Literature Poetry: Duffy


  • Havisham
  • Salome
  • Stealing
  • Elvis's Twin Sister
  • Created by: ana457
  • Created on: 24-05-11 15:12

''Havisham'' by Carol Ann Duffy.

This poem is a monologue spoken by Miss Havisham, a character in |CHarles Dickens' novel ''Great expectations''. Jilted by her fiance, she continues to wear wedding dress while she plots her revange. She hates her spinster state. (which she draws the reader's attention to as it s a one-word sentence)

She begins by telling the reader the cause of her troubles- her phrase ''beloved sweetheart *******'' uses opposites. This use of her language reveals her confused emotions: there is a contrast between words to do with love and romance (''beloved'', ''white weil'' and ''honeymoon'') and words to do with hate and violence (''dead'', ''strangle'', ''stabbed'').

She also uses metaphore to describe her murderous thoughts: ''dark green pebbles for eyes'' couls show that her eyes are hard and cold (as a result of her hate) or that she is jealous maybe because her lover left her for someone else (green is the colour of jealousy). Also,  ''ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with'' remind the reader that she is old (the  ''ropes'' are her raised veins) and of what she would like to do to her ex.

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Her dress is ''yellowing'' because it is old and she is ''trembling'' when he looks in the mirror. Is she ''trembling'' because she is old and shaky, or because she is still furious with the man who destroyed her life or because when she sees her reflection she remembers that she is no longer the beautiful bride-to-be, but a resentful old woman who has wasted her life?

 Language is used to describe the sounds she makes (al well as what she looks like). She doesn't just shout but is ''cawing'' which makes her voice sound like a screeching animal or bird; in other words, her anger makes her wild and out of control. She is deeply unhappy and we know this because the word ''b-b-b-breaks'' suggests that she is crying.

She sometimes dreams erotically of her lost lover (and mentions body parts to do with sex: ''body'', ''tounge'', ''mouth'') but when she wakes the hatred and anger return. She thinks about the weeding day that never actually happened and wants to destroy all the things that make her remember that day: ''red ballon bursting'' (this could also be a metaphore for her breaking heart) and ''stabbed at the weeding cake''.

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The poem is written in four stanza. Enjambment is used (many of the lines run on) and this gives the effect of everyday speech.

The poem uses many adjectives of colours- ''green'', ''puce'', ''white'' and ''red'' which add to the description and help the reader understand Havisham and her situation.

Sometimes the meaning is clear, but other lines are more open- and there are hints of violence in ''strangle'', ''bite'', ''bang'' and ''stabbed''.

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''Salome'' by Carol Ann Duffy.

The real story behind this poem is found in the Bible and took place about AD 30. The historical Salome danced before the ruler, Herood Antipas, who promised to grant any request she might make. Prompted by her mother, Salome asked for the head of John and at once he was executed. Although this Salome was innocent and naive, the name Salome has become linked with a woman who is promiscuous and who has loose morals.

In the poem it appears the Salome has become a serial killer and she is very laind-back and matter-of-face about it. She yells us that she'd ''done it before'' and that she would '' it again''. Having woken up with a severed head on the pillow, she cannot even remember the owner's name. So she calls for the mind, has breakfast and decides to ''clean up'' her life. As part of this regime, she decides to get rid of her lover- and the poem ends as she pulls back the sheets ''sticky'' with blood, to find ''his head on a platter''.

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Duffy introduces all sorts of modern details into the poem, such as toast and butter and cigarettes, as well as modern attitudes, like a decision to get fit and ''turf out'' a lover. We also find very contemporary slang- like ''booze'', ''frogs'' and ''ain't life a *****'' and this adds to the humour of the poem because it doesn't match the language one would expect from a Biblical character.

The humour of the poem is developed by the rhymes: ''lighter,laughter,flatter,pewter, Peter'' and so on and this builds up as the poem progresses.

The reader thinks that Samole is talking about having a one-night stand but it becomes clear, at the end of the poem, that she is actually talking about murder. when you look back, there are clues that suggest thing e.g. ''crimson mouth'' and ''reddish beard''.

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''Stealing'' by Carol Ann Duffy.

