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OCR Examination Board
GCSE English Literature
A664 - Literary Heritage & Poetry
Carol Ann Duffy –
Revision notes
A video lecture on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyoRMN_A7XY
Duffy is writing about love in a non-clichéd manner. There is an implied, rather enigmatic, question to
which this poem is the answer: “Will you marry me?”; “Will I always love you?”; “Would I still love you
if…?” She uses the traditional idea of the four elements which supposedly made up the whole world –
earth, air, fire and water - showing that her love totally encompasses the person addressed in the
All of the stanzas all have the same structure and meter / rhythm; this regular, constant form helps
to reflect her constant, unchanging love. It is calm and considered, not impulsive and fragile. The
answer at the end of each stanza is always a very affirmative yes, yes repeated for extra emphasis.
It is eager and enthusiastic – the words every lover wants to hear.
stone –is used for ‘earth’ – but it is not fertile and life-giving as ‘soil’.
All of the images in the first stanza suggest a lifelessness and lack of passion. There is no chance of
a living, loving sexual relationship and yet her love would persist; she would continue to love this
person even though they are incapable of returning that love.
Duffy describes various parts of her love’s anatomy:
your kiss a fossil -lips are metaphorically dead - not sexually responsive.
eyes sightless marble - can’t even see her.
grey hands - implying a statue, so can’t touch her.
legs cold as rivers locked in ice - simile - cold and frigid.
The fire images of the second stanza are ugly, painful and threatening. Even if her lover was violent
and abusive she would continue to love him / her.
Again, Duffy describes various parts of her love’s anatomy:
head…Medusa hissing flame – image of the snake-haired monster; effective onomatopoeia for flames
& snakes.
tongue a red-hot poker – an instrument of torture, invoking the idea of Hell.
heart a small coal – not living and capable of love.
fingers burning pungent brands on flesh – producing terrible pain & the stench of burning flesh with
each touch.
The water images of the third stanza are all dangerous and threatening, again, perhaps even more
Again, Duffy describes various parts of her love’s anatomy:
voice…roaring, foaming –adjectives imply violence, uncontrolled anger in their voice – ranting and
arms a whirlpool spinning me… - violent metaphor and dangerous verb.
breast…deep dark lake nursing the drowned– ominous adjectives, deadly image.
The last one of the four elements, air, gives a sense of emptiness; there is a feeling that there is no
physical body left at all.
face empty…infinite as sky – the face is the most significant part of the body, but there nothing
there to see.
words a wind – again, emptiness; the alliteration gives the idea of the sounds being scattered,
creating silence.
The image is extended with gusts and breeze there is nothing physically present of the person to
love or be loved, and yet her devotion persists.
The final stanza is a repetition, an emphatic reiteration of what had been said before. She has no
hesitation in giving this answer which has the tone of a sacred vow. There is a final, grim surprise at
the end – she would love this person even if it meant her death.
Before You Were Mine
A video lecture on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXqdN5CDcVk&feature=related
This is one of the nostalgic poems in the anthology. We can infer that Duffy is looking at a
photograph of her mother and her two friends ten years before she was born. The title fools us at
first into thinking of romantic lovers, but it shows the deep love of a mother and daughter. She
imagines her mother as a rebellious teenager, going out on dates and being punished for coming home
late. Duffy thinks about how her birth changed her mother’s life forever, putting an end to these
‘glory days’, the best days of her life when she was young and carefree.
I’m ten years away from – an unusual way of opening the poem; it takes a while before we work out
that she is directly addressing her mother in the photograph.
corner…laugh…pals…shriek – joyful images of teenagers having a good time, hanging around on the
Maggie McGeeney…Jean Duff…holding each other – idea created of close friendship; mother must
have talked about her friends because her daughter knows their names.
polka-dot dress – this dates the photograph; the style was very fashionable back then.
Marilyn – flattering, maybe slightly-tongue-in-cheek, reference to the iconic image of the 50’s & 60’s
film star Marilyn Munroe holding down her dress. She thinks of her mother as glamorous, sexy and
The second stanza begins in a similar way to the first, reminding us that her child is not born, but is
on its way in ten years’ time. She is still having fun, but this time the focus is not on her friends but
on boyfriends.
ballroom– before discos, the big public venues where teenagers danced & dated.
…thousand eyes – might be the large crowd or a spinning mirror ball.
movie…walk home – meeting a boy who takes her home and asks her out on a date to the cinema.
Ma…waits in the street and gives her a hiding for being late. She likes to paint an affectionate
picture of her mother as a rebel, someone with enthusiasm for life.
The third stanza makes very clear the idea of her birth changing her mother’s life.
loud, possessive yell – an unpleasant noise that cannot be ignored. The new baby demands all of her
attention. It gives a negative twist to the phrase before you were mine – Duffy implies that she
completely dominated her mother’s life and, in a way, ruined it.
The decade…was the best one, eh? – she imagines her mother looking back wistfully, maybe with
some regret, to the carefree teenage years prior to motherhood – the best years of her life.
She is wearing high-heeled red shoes in the photograph. Red shoes are associated with women
wanting to look attractive and exciting, the shoes they wear going out parties and having a good time.
Duffy remembers the shoes from her childhood. She chooses the word relics to imply that they are
now just reminders of her mother’s youth, useless except as playthings for her little girl – my hands
in those…shoes.
The red shoes were associated in the past with scent (perfume) and small (love) bites – Duffy
affectionately (sweetheart) imagines her mother wearing them out on a date.
The final stanza continues to explore the idea of Duffy’s relationship with her mother after she was
Cha cha cha – Duffy affectionately remembers her mother teaching her old dance steps, a reminder
of her own days in the ballroom. They seem to have a happy relationship.
stamping stars from the wrong pavement – strong visual memories of stiletto heels making sparks
on the paving slabs, the wrong ones because this may have been rebellious, inappropriate behaviour in
the eyes of the other members of the congregation at Mass.
bold girl winking – as with the dancing, Duffy wanted her mother to retain the high spirits and
enthusiasm for life that she had in her youth.
That glamorous love lasts…sparkle…waltz…laugh – even though they are in the past, at least those
good times existed and continue to exist in memories before you were mine and the carefree young
rebel had to make sacrifices and assume the responsibilities of motherhood.
This is another nostalgic autobiographical family poem looking at her relationship with her four
brothers (Irish Roman Catholic family). There are the happy memories of shared in-jokes, but a
gradual distancing as they grow up and apart. She remembers their lives together but does not seem
to be that close to them any more. One of them did something to break her mother’s heart. She still
has things in common with her brothers, but they do not keep in touch much now. She ends with the
image of a family funeral in the future, presumably one of their parents, though both were alive when
she wrote the poem.
The opening stanza focuses on how close the bond was between the members of the family.
