https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srVoCfvS_1Q – Analysis of ‘War Photographer’
About the poet
Carol Ann Duffy was born on December 23 1955, in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. Carol Ann was the eldest child, and had four brothers. She was brought up in Stafford, in the north midlands, where her father was a local councillor, a parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party in 1983 and manager of Stafford FC, an amateur football team. Carol Ann Duffy was educated at St. Austin Roman Catholic Primary School, St. Joseph’s Convent School and Stafford Girls’ High School. In 1974 she went to Liverpool University, where she read philosophy.
She has worked as a freelance writer in London, after which she moved to live in Manchester, where she currently (2002) teaches creative writing at the Metropolitan University. Her first collection of poetry was Standing Female Nude (1985), followed by Selling Manhattan (1987), The Other Country (1990), Mean Time (1993), The World’s Wife (1999) and The Feminine Gospels (2002). She has also written two English versions of Grimm’s folk tales, and a pamphlet, A Woman’s Guide to Gambling, which reflects her interest in betting.
Of her own writing she has said:
“I’m not interested, as a poet, in words like ‘plash’ – Seamus Heaney words, interesting words. I like to use simple words but in a complicated way.”
She has a daughter, Ella (born in 1995) and lives in Manchester with her partner, the novelist Jackie Kay. Carol Ann Duffy was awarded an OBE in 1995, and a CBE in 2002.
Carol Ann Duffy
Carol Ann Duffy is a Scottish–English poet who is the current British Poet Laureate, having been appointed to the role in 2009; it is also important to note that she is the first female and LGBT person to have this position. Her style is contemporary and she is renowned for giving voice to those who have been alienated or edited in history. Duffy also writes from a personal perspective about complex situations, but her use of language makes these works highly accessible and intriguing.
Although she was born in the Gorbals, Glasgow in 1955, Duffy moved to Staffordshire with her family at the age of six. She became a prominent poetic figure at the University of Liverpool and published her first collection, Standing Female Nude, in 1985. This was the catalyst for Duffy’s prolific public career, which has also encompassed many volumes of poetry for children.
In her current role as Poet Laureate, Duffy has written original poems that showcase her dry wit on topics such as the Olympics, climate change, political scandals, and Prince William and Kate Middleton, to mention a few. She is also doing highly significant work in raising the profile of poetry in Britain, most recently in co-ordination with the Queen’s Jubilee.
Duffy’s poetry has previously featured on both the Scottish and English curriculums; the addition of her work to the National 5 and Higher qualifications set text list highlights her prominence as a leading British writer.
The following Carol Ann Duffy poems have been selected for their representations of personas. They all describe experiences and/or the subsequent impact as told from an individual’s perspective.
- ‘Valentine’ – explores the different stages of a modern relationship through the extended metaphor of an onion.
- ‘Havisham’ – re-examination of Dickens’ character Miss Havisham and her bitter heartbreak, as evoked through brutal imagery.
- ‘WarPhotographer’ – the damaging observations of conflict, its victims and its distant observers, told through the eyes of the photographer who captures the brutal images.
- ‘Anne Hathaway’ – a sonnet that gives voice to Shakespeare’s ‘neglected’ wife. Here she tells her romanticised version of their relationship.
- ‘Mrs Midas’ – examines the consequences of selfish and vain decisions in modern relationships, written using the myth of Midas and from the perspective of his fictional wife.
- ‘Originally’ – Duffy’s personal poem about her experiences with dual identity. Her physical transition from Scotland to England is explored, as is the transformation from child into adult.
This poem is written in the first person. The speaker appears to be the poet, addressing her lover as “you”. In fact, Carol Ann Duffy wrote Valentine after a radio producer asked her to write an original poem for St. Valentine’s Day.(Valentine was published in 1993, in the collection Mean Time.) But the poem is universal: it could be from any lover to any beloved (for example, there is no indication of the sex of either the “I” or the “you”). The poem, on the surface, is about the giving of an unusual present for St. Valentine’s Day, but really is an exploration of love between two people. This is a good text to write about, because it has a single central image, which is developed throughout the poem: the onion is an extended metaphor for love.