This poem is written in the first person. The speaker in it is very obviously not the poet. Carol Ann Duffy writes sympathetically in that she tries to understand this anti+social characters, but he is not all likeable. What she shows is not so much on intelligent criminal but someone for whom theft is just a response to boredom. The thief steals and destroyes things because he wants something to do.

The speaker seems to be confessing to various thefts, perhaps to a police officer, perhaps to a social worker or problem officer  (the poem starts with him repeating the question that someone has asked him).He realized at the end of the poem that the person he is speaking to (like the poet and the reader of the poem, perhaps) cannot understand his outlook: ''You don't undersatnd a word I'm saying''.

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The poet's admiration of the snowman is the closest he comes to affection, but he comes to affection, but he cares more for this object than the living human childern who have made it. And he wants what has already been made- he cannot see for himself how to make his own snowman. He showns his immorality as he enjoyed taking the snowman because he knew that the theft would upset the children. ''Life's though'' is said as if to justify this. The sequel comes when the thief tries to reassemble the snowman. Not surprisingly (snow is not a permanent material) ''he didn't look the same'', so the thief attacks him. All he is left with is ''lumps of snow''.

The thief tells us boastfully he ''sometimes'' steals things he doesn't need. He breaks in out of curiosity, ''to have a look'' but does not understand what he sees. He is pathetic, as he seems anxious to make a mark of same kind, whether leaving ''a mess'' or steaming up mirrors with his breath. He casually mentions how he might ''pinch'' a camera - it worth little to him, but much to those whose memories it has recorded. He is a thoughtless, pointless vantal.

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This poem uses slang language (''He weighed a ton''). Single words are written as sentences (''Mirrors...Again...Boredom'') which show us that the speaker is distrubed and confused. Enjambment is used and the breaks for punctuation are in the middles of lines which create the effect of natural speech. 

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''Elivs's twin Sister'' by Carol Ann Duffy

The poem has two subtitles. the first is a line from Elvis Presley's 1961 hit songs ''Are You Lonesome Tonight?'' the sencend is a statement by the female singer Madonna. 

Elvis Presley did not have a twin sister i reality but the sister whom Carol Ann Duffy images from him is very different from madonna. Insead she is modest and simple, livinf as a nun.

The poem plays on the humours contrast between the simple life, manners and dress of the nun, and the exciting lifestyle a of rock and roll star. For example, despite her nun's vow, Sister Presley swings her hips in the same was as Elvis. She wears a habit and carries a rosary, but she also wears brigth blue shoes (Blue Suede Shoes is the name of another of Elvis's song from 1956). In contrast, to these rock 'n' roll songs, Elvis's Sister sings a The Gregorian chant which is a calm and gentle song with Christian lyrics. Similarly, ''Pascha nostrum immolatus ast'' is the name of a Latin fymn.

The sister identifies the convent with Elvis's home, Graceland and presumable, a convent would be full of grace and kindness.

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Duffy uses expressions wihich Elvis would have used in his American dialect - e.g. ''y'all'' and ''Lawdy'' (which is shortened version of ''Praise the Lord'', perhaps a strange thing for a nun to say!)

Perhaps the biggest difference bewteen sister and brother, though, is that, among the sisters of the convent, no one is ever ''lonesome'' - and it is a long time since she ''walked/down lonley, Street/towards heartbreak Hotel'' (another reference to Elvis's music - he recorded Heartbreak Hotel in 1956). A nun would have no experience of heartbreak as they decided their lives to God and would not have sexual or romantic relationships with men. 

The form of the poem is quite regular - five line stanzas with occasional rhyms. Sometimes these are quite amusing as whrn Duffy uses the Southern sound of ''y'all'' to rhyme with ''soul'' and ''rock and roll''.

The poem is a light-hearted exploration of ideas of fame,friendship and family. It begs the question whether it is better to have Elivs (or even madonna) or his sister - is fame better than modest contenment or great wealth better than friends?

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Paul Dutton


A very useful set of revision cards containing some handy analysis.  Good for some quick revision.



I really appreciate the information and advice you have shared with us. Many thanks for sharing this useful and valuable information.  Alpine Skyward

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