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The Way Carol Duffy Explores Relationships English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1382 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The way Carol Duffy explores relationships in her poems is a rich subject for comparison, as each poem puts an interesting spin on the way she, as the narrative voice, reacts to the people around her. On the one hand we can look at the acerbic treatment of the relationship in ‘Havisham’, as she is jilted at the altar. This makes an extreme contrast to ‘Before You Were Mine’, in which we can observe a romantic sentiment regarding her mother that is almost a direct opposite of the sour, but down to earth tone of the former poem. In contrast, Seamus Heaney explores a broken familial relationship between father and son. At first, we are shown that the son looks up towards father, yet the opposite happens as he grows up.

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In ‘Before You Were Mine’, Duffy ponders in a nostalgic tone what her mother’s life must have been like before she was born, without the restriction and constraint of her child’s ‘loud possessive yell’. The mood conveyed is a very dreamy one, as Duffy, seemingly writing from the point of view of herself as a child or young woman, looks at her mother’s old high-heeled shoes and tries to visualise her mother’s life when she was young and glamorous. Duffy contrasts the young woman’s romantic fantasies with the reality of motherhood which will come ten years later.

The dreamy nostalgic tone of the language is backed up by the form the poem takes. It is spoken in the first person and directed towards the mother. It is given the air of a flashback through the continual change in time and place. It goes between memories of Marilyn’s life as a young woman and Duffy’s memories of being a young woman and wondering at her mother’s former life, although it is spoken from the point of view of Duffy as an adult. Duffy uses both first and second person, emphasizing the bond they share. There is no rhyme, and although there is no strong rhythm, the speech flows in a smooth way, coming across almost like a stream of consciousness. The portrayal of the mother and partner however are the other way round from what one might expect. Duffy conjures up a romantic view of her mother, with Hollywood images as a metaphor for the freedom the mother enjoyed as a youth. It is ironically the romantic partner that gets the blunt but honest treatment. This is perhaps representative of the kind of relationship Duffy has with the respective parties. Her mother has earn respect and deserves to be treated with reverence. In addition, when thinking about the past one is unlikely to think of the bad memories ‘Before You Were Mine’ is nostalgia for a previous life, one that Duffy did not experience, but she feels grateful to her mother for giving it up.

Similarly, in Follower, Heaney looks up to his father, just like in Before You Were Mine. Daughter looks up to Mother. However, in Follower, the ending switches to telling us that the Father now relies on the Son-“But today It is my father who keeps stumbling Behind me, and will not go away. In Before You Were Mine there is no suggestion that the Mother gets in the way of Daughter. Instead Duffy presents the sacrifices made for her child.

In ‘Follower’ Heaney presents us with a very vivid picture of his father as he appeared to the poet as a young boy. We learn a lot about both the relationship that existed between them and the way Heaney saw his family. The father is, more than anything else, an energetic and skilled farmer. He is ‘An expert’ with the horse-plough and Heaney as a little boy would simply get in his father’s way. The poem is full of admiration for his father’s strength and skill with horses. At the end of the poem, however, we are moved to the present day and there is a change in roles; it is now Heaney’s father who has become the child who gets in the way. The relationship has changed over time. Likewise, this poem is similar to Before You Were Mine as Duffy explores how mother and daughters relationship has progressed through time- before she was born, her mother was much more bubbly.

Heaney remembers when he was a small boy, and in the poem he looks up to his father in a physical sense, because he is so much smaller than his father, but he also looks up to him in a metaphorical sense. This is made clear by the poet’s careful choice of words. An example of this is in the lines:

“His eye

Narrowed and angled at the ground,

Mapping the furrow exactly.”

The choices of the verbs “Narrowed”, “angled” and “Mapping” effectively suggest his father’s skill and precision. We are also told that young Heaney “stumbled in his hob-nailed wake,” which brings to our mind a picture of the ploughman’s heavy boots, the carefully ploughed furrow and the child’s clumsy enthusiasm. It shows that he admired his father.

“I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,

Yapping always.”

These words, especially “Yapping” make us think of the boy as being like a young and excited puppy – enjoying playing at ploughing, but of no practical help. In fact, he was a hindrance to a busy farmer, but his father tolerates him.

His father’s strength and power are also very effectively brought out in the simple, but effective simile:

“His shoulders globed like a full sail strung

Between the shafts and the furrow.”

The comparison here suggests a man who spends much of his time out of doors, a man who is a part of nature. The nautical references show how the father was efficient and hard-working on the farm. The word “globed” also suggests great strength and gives the impression that the father was the whole world to the young boy. It is important to note that his father is not simply strong; his tender love and care for his son are emphasised by the fact that he “rode me on his back/ Dipping and rising to his plod”. The sound and rhythm of these lines convey the pleasure young Heaney had in the ride.

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Havisham differs to both Before You Were Mine and Follower. Relationships are presented much more disturbing as Miss Havisham from Dickens’s Great Expectations is jilted at the altar on her wedding day. The poem makes a generalized negative view against all men- her relationship with another man has destroyed her and therefore she wants revenge on males. She hates her spinster state- of which her unmarried family name constantly reminds her.

The most striking thing about the first sentence is the oxymoron of ‘love’ (beloved sweetheart) and hatred (bastard). This oxymoron portrays to the reader the mixture of emotions that Miss Havisham is feeling for this man although she hates him for what he did to her, she still feels loves for him. Alternatively, this sentence could be interpreted as the stages of the relationship she had with this man. At first he was beloved a more reserved emotion. Then this man became her sweetheart a more romantic word signalling exotic and sexual love and then finally once he left her he became a bastard to Miss Havisham. But also, with the alliteration of the b in that quote, the reader also receives the indication of aggression and violence- indicating revenge and hatred. Throughout the poem, language is under pressure, breaking down. (curses that are sounds not words…and the last word b-b-b-breaks; her tongue only becomes fluent in dream, and then only in kissing, not speech). Both sexual passion and speech require a partner.

Dark green pebbles eyes stands in here for the effects upon her psychology of her continuous hatred: pebbles because the resultant hardness in her feelings; dark because of her ‘evil’ thoughts of revenge (wishing him dead) – but also because the mix of her feelings are not simply to be understood, even by herself; green out of envy (of the man, of anyone with a happier life). The corpse and the long slow honeymoon combines both love and revenge; long and slow is a peculiar combination of enjoyment and torture.


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