The form of the poem supports its argument (the ideas in it) as Duffy uses single isolated lines to show why she rejects the conventional Valentines: “Not a red rose or a satin heart…Not a cute card or a kissogram.” Why not? Because each has long ceased to be original and has been sent millions of times. The symbolism of roses and hearts is often overlooked, while cards and kissograms may be expensive but mean little. As an artist, Ms. Duffy should be able to think of something more distinctive, and she does.
Duffy in effect lists reasons why the onion is an appropriate symbol of love. First, the conventional romantic symbol of the moon is concealed in it. The moon is supposed to govern women’s passions. The brown skin is like a paper bag, and the shiny pale onion within is like the moon. The “light” which it promises may be both its literal brightness and metaphorical understanding (of love) or enlightenment. The removing of the papery outer layers suggests the “undressing” of those who prepare to make love. There may also be a pun (play on words here) as “dressing” (such as French dressing or salad dressing) is often found with onions in the kitchen.
The onion is like a lover because it makes one cry. The verb “blind” may also suggest the traditional idea of love’s (or Cupid’s) being blind. And the onion reflects a distorted image of anyone who looks at it, as if this reflection were a “wobbling photo” – an image which won’t keep still, as the onion takes time to settle on a surface. The flavour of the onion is persistent, so this taste is like a kiss which lasts, which introduces the idea of faithfulness which will match that of the lovers (“possessive and faithful…for as long as we are”).
One visitor to this site (Cathy Savage) suggests an alternative reading here:
I have a different idea about “It will make your reflection/a wobbling photo of grief”. which, when I consulted my class, seems to sum up the female view of the lines, although the boys couldn’t see it straight off. When women cry, for some reason, they often go to the mirror – so, as far as the female contingent in my class and I can see, the lover is blinded with tears and staring in the mirror (believe me, your reflection is a wobbling photo of grief in these cases!).
The onion is a series of concentric rings, each smaller than the other until one finds a ring the size of a wedding ring (“platinum”, because of the colour). But note the phrase “if you like”: the lover is given the choice. Thus the poem, like a traditional Valentine, contains a proposal of marriage. There is also a hint of a threat in the suggestion that the onion is lethal, as its scent clings “to your knife”. The poet shows how the knife which cuts the onion is marked with its scent, as if ready to punish any betrayal.
Note the form of this poem: Duffy writes colloquially (as if speaking) so single words or phrases work as sentences: “Here…Take it…Lethal”. The ends of lines mark pauses, and most of them have a punctuation mark to show this. The stanza breaks mark longer pauses, so that we see how the poem is to be read aloud. The poem appeals to the senses especially of sight (striking visual images of light, shape and colour), touch (the “fierce kiss”) and smell (the “scent” clinging “to your fingers” and “knife”). The poem uses conventional Valentines as a starting point, before showing how the onion is much more true to the nature of love. The poem seems at first to be rather comical (an onion as a Valentine is surely bizarre) but in fact is a very serious analysis of love.
The speaker does not appear to like traditional gifts of love and instead wants to give a seemingly unpleasant and unusual gift of an onion. It is compared to the moon and has positive connotations of the hope felt at the start of a new relationship.
The speaker insists that the lover take the onion even if it brings sadness and tears. Just as an onion’s juices can make a person cry, so can the arguments and heartbreak that go along with the reality of modern relationships.
Rejection of traditional tokens of love is reinforced and repetition of the more realistic idea of an onion is given. The speaker embraces the passion that goes along with a modern relationship but also accepts that it may not last forever.
Explore how relationships can lead to marriage but may also end in heartbreak. The speaker acknowledges that the (often painful) memories of a relationship can stay with a person, just as an onion’s scent will linger.