I slept…with four men – surprising opening if we had not read the title. It was a common experience
of poverty.
share / an older face – they look like one of their parents.
laugh, even now, random quotes from the play we were in – the humorous repetition of things
parents said in the past; the use of the image of a play makes it seem the comical words are
recorded not forgotten in the present.
They grin and nod - and they certainly had fun together.
What was possible retreats and shrinks – their dreams may not have been fulfilled; the optimism of
youth fades. Maybe her thoughts of how great her brothers would turn out have soured / become
more realistic.
altar boy…practising scales…playing tennis…a baby – she differentiates between them, summing
them up concisely - they shrink.
Like a new sound flailing for a shape – a wonderful simile to evoke the idea of the youngest brother
struggling to be recognised, given some attention. There is a hint of discontent here; maybe he
struggled to find a role in the family.
I don’t have photographs – is that the effect of poverty or a sense of losing contact?
I like to repeat their names – this is a way of remembering them, thinking of them without seeing the
real people they have become. It is a way of idealising people and controlling your reactions them.
My mother chose them…her life in the words…breeding words – her relationship with her mother
seems more important to her than her relationship with her brothers. Their names are more
important than they themselves are because her mother lovingly, specially selected them.
the word that broke her heart – the name of the brother who did something mysterious: Duffy
leaves the impression of a sinister, shameful action because it is not described in any detail.
The final stanza looks at her relationship with them in the present, and how, in the future, they
might only meet at whole family events like funerals.
Much in common – they still have the family bond, a shared heritage – but,
me – not the usual expression ‘we have much in common’, so she seems to show an awkward sense of
separation even though they are still connected.
thieves…businessmen…fathers…UB40s – maybe the idea of the roles that her brothers shrink into
which is mentioned in the second stanza.
We have nothing to say of now – in the present (now) they have nothing in common which they can
talk about; all that is left is the script, the random quotes from the play of their childhood, their
family life in the past (then).
time owns us – this suggests that they have had little control over how their relationship has
developed, that their lives have been in the hands of Fate. But the word us does still show some
sense of unity.
How tall they have grown – we only notice this if we haven’t seen somebody for a long time – or is it
that they are more real in her warm memories of them as young children rather than in the stark,
cold reality of adulthood?
a box – a grim image of a coffin at a future funeral. This is a very pessimistic, bleak thought that
these might be the only times that they will meet in the future. She thinks that she will be the one
who organises and pays for the funeral – they will have the physical, different burden of shouldering
the coffin.
Dream of a Lost Friend
Duffy addresses her friend, telling them of a dream she had about them dying from HIV, which they
have already contracted. In the 1980’s, HIV seemed inevitably to lead to AIDS and death. The idea
of dreaming is reflected in the settings, the fragments of conversation in italics and the confusing
timescale [there is the past, the future in the past but still not the present, the present and the
You were dead…we met…before you had died immediately shocking information & confusing
timescale of a dream: the sufferer is not really dead yet, but they were in the dream.
Pale…white lips images of ill health & closeness to death – the living death of AIDS.
My dear, my dear, must this be… fragments of conversation – pity for the victim.
A public building a vague location typical of dreams – probably a hospital.
an AIDS poster suspense / tension the first hint that this is about AIDS comes at the end of the
first stanza.
Help me stanza ends very dramatically with this desperate plea form the victim.
We embraced obvious show of affection – but in very emotional circumstances. The victim may have
just been diagnosed with the illness.
long corridor / which harboured a pain…yet one of those weird dream locations; it will be a place
where they both will eventually experience suffering (dying /death / grief) but not at that particular
frenzied…hysterical an understandably panicky reaction to the news of being HIV+.
prayers to Chemistry desperate hope by the friend for medication to cure the virus.
It’s only a dream…only a bad dream poet trying to reassure herself that this is not really
happening…but in the future (now present) her friend will be HIV+ and will in the future-future, die.
Some of our best friends virus not confined to just one victim. Even though they are rich enough –
fashionable restaurants – and living a healthy lifestyle - crudités are raw vegetables – HIV /AIDS is
going to kill them – it dreams they dead already – but it is not yet active – idle. There will be a point
when they will look back on these good times after they or their friends are ill / dying / dead.
Backed away…waving saying farewell to her friend in the dream; a sense of guilt is shown by I
missed your funeral because her friend is not even dead yet in the present.
Thumbs up, acting / Where there’s life… the saying ends ‘there’s hope’; she is keeping up the
pretence that there is hope, but there is none.
Awake, alive…almost hopeful out of the dream and back in the present she thinks of how she felt
back in the bad dream about her friend, that there might have been hope, but now the friend is
doomed. In dreams we are helpless, just as she is helpless watching her friend dying.
Head of English
Website for extra notes:
Duffy uses a very ironic tone in this poem. It may be that Duffy is getting her revenge for her poor
treatment as a ‘visiting poet’ to a school at the hands of a very traditional Head of English. This
would have been years before she became the famous Poet Laureate of today. It is dramatic
monologue. The voice of the narrator in the poem is that of the teacher introducing the poet to the
class and then, in the final stanza, abruptly dismissing both the class and the poet. We can see how
Duffy judiciously selects the teacher’s words so that she appears with only negative characteristics:
arrogant, narrow-minded, supercilious, offensive, racist, ignorant (of modern poetry), intellectually
limited and rude. She is nothing at all like the sensitive, caring, intelligent English teacher that you
are privileged to enjoy...
It is a carefully structured poem of five stanzas with six lines in each stanza. However, like the
poetry that the Head of English despises, there is no regular rhythm or rhyme scheme. In the first
four stanzas, the Head of English is introducing the poet to the class in preparation for the poet’s
work with the children. This may be a lecture or a more informal ‘workshop’ session. This should be
friendly and welcoming – it is not!
A real live poet...published book – a sarcastic, resentful, smirking, patronising comment.
Notice the inkstained fingers – a critical, inappropriate joke, perhaps about her casual, informal
hot from the press – piling on the condescension; maybe she is bitterly envious of the poet’s success.
Who knows – one of many short, curt sentences. She is dismissive that they are going to learn
anything worthwhile.
clapping. Not too loud / sit up straight and listen…whispering’s out of bounds – an authoritarian,
traditional disciplinarian who dislikes any noise, disruption or children showing their feelings. She is
not creating a relaxed atmosphere for the poet to connect with the students.
Remember…assonance…not all poems, sadly, rhyme these days – she is prejudiced against modern
poetry; the poets to whom she refers are the traditional dead white males Keats and Kipling. She has
the arrogant attitude of a traditionalist who curtly / rudely rejects modern works in front of this
poet – Still. Never mind - without really understanding them. Duffy includes a rhyme in this stanza bounds and pounds – almost as an ironic side-swipe at the teacher.
we're paying forty pounds – a veiled insult which implies that she hopes they get their money’s
worth”; she takes every opportunity to belittle the professional poet, implying here that she is
demeaning herself by asking for a fee or cheating them out of money.
