correspon!ents ( poem a$out an affair& conducted in letters& and the erotic po%er of %ords. Duffy uses the persona of a %oman en"a"ed in an illicit affair& and Duffy uses this mechanism to a"ain e1plore the suppressed emotions and passions of a society. !he narrator s initial complaint is of the passionless e1istence she li+es %ith $ut this is condensed into the complaint of the lan"ua"e she is forced to use. !he contrast %ith the inflamed& romantic lan"ua"e she shares %ith her lo+er $ecomes apparent as the poem pro"resses. In polite society they ha+e the lan"ua"e of stuffed $irds& teacups. !hese ima"es su""est a delicacy of the repressed en+ironment <a2in to that in Litany=& %hich can so easily $e shattered. In addition& Duffy follo%s this up %ith a contrast to the lan"ua"e of $odies that she spea2s %ith her lo+er. !his lan"ua"e is un$ound and se1ual& physical

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