Her poetry has been the subject of controversy. She follows in the poetic tradition of, for example, Robert Browning, in writing monologues from the point of view of disturbed characters. Her poem Education for Leisure caused a huge debate when an exam board decided to withdraw it from an exam syllabus because of a complaint about its contents. Duffy often tackles difficult subjects, encouraging the reader to explore alternative points of view.
Duffy’s poetry is often feminist in its themes and approach. Her collection The World’s Wife took characters from history, literature and mythology and gave them a female point of view, as a sister, a wife or a feminised version of a character.
Valentine describes a gift for a lover, such as you would give on Valentine’s Day. It is a rather unusual present – an onion. The poem explains why it is a powerful gift of love, much more than the clichéd roses or box of chocolates.
The onion becomes a metaphor for love, and so the poem is about love as well as Valentine gifts.
Form and Structure
The poem is written in free verse. Each stanza is very short, and several are only one line long. This form echoes the form of an onion itself, and the layers that go to make it up. There is a sense in which Valentine is within the tradition of list poems, as the speaker tells you what the onion is, and then what it is like.
The poem is a first person narrative, in the form of a direct address to
you. We don’t know who the
you is, but perhaps, as it’s the kind of person who would normally receive a
cute card it’s a woman.
Language and Imagery
The language of the poem is quite simple and straight-forward, particularly in the clear sentence structures that are often repeated. This reflects the idea of it being an honest love.
Valentine begins with a mixture of grand romantic imagery – the metaphor of the
moon – and the everyday – the
brown paper the moon is wrapped in. The very first stanza of the poem dismisses the clichéd, normal gifts of love, indicating that this will be a different kind of valentine.
There is a strong sense of danger in the imagery of the poem. The onion will
blind you with tears, which is a comparison – using a simile – to what a lover will do, and even in affection there is a sense of danger in its
fierce kiss. This culminates in the single word sentence in the middle of the final stanza:
Lethal. This is emphasised by the fact that the final word of the poem is
knife. There is a sense that love can be dangerous, perhaps in its possessiveness.
This is reflected in the idea that light is promised by the
careful undressing of love – you must be careful with love to get its benefit, just as you must be careful with the onion. Throughout the poem the onion is a metaphor for love, developed in different ways. There is also an ambiguity in the poem as to whether
it refers to the onion or to love.
The only alliteration in the poem is in the
cute card and the
red rose – the clichéd Valentines. Is Duffy implying something about the over use of alliteration in love poems?
Although there is no rhyme in the poem, there are some places where repeated structures mean that words are repeated, echoing each other. This represents both their ongoing love and the layers of the onion.
Attitudes, themes and ideas
The narrator of the poem dismisses clichéd ideas of love with the two single line stanzas that begin with the word
not. There is an attitude in the poem that normal Valentines are not as honest as this one. The two single line stanzas in the middle of the poem contrast the idea of truthfulness with clichéd cards or kissograms. It is also more cynical about love: rather than promising to last forever, this Valentine will merely last as long as the two of them are possessive and faithful, like the onion. This is an unusual attitude for a love poem.
This, combined with the theme of love as being dangerous, makes for an unsettling tone to the poem. However, there is a sense that this is a more genuine and useful present, which suggests a practical love. The offer of a wedding-ring, in an offhand manner, also reinforces the idea that truthful love is the better sort.
Valentine is from a collection of poems entitled Mean Time (1993), and expresses love and affection in the form of a conceit whereby the symbol of love being offered by the speaker is an unconventional onion.
The poem challenges the stereotypical view of a Valentine’s gift when the speaker presents their lover with the metaphorical onion as
a moon wrapped in brown paper.
This is reminiscent of metaphysical poets such as John Donne, who approached ordinary objects in original and surprising ways. The multi-layered complexity of the onion represents a real relationship and is used