English second language – this is indirectly racist. She is segregating these immigrant students by
singling them out publically for different treatment. She is not cut out for teaching in our modern
multicultural society. This fits with her showing off about teaching Kipling, a poet associated with
the authoritarian, imperialist (when Britain had a large Empire) values of the past. This is picked up in
the phrase winds of change in the fourth stanza – a phrase used in the 1950’s, in Britain’s imperial
past, when African countries wanted independence. The phrase is being used as a pun here: she is
referring crudely to the possible flatulence of the students (‘passing wind’).
Season of mists – showing off her preference for dead white poets, a reference to Keats’ most
famous poem Ode to Autumn, but in a very superficial, perfunctory way not clever or relevant.
I’ve written…poetry myself – is this the reason for her bitter, cynical envious attitude towards the
poet, that she has not been published: there is a saying that “Those who can, do: those who can’t,
Right …Fine...Off we go – other short, sharp brisk, business-like utterances typical of teachers.
That’s enough from me – an ironic phrase; she probably does not think so…
Muse – the Greek goddess of poetry. This is another cuttingly ironic, patronising reference to the
reams…themes – Duffy using assonance / rhyme again (because she can, when she wants to!).
Convince us…something we don’t know – a sarcastic, bitchy challenge to the poet. She arrogantly
assumes that her students have already been taught the right things about poetry in her own classes.
The final stanza is the teacher summing up and thanking the poet. This should be polite and
appreciative – it is not!
Well. Really. – these are short, rude interjections, which are curtly dismissive of the poet’s message
– an outside view – which she seems to reject.
Do hang about – seems to be a polite invitation to stay for lunch but she follows this up rudely with…
I have to dash – she cannot be bothered to spend / waste any more of her valuable time with a
worthless visitor.
In Mrs Tilscher’s Class
This is a nostalgic poem which begins by describing lovely, simple experiences of her last year at
Primary School, and builds towards a rather disturbing, complex conclusion when that innocent world
of childhood is left behind at the end of the final summer term. Mrs Tilscher is a real person who
taught Duffy in her last year at primary school.
‘You could travel up the Blue Nile…Tana. Ethopia. Khartoum. Aswan’ exotic, enchanting places
which are visited, in the class’s imagination, in a Geography lesson. The use of you makes it more
informal and does not restrict the experience only to the poet herself.
‘a skittle of milk’ delightful assonance to describe the free milk at playtime.
‘chalky pyramids rubbed to dust’ the ritual of cleaning the previous lesson off the blackboard, but
also an adult ironic reflection on the crumbling ancient ruins.
The past is nostalgically invoked with the ‘long pole’ for the windows, which has long since vanished
from modern schools.
‘the laugh of a bell’ is an original, cheerful metaphor used to invoke SOUND.
‘This was better than home.’ A plain, emphatic statement which may be hard to believe for some of
you; she obviously loved school – and for many working class children in the 1960’s, it was a better
place to be.
‘Enthralling books’ she seems to have been captivated by learning.
‘glowed like a sweet shop’ a simile using the idea of something which has great appeal to children:
Duffy conveys a sense of excitement throughout.
‘Sugar paper. Coloured shapes’ beautiful images of SIGHT.
‘Brady and Hindley…’ the horrors of life outside the classroom, suggested by these notorious child
murderers, could happily be erased in school.
‘Mrs Tilscher loved you.’ Another short, emphatic statement. The teacher is contrasted to the
potential abusers outside school.
‘The scent of a pencil’ an attractive image of SMELL.
‘A xylophone’s nonsense’ another happy, appealing image SOUND. Not formal music – but fun.
‘Over the Easter term’ time moves forward quickly.
The children are growing up, reflected by the images of the frogs:
‘freed’ another charming image of fun – causes excitement.
‘Away from the lunch queue’ children not keeping to the rules; breaking free.
Sexual awakening at the end of the stanza.
‘hot’ ‘feverish July’ images of heat / sex: the child is going through puberty.
‘Mrs Tilscher smiled, then turned away’ to avoid answering awkward questions about sex. Primary
school can’t give the answers any longer; children have outgrown it.
The class is leaving primary school - when the ‘reports were handed out’ childhood has officially
The breaking ‘thunderstorm’ is an apt metaphor for adolescence - a deluge of feelings, hormones and
changed attitudes.
In Your Mind
Duffy describes a daydream of a visit to a warm foreign country on a rainy English autumn
afternoon. The other country represents freedom and pleasure, England is unattractive and
oppressive. There is also a famous poem that states: ‘The Past is another country…” and there are
references to her own past. She imagines, perhaps putting in details of pleasant memories of her
past, the simple pleasures of living and working there for many years. The structure of the poem,
four stanzas with six lines in each is controlled but informal – much like the tone of the pleasant
daydream. She finishes by returning to the scene at her desk in England. The second person pronoun
(and therefore point of view) allows a personal and also a general connection with the idea of
dreaming a better life. It is written in the present tense which makes it very immediate, as though it
is really happening.
The first stanza is concerned with leaving a pretty miserable life in England.
anticipated or half-remembered? – she is uncertain whether she is thinking of going there in the
future OR remembering details from the past. The imagination is a weird place where both could be
true at the same time.
rain falls all afternoon…autumn – uninteresting depressing images of ordinary life in England.
put aside your work – the attractive possibility of escape from everyday life.
credit card – no time to change money; an image which suggests impulsive hedonism – live now pay
warm coat…leave on the plane – an image of leaving cold weather for a pleasant, warm country; this
may be a symbol of all miserable, depressing things that are left behind in England.
past fades like newsprint in the sun – a simile which suggests how easily cares can be left behind.
There may even be a pleasurable pun on the word sun and The Sun newspaper.
The first lovely day of the visit ends with a delightfully unusual description of the (foreign) moon.
you know people there – it is not strange and daunting, but familiar and comfortable; perhaps she
has populated this land with people she really knows.
photographs…wrong side of…eyes – clear, vivid images in your imagination, inside your head.
beautiful boy…bar…harbour – makes it sound wonderfully idyllic. a life of leisure and enjoyment.
if men can possibly land on the moon – a question asked in wonder by the boy. This is a place of
simplicity and innocence; a world away from our complicated, technologically dependent, unromantic
moon like an orange drawn by a child – a simile to describe the spectacularly beautiful end to the
day – a sharp contrast with our cloudy skies. Is it a drawing she remembers from childhood?
No. / Never. – Short excited exclamations of disbelief at what is being witnessed.
peel itself into the sea – a magically metaphorical description; a fittingly strange image for this
exotic location.
In this third stanza, Duffy imagines living and working in this other country, which becomes somehow
mingled with her own past life.
Sleep – this signals the beginning of a new day. The pace is picked up by this monosyllabic summary of
the night.
rasp – onomatopoeia to evoke the simple technology of this country – No traffic or blaring music, it is
so quiet that you are woken by a carpenter at work.
painting lost for thirty years – this is one of the qualities of a dream - you can suddenly realise that
you are actually dreaming; Duffy realises that the painting on the wall in her imagination is from her
childhood thirty years ago…of course
You love this job – Even work is a pleasure; this job contrasts with the work in England which has
been put aside.
Seagulls. Bells. A flute – a list of images of beautiful sounds; life is so good.
swap a coin for a fish – makes it sound fun, like bartering or a game – not the weekly trudge around
In the final stanza, Duffy shows how temporary the daydream really is; the scene becomes confused
then reality quickly returns.
suddenly…dawdling – contradictory ideas which give this stanza its confuse tone. This repeated with
the phrase lost but not lost – typical feelings in a dream.
blue bridge…six swans vanish – beautiful serene and calm; there is more time to relax and enjoy
looking at the scenery in the other country. But the swans are disappearing as the dream is about to
certainty of place – the place seems so real as the poet’s imagination turns on the lights.
For a moment – Duffy acknowledges that the dream can only be sustained for a short time and
then a desk – and all the other images from the first stanza which show the return to mundane
reality…but what a lovely ‘holiday’ it has been for Duffy and you, the reader.
A video lecture on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdB29DxxCsw&feature=related
Like many of the other poems, the structure of the poem is controlled but informal, four stanzas
with six lines in each with no regular meter or rhyme scheme. There are also many short sentences –
some of only one word. All this makes the poem seem conversational and not artificial. The liar of the
title was either laudably (worthy of praise) creative and imaginative or frustratingly delusional,
making up all sorts of crazy / amusing stories: she was really a man; she lived in Moscow; she nearly
drowned; lightning struck her; she was taken away in an ambulance when she abducted a child; she
went to prison; the psychiatrist who assessed her was having an affair with Princess Diana.
She made things up – typically blunt and direct approach by Duffy
she was really / a man – enjambment at end of the first line creates a short pause, giving more
emphasis to the lie.
heavy herringbone (jacket?) from Oxfam – her choice of clothes shows that she is either poor or
deliberately unconventional. There is the chic fashion of vintage clothing – often amongst the welleducated.
she was him all right, in her head – Duffy could be almost admiring Susan’s power of imagination to
convince herself of the authenticity of these erroneous / false facts.
eyes in the mirror… she could stare them out – she displays many of the qualities of a
schizophrenic, knowing that she / he is Susan actually at the same time as being someone else.
Of course – the repetition of this when outlining her life makes her quite ordinary in many ways. She
lived like you do – a suggestion that we, too, live on the edge of madness, that we may be in danger
of becoming delusional, of fantasising like her. We all pursue a variety of unfulfilled dreams, shown
by the metaphor – a dozen slack rope.ends / in each dream hand. They are all unreliable frayed –
not neat and tidy. We try to cling on to the past – memory – and pull ourselves forward with dreams
of a brighter future – hope. But the pessimistic image - tugging uselessly – means that it is all a
waste of time. But the word standing out from the italics of her stories emphasises that she is
Rotten at convincing others.
Liar – seems to link and form the phrase ‘rotten liar’ as it is another word emphasised at the end of
an italicised line.
Hyperbole, falsehood, fiction, fib – a list of four alternative words for lie; the list goes on and on,
just like her lies; however, they make a dull evening interesting – shown by the metaphor pebbles
tossed into a flat pool.
bright eyes / fixed on the ripples – she seems a bit crazy…there is a disturbing intensity in her
gaze, but there is intelligence there too.
our secret films are private affairs– Duffy uses cinematic images to describe the thoughts inside
all human minds which are difficult for anybody to communicate perfectly.
She spoke in subtitles. Not on. - Whatever was going on in Susan’s head was unintelligible; the
ideas did not come out in the right language – she just seemed insane.
From bad to worse – the final stanza might show how her delusions became ever more melodramatic.
Because of the line You know the rest I think that this may have actually happened and been
reported in the paper or on the news. She may have really abducted the stolen child, was taken away
in an ambulance, tried by the judge in the long white wig. Being sadly confused, she was obviously
unfit to plead guilty or not guilty, so she is assessed by a top psychiatrist in gaol. The last line of
the poem, however, is unbelievably weird, which makes it quite comical (that may just be Sammy,
again); what the psychiatrist does every night to the Princess of Wales is left deliberately unclear
and seems quite sinister. This is the type of sexual story that a delusional paranoid schizophrenic
would make up…or is it really true?
Mrs Lazarus
A video lecture on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iJqFAlR2do
Duffy presents a feminist perspective of a famous incident – Jesus raising Lazarus from the
dead. This is a dramatic monologue, in which the narrator is supposed to be a character from
an event recorded in The Bible who is not even mentioned in the story; Duffy gives us the view
of a woman whose voice has never been heard. The title Mrs Lazarus is one of the many
anachronisms in the poem and shows that we have a modern take on the ancient tale. Lazarus
was dead for four days before Jesus resurrected him; Mrs Lazarus is shocked at the reality
of her husband’s revival as she has since taken up with, perhaps even married, someone else.
Duffy uses poetic licence to increase the length of time between his death and revivification
in order to make his wife's remarriage more credible.
In the first stanza, she tells of how, a long time ago, she observed a decent period of mourning
and followed all the protocols associated with widowhood.
howled, shrieked, clawed…bled, retched – very powerful, dehumanised, animalistic emotive
verbs in the past tense to convey her grief, but the period of mourning was definitely in the
past and is now over.
dead, dead – the repetition makes his death very certain; she could never expect his
The second stanza emphasises her being a widow, then, and having to clear out her dead
husband’s possessions, which are, anachronistically, very modern suits and ties put into black
bin bags.
Gutted the place…suits into black bags – short, sharp, brisk sentences to show her getting on
with the horrible but necessary task and completing it quickly.
shuffled…dead man’s shoes…– reluctant to throw these reminders of him away; still feeling
noosed…tie round my bare neck – same as above, but possible thoughts of suicide with
single cot / widow, one empty glove (formerly a pair)…half – all images of her accepting the
reality of his death.
The third stanza is full of ironic religious references, ironic because Jesus’s miracle is going
to resurrect Lazarus. It covers the long period after his death when her memory of him
gradually begins to fade a little.
gaunt nun – made thin by grief and no longer having sex (yet!).
Stations of Bereavement – a metaphor drawing on the idea of The Stations of the Cross, the
scenes painted / sculpted of Christ’s journey to his crucifixion; but it is her progress away
from her grief.
icon of my face in each bleak frame – icons are religious paintings; it was still a miserable
journey for her.
going away…dwindling…going – Lazarus is becoming only a memory; she is ready to move on with
The fourth verse has Lazarus vanishing even further from her immediate thoughts.
going – added to the last word of the previous stanza, we expect the auctioneer’s ‘going,
going gone’.
last hair…His scent went – the last tiny fragments of her dead husband are disappearing.
The will was read – Lazarus legally does not exist. Even if comes back all of his property will
have gone.
See – there is a plea for understanding and empathy with her position in this situation.
vanishing / to the small zero…ring – the only thing that remains of their marriage is her
wedding ring, but the word zero implies that it does not really signify anything any longer.
In verse five, Lazarus has completely disappeared and it is time for his wife to rebuild her
life. She begins a relationship with another man, but it is all very respectable and not at all
Then he was gone – a collocation, the culmination of the going, going…of stanzas three and
four. Lazarus is very definitely dead and never to be a part of her life any more.
legend, language – there is no person there any more, just his name.
arm on the arm– physical image to contrast with the disappeared Lazarus.
schoolteacher – someone respectable, not a scandal for the gossip mongers… until Lazarus
shock / of a man’s strength – she never expected to have a physical relationship ever again .
faithful / for as long as it took – more emphasis on how much time has passed; she is doing
the right thing, not jumping into bed with the first man who comes along.
The sixth stanza shows Mrs Lazarus as completely recovered from her grief and able to begin
appreciating life again in the world. The end of the stanza, however, contains tension –
something very dramatic has occurred that will affect her.
could stand…in the field / in a shawl of fine air, healed – all lovely images of being able to
appreciate the beauty of the world again. The metaphor of the shawl conveys warmth and
comfort, the internal rhyme of healed and field suggests peace and recovery of her sanity.
the edge of the moon occur to the sky – romantic and beautiful.
a hare thump from a hedge – the onomatopoeia shows how much notice she is taking of life
after a period of despair.
running towards me, shouting – A very dramatic end to the stanza, building tension. H er
attention is needed for some important event or emergency. Of course, we know the story of
Lazarus, and are tense, wondering how she will react when she knows what has happened
In the seventh stanza, she still does not know that Lazarus is resurrected from the dead, but
she can see the odd expressions on people’s faces. We see her in an impossible predicament.
The villagers seem to take delight in her situation as they simply see the event as sensational .
sly light /on the blacksmith's face …shrill eyes of the barmaid - emphasises the idea of
melodrama sly and shrill are transferred epithets (adjectives that cannot literally describe
the nouns to which they are applied) which convey the sense that something weird has
happened and these two people who deal with a lot of the public in a small community cannot
wait to spread the gossip in a shrill voice and in a sly way.
The final stanza reverses all of the usual ideas about Christ’s miracle. In The Bible, everyone
was delighted that Lazarus had risen from the dead; Duffy describes his resurrection with
horrifying diction and absolutely no mention of Jesus.
He lived – a brief, direct, blunt, shocking summary of what had happened.
horror on his face – Lazarus’s reaction either to the experience of being dead or to his
wife’s new life.
mother’s crazy song – not a glorious, triumphant celebration; she seems to go mad with the
stench…rotting – repulsive diction; emphasis on the long time he has been dead.
the grave’s slack chew – a disgusting, repulsive metaphor. This is perhaps a grimly ironic
reference to the idea of the jaws of death. Lazarus is definitely not looking at his best.
croaking his cuckold name – onomatopoeia to reflect his difficulty in talking after so long, a
horrible sound echoed in the harsh consonance of the hard ‘k’ repeated four times. A cuckold
is a man whose wife has been unfaithful to him…but she has been asking us to understand her
situation, and we probably do!
disinherited, out of his time – he has lost everything…house, wife, money, possessions...Jesus
has not done him - or anybody else - any favours; he does not belong to this time, he has
become an anachronism. He was better off dead.
A video lecture on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgjKhJfbkI4&feature=related
This poem is written in free verse, but that does not mean that it is not carefully crafted. Nostalgia
is a sad longing for the past, the good old days. In Greek it literally means ‘a painful return home’ –
homesickness. Duffy creates a legend, an enigmatically timeless, universal tale, in which the term
nostalgia was first created. (I suspect that it’s based on Duffy’s experience of her family leaving for
England). An unknown narrator tells a doctor how people left home for a better standard of living in
a foreign land as economic migrants. They began to feel that their environment was wrong for them,
and they felt alienated. They created a word to describe their feelings, though this word is never
mentioned after the poem’s title. In the final stanza, the narrator tells how one of them returned
home to find everything the same yet, paradoxically, completely different: ironically, his
homesickness ended with ‘a painful return home’, the literal meaning of nostalgia. One interpretation
of this poem is that it is a metaphor for ageing: growing up and looking back on your past, yearning
for the glory days of your youth which can never be repeated. This inevitably leads to a sense of loss,
and a sense of your own mortality…
The first stanza describes the people leaving home in search of money; their lives feel wrong and
they begin to suffer.
mercenaries – usually a term for soldiers who fight for any country that will pay them enough. It has
become derogatory term for people whose only concern is making money.
mountains...high fine air…/ down, down – moving from high to low, images of degradation,
demeaning themselves.
money, dull crude coins – words with negative connotations; just gaining the money wasn’t worth
what they gave up. The coins are clenched in their teeth implying that they had to bite them to test
their authenticity – they could not trust their foreign employers.
strange…wrong (5 times for each of the five senses) – a long list encompassing everything about
their new lives that was foreign, not familiar and ultimately not healthy.
ache here, Doctor – a doctor is being told about the creation of this sickness; an emotional state is
being given medical credibility. We can easily visualise the narrator placing their hand on their chest,
over their heart.
ill – of the first line – becomes killing them by the end of the stanza. This appears to be
melodramatic hyperbole, but it is fairly common for people to die of emotional stress.
The second stanza describes those who have not experienced it, understanding the power of
nostalgia by hearing many examples of what it feels like and what brings it on.
given a name – when humans name a concept, it is defined and it becomes easier to recognise.
Humans think in words, even if those thoughts are about emotions.
Hearing of it / those who stayed put, fearful – these are the people who never leave home
because they get to hear nostalgia can be a very painful emotion.
sweet pain in the heart – a perfect description of nostalgia; it is lovely to remember home, when you
are in a strange land for a long period, even though you suffer for it emotionally.
hurt, / in that heavier air – the pain is bad down in the lowlands, a reference to the mercenaries
leaving the mountains.
music of home – the sad pipes – bagpipes? Remember Duffy’s parents emigrated from Ireland to
Scotland where she was born before they moved to England. It may be Scots leaving the mountains
for the flat English plains – music can be very evocative of another time, another place.
where…you met a girl – a charming romantic memory from their youth.
search for a yellow ball…mother called you in – an even earlier memory from childhood. The
émigrés are remembering only the lovely times, not the poverty, the reason why they left.
the word was out – now that it has been given a name it is more easily recognised, word begins to
some would never / fall in love had they not heard of love. – this refers to the theory that ideas
require words attached to them or they cannot be thought about by the human brain.
priest…schoolteacher – even these respectable, well educated professionals (a male and a female)
who are expected to act responsibly, are terribly afflicted by this powerful emotion. Nostalgia
affects both sexes and is not felt only by the stereotypically more emotionally self-indulgent
‘Jeremy Kyle Show’ participants or actors on Oscar night.
the colour of leaves – this image evokes the idea of autumn, a melancholic time when we are made
aware of time passing as the summer gives way to shorter, cooler days.
It was spring – a time for new beginnings, fresh life and hope. Ironically, the returner does not find
any of this in his old home.
life / in a sack on his back – a rather derogatory effect of a harsh internal rhyme. He hasn’t
achieved much or profited by his exile if his possessions can all be contained, his life summed up, in a
bag which can be carried.
same – repeated three times to emphasise the idea that the village has not changed.
everything changed – an surprising conclusion after the previous idea that nothing had changed. He
is the one who has changed, perhaps, because of his travels, his contact with the bigger wider world.
He sees his home from a different perspective.
Not the easiest poem to understand on first reading: the whole poem, like its last line, is a challenge
to the reader / listener - You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you? It is a dramatic
monologue in which Duffy creates a rather strange, disturbing character. A persistent, unrepentant,
possibly psychotic thief speaks about the most unusual thing they (no gender is given) have ever
stolen – a snowman. They mention other activities and items which they have stolen, before returning
to the snowman, an action which they found ultimately disappointing. They seem to be alienated,
antisocial and bitter with a sadistic streak. However, despite their unnerving psychopathology, they
do not seem to be a physical threat to anybody. Some even see them as comical. The title, Stealing
has other connotations– it also means moving quietly and stealthily so nobody notices you creeping
The first stanza suggests an interview of some kind with the thief describing the theft of the
The most unusual thing I ever stole? - Duffy challenges the reader by having the character start
with what sounds like the repetition of a question asked by a listener – perhaps a psychiatrist, a
social worker or a police officer.
A snowman – a very unexpected answer, which may cause an amused reaction; this person is seems
very odd already!
Midnight – sums up the scene in a single word: the witching hour; an image of darkness– a suitable
time for evil deeds.
a…mute – a silent, odd choice for a mate. No interaction with it except on physical level - suggests
narrator's social difficulties.
mate – friend / sexual partner / soulmate - narrator strangely able to identify with the inanimate
snowman. The simile shows both their minds as ice - cold minded, indifferent, uncaring of people's
reactions to their actions - an archetypal psychopath.
I started with the head – this disturbing decapitation, even of an inanimate object, sounds brutally
The second stanza develops their antisocial, cruel characteristics with them wanting to cause
distress to innocent children.
Better off dead than giving in / not taking what you want – a powerful expression of their twisted
moral perspective; taking what you want is totally acceptable, the best way of living - seeking thrills,
to feel alive…otherwise you might as well be dead.
He weighed a ton - Huge effort to steal something that has no monetary worth. The snowman's only
value lies within the feelings that it invokes in both the thief and the victims.
fierce chill - character gains some sort of perverted emotional reaction unattainable in normal
Part of the thrill…children would cry - the narrator steals with the aim that their cruel, selfish
actions will distress children.
Life's tough – short brutal dismissive phrase; an excuse for their actions, doing them a favour teaching about the ‘real world’. This suggests that their lives are miserable and unfulfilled – they
might feel ignored and overlooked.
The narrator describes other minor crimes in the third stanza. They may not seem physically
harmful, but they are the sort of things which do cause inconvenience and often distress.
things I don’t need – a possible implication that they did need the snowman in some way, which is
joy-ride… break into houses just to have a look - no lasting harm is caused by these actions, but it
is a creepy idea to think of this disturbed person stealing (creeping unnoticed, quietly and stealthily)
around your home.
mucky ghost - a malevolent image, not a normal human being; the ghost is never seen, only its actions.
leave a mess - narrator deliberately defiles people's homes - part of cruelty and thrill derived from
other's misery and suffering.
gloved hand - intelligent, leaving no fingerprints but also a barrier, no direct physical contact
between them and society.
Mirrors - image of insubstantiality - reflections formed by mirrors, links to ghost and snowman.
I sigh like this - Aah – soft onomatopoeic sounds; narrator gains joy / relief. Some critics find
this weirdly sexual.
The fourth stanza returns to the theft of the snowman, bringing it home, reassembling it and
destroying it. The narrator appears to take out all their frustrations with the world and their life.
This suggests another attempt to find emotional release, this time in particularly violent action,
which does not actually harm anybody, but the potential danger is there.
he didn’t look the same – the act of stealing and reassembling ruins the snowman; it was pointless.
booted him. Again. Again. – short repeated words; this sounds an incredibly violent act of
destruction; full of uncontrolled rage. This could have been done at the original site, with more
effect on the children who built it, so why move it at all? It suggests that the original intention was
not to destroy the snowman.
It seems daft now - realises futility but makes no apology for actions lack of remorse is a
psychopathic trait.
Alone - key word, no place in society, like the ghost they compare themselves to, insubstantial within
Sick of the world - no place within the world and no reasons to stick to its rules.
The final stanza has the narrator explain that they are bored by life and go on to list two other
things they have stolen. They end by accusing the listener of not understanding them, but I reckon
we’ve got their number, don’t you? The narrator's life seems to consist of boredom, punctuated only
by random acts of vandalism, theft and cruelty. There is no meaning to their actions other than to
satisfy their needs at other's expense.
Boredom. – the stereotypical excuse many teenage delinquents use for acts of vandalism.
eat myself – intense, comical image of boredom, or more seriously the self-harm of a person with
psychological problems.
guitar…Shakespeare – images of music and literature, society’s culture which is not on offer to them;
a suggestion they have to forcibly take the education denied to them.
nicked…flogged – the colloquial language of the uneducated.
You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you? - An overt challenge to the reader. This shows
that the narrator considers themselves to be misunderstood and alone, that their experience is
something outside of normal understanding and comprehension. Possibly this is some sort of way of
excusing themselves for their actions.
The Good Teachers
This is apparently another autobiographical poem, with Duffy reflecting on an old secondary school
photograph. It was one of those taken on a motorised camera which slowly panned across the group
of pupils; she ran around the back and was photographed on both ends - what a rebel! She has mixed
feelings about her teachers: one was good, the others thought they were a different sort of good morally correct role models.
‘You’ not ‘I’ – the pronoun distances her -she is looking at her former self.
to be in it again’ a reference to the photograph which is explained above.
‘No bigger than your thumbs’ teachers reduced in size in the photo – and importance in her life?
‘virtuous women size you up’ sarcastic tone to the judgemental, critical teachers – they still seem
to be doing it from the photograph.
‘Miss Ross...making a ghost of her say’ she has power (of life and death) over her now,
sarcastically mimicking and mocking her.
‘South Sea Bubble Defenestration of Prague’ two events from history, reduced to phrases which
now sound comically meaningless...but despite the parody of the teacher, they have stuck in her
‘You love Miss Pirie. So much...so much’ possibly a teenage crush, but her of love the subject
(English, obviously) implies that she was an inspirational teacher, but could still be strict, hinted at by
her different coloured eyes ‘Her kind intelligent green eye. Her cruel blue one’
‘serious, passionate’ strong adjectives show how she was an intense student.
She learns a collection of poems by Kipling ‘by heart’ to impress her, as well as creating an original
one for her ‘in your head’, she remembers as she looks at herself in the photograph.
‘But not...But not...Never...’ Stanza 3, in contrast, has three strong negative references to
teachers – mocked by their own words like Miss Ross and curtly dismissed.
‘Look’ we are reminded that it is a photograph.
The use of repetition of ‘and’ in the final line emphasises each of the critical adjectives which sum up
her attitude to these conservatively dressed women who are so arrogant and aloof: ‘snobbish and
proud and clean and qualified’ those hard alliterative ‘k’ sounds of the last adjectives are bitterly
Final stanza employs lots of clichés used by teachers ‘got your number’, ‘you won’t pass’, ‘could do
better’, ‘you’ll be sorry one day’. Again, Duffy is using their words as sarcastic mockery.
‘roll the waistband of your skirt’ rebelliously making a long skirt (see previous stanza) shorter.
‘smoke rings’ typical teenage rule breakers showing off whilst smoking.
‘But there’s the wall you climb’ perhaps she spots the actual wall in the photograph – a literal and
yet powerfully metaphorical image of containment / imprisonment / restriction. ‘But’ shows that
there is an end to oppression by the teachers; graduation is an escape.
‘dancing, lovebites, marriage, the Cheltenham and Gloucester’ a list which shows experiences as
you grow up / older: meeting a boy and raise a family
‘today. The day you’ll be sorry one day.’ She realises she is now back in the present. Ambivalent
ending...were the teachers right or wrong? She did escape, but does she have possibly have regrets?
War Photographer
A video lecture on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNDSJBLZ5sA&feature=related
A war photographer, having returned to his country home in England, is described developing his
horrific pictures of conflict. Duffy’s language contrasts the shocking details of life in a war zone
with ordinary life in England. The poem tells how a few of these photos will be chosen for a Sunday
newspaper and become part of the reader’s ordinary Sunday life. The end of the poem sees him
flying over a war-torn country, seemingly indifferent to and detached from the horrors of his chosen
profession. Duffy wrote of the photographer’s ‘dilemma’. Her poem is ambivalent: is he simply a
mercenary, making money from misery; is he having to remain detached in order to preserve his
sanity; does he help the victims by publicising what happens to them? The form of the poem, four
sestets with a regular rhyme scheme, seems to impose some order, making sense out of the chaos of
Stanza one describes the old way of developing photographs before digital cameras. The
description of the process is orderly, methodical and precise – so different to the violence which the
pictures capture. Duffy also uses religious imagery showing the process like a priest leading a church
darkroom…spools…red light – diction all connected with film processing.
spools of suffering…ordered rows – the sibilance and alliteration links the film with the horror it
captured, now being sorted and controlled.
rows…softly glows – this soft sounding rhyme also gives a feeling of peace, tranquillity and order
after the chaos & violence.
church…priest…Mass – a simile which evokes the idea of a ritual (a habitual, repeated action) and
Christ’s suffering. The WP is in control of this process as the priest, leading the prayers for victims.
Is he compassionate or just doing his job like a priest?
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. – these were cities in turmoil at the time the poem was written;
chanted like a litany, a prayer.
All flesh is grass – emphasised by the caesura before it; fatalistic phrase from The Bible about
mortality, not to put too much value on life. This does not seem particularly compassionate, sensitive
reaction to death in war.
The second stanza focuses on him remembering the horrors he has experienced while he does his job
here / did his job there.
He has a job to do – sounds very matter of fact and dispassionate; he daren’t think, just get on with
the job.
Solutions slop – possible pun on chemicals to develop the film and sorting out conflict – but slop
shows it is messy
hands…not tremble then / …do now – he seems more affected now than he was when he steadily and
professionally took the photographs.
Rural England. Home again fields which don’t explode…running children – contrast of violent experience abroad and peace in
England; innocent children running into minefields is a particularly horrific image. (Famous photo of
Vietnam with children running burned by napalm).
nightmare heat – phrase evokes hot weather and explosions.
The third stanza focuses on one photograph and he remembers photographing a man who is wounded,
probably dying, and seeking approval from his lamenting wife.
Something is happening. – this opening to the stanza creates a tense atmosphere; we expect to see
something dramatic.
stranger’s features – he never makes personal or emotional contact with the subjects of his
twists before his eyes – evokes the agonised movements of the victim and the flexing of the
photographic paper in the solution.
half-formed ghost – cleverly ambiguous: this metaphor perfectly describes picture gradually
emerging on the paper and a dead man coming back from the past.
cries of this man’s wife – personal grief coming into focus
sought approval / without words – we can imagine him feeling pity for the man, not a typical
heartless paparazzi barging in.
to do what someone must – he does not seem to want to take the photograph, but someone must
bear witness to the outside world to publicise this horror.
blood stained…foreign dust – horrifying detail which brings the scene very clearly into focus.
The final stanza widens our view to incorporate the hundreds of photographs from which only a few
will be selected for viewing by the general public in their Sunday newspapers.
A hundred agonies – not just the one death outlined in the previous stanza.
in black and white – pre-colour photos in newspapers.
five or six – trivialises the agonies of the victims of war; these cannot possibly convey a true
‘picture’ of war.
eyeball’s prick with tears – the public seem to be genuinely affected at first but this is changed by
placing them in context.
prick with tears…pre-lunch beers – the jingling rhyme trivialises the English newspaper reader’s
sadness as a momentary, passing emotion. It may be that the war photographer’s work, therefore, is
not really worth doing.
from the aeroplane…stares impassively – the WP appears to be returning to a war zone; he is
literally above the land and emotionally distanced
where / he earns his living– the emphasis is on his mercenary motives;
and they do not care – this ending has been much debated: who are they? They could be the people
of the country who do not mind his presence and his profession, exploiting their pain; they might not
care about his possible suffering if, indeed he becomes at all compassionate; they could be the
British public who do not care very much about wars in foreign parts. They might even have become
inured to war and feel that all flesh is grass – rising above personal suffering and viewing life
Who Loves You
This is another of Duffy’s poems which examines the theme of love. The personal pronouns (I, me /
you, your) focus our attention on the idea of the narrator directly addressing their partner who is
travelling alone. The title does not have the expected question mark, so it implies that it is a poem
about the narrator, the person Who Loves You. Each stanza ends in the same way: a brief refrain,
like the chorus to a song, or a chanted prayer for their safe return home. It may simply be about the
intensity of love. It is true that when we are parted from anyone whom we love deeply, we can
imagine them in unrealistic danger. However, with all the focus on dangers, the tone seems a little
odd for a love poem, again rather too centred on the anxious, possibly neurotic, overly possessive,
personality of the narrator. There is a feeling that the narrator fears something more than simply
the physical dangers that their lover might encounter.
I worry – Notably, the first word draws attention to the narrator, not their lover. It is their anxiety
which is in focus.
mystical machines – a strange description of aeroplanes; we question the narrator’s normality and
Every day people fall from clouds – again very strange choice of diction, certainly an exaggeration
of the dangers of flying. This connotes fallen angels, people who stray off the straight and narrow
path, so perhaps they fear their lover being unfaithful.
dead – emphasises their exaggerated fear by coming at the end of the line.
Breathe in and out and in and out easy – surprising words, as though they are trying to calm
themselves down; or a plea for the lover to keep on living.
Safety, safely, safe home. – the repeated refrain - a song’s chorus, a chanted prayer; seems a
little too needy for them to be back.
photograph…in the fridge – a very strange place to keep it. We are faced with all sorts of possible
interpretations: they not want to grieve by being reminded of their face; they want to be surprised
at seeing their face in unusual places; they are keeping their love fresh in some way – or on ice, on
All the time / Every day / Too many people / Nightly people – Duffy begins the second line in
each stanza with the paranoid fear that death is all around. This sounds like an obsession – they are
not mentally balanced.
burned in the public places – it could simply be a reference to sunburn. There is the odd use of the,
as though the only place to be safe from people is at home, in private, back in the arms / under the
protection of their lover. It may be a very violent, vicious image of horrific public executions,
obviously a paranoid exaggeration, again.
cool trees…shade – continues the idea of sunburn by telling them to keep in the shade. It is a
possible ironic reference to a peaceful, beautiful traditional love song, ‘Where'er you walk cool gales
shall fan the glade / Trees where you sit shall crowd into a shade’. There are not the same peaceful
images evoked in this poem.
where the hole in the sky is – an odd, non-scientific reference (like mystical machines) to the hole
in the ozone layer and the dangers of sunbathing; again it is unrealistic as the hole is over the North
Too many people being gnawed to shreds– but the gruesome, paranoiac fear of deadly dangers is
evoked again – melanoma, eaten by cancer.
Send me your voice – an odd, non-scientific reference (like mystical machines / hole in the sky) to
telephones. They are desperate for contact in any way possible.
loveless men…homeless boys…angry –diction conjures danger and threat; may be physical or they may
represent the idea of sexual seduction, tempting the lover into infidelity.
Nightly …end lives…shortcut – frightening image of people get killed when they stray off the main
road in alleyways / parks every single night. Perhaps shortcut may also be the idea of straying off
the straight and narrow path of fidelity.
Walk in the light – Christian metaphor for keeping to the path of goodness; also, obviously, keeping
out of dark dangerous places.
steadily hurry towards me – oxymoron which shows their anxiety: they want their lover to keep safe
but are desperate for them to return as quickly as possible. The last word before the refrain
focuses on the narrator, as did the first word in the poem. There is something self-centred and
selfish about their concern for their lover.
(Who loves you?) - Finally, the title reappears in brackets. This may be more than a reference to
themselves, the person they are constantly reminding their partner loves them; it may be that it is a
genuine question, a paranoid fear of an unidentified stranger who is loving them whist they are away.
A video lecture on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQl6LktBtvg&feature=related
This is another of Duffy’s poems which examines the theme of love. The form of the poem shows
tight organisation, a close, methodical analysis of a romantic relationship. The title is a gerund whose
image suggests that this relationship is continuing through a cold, dead period; however,
revitalisation in spring seems possible at the end. The personal pronouns (I we you ) focus our
attention on the idea of the narrator directly addressing their partner. Pathetic fallacy is used
throughout to reflect the narrator’s feelings.
In the first section, day has turned to night and an abandoned lover lies awake awaiting a phone call
from their partner.
All day, slow funerals…rain – slow, plodding rhythm to echo a funeral procession; they are all
negative, miserable images.
again / …trick of turning love to pain –implies the ease with which they keep on making themselves
Grey…black – nightfall after a miserable rainy day; all negative feelings. Black connotes mourning and
stars…lies – starlight is usually associated with romance, but it is ominously personified as deceitful.
shroud of cold – image of death and also lack of love / passion.
Night clenches in its fist – aggressive personification of how brutally she feels the night is treating
moon, a stone – romantic image becomes changed into what it literally is – dead lifeless (links with
shroud, funeral, black).
wish it thrown – romance thrown away or a stone thrown at their partner or simply that night is over.
clutch…stiff body of my phone – imagery implies no longer a means of communication but
desperately wants it to be.
Dawn mocks…gibberish of birds – feeling stupid for staying up all night waiting for call.
your words / …broken chords – implies possible hurtful words she keeps recalling; relationship no
longer in harmony.
In the second section, the narrator’s emotional suffering throughout the next winter’s day is
garden tenses…bereaved…wept – personification for images of her own grief projected onto what
she sees.
blur like belief – simile used to show lack of trust in partner’s love.
walk on ice / it breaks – a metaphor of her nervous, fragile emotional state; she breaks down.
All my mistakes – she blames herself for the situation, as people tend to do.
trees…arms, beseech, entreat / cannot forget – another projection of emotions onto inanimate
trees; she is desperate.
clouds sag – full of rain; she is also collapsing emotionally.
wind screams…bitter, betrayed – projected feelings - imagery reflecting extreme emotions of an
angry argument.
sky flayed – grotesque imagery – the sky has been skinned by the wind – they feel tortured,
moon a fingernail, bitten and frayed – crescent moon becomes an image linked to her own anxiety.
The third and final section, snow falls on a second night and the lover comes and goes, but the
morning brings a change in mood – the certainty that love will flourish again, that wintering will soon
be over.
smuggling in - something being secretly brought in; signifies a possible change coming.
You come and go / your footprints like a love letter - there are sure signs that the lover wants
something shifts…out of sight – continuing the impression that a change is on the way, but not
obvious, yet.
a tide of light – a bright, clear, promising, morning; a metaphor for a fresh start, full of hope.
soil grows hesitant – another image of new life and therefore hope for the relationship…but only
gradually happening.
blurts in green – image of speaking out after the silence of the previous stanzas.
has been / …will be, certain, unseen – more suggestions that the situation is changing slowly but
pain turns back again to love – the culmination of the whole movement of the poem, from despair to
flower kiss – idea of spring with its new life and hope is linked to a physical reconnection between
the lovers. First attractive image in the poem.
winter thaws…melts, cannot resist – the metaphor of love conquering everything; warmth returns to
their lives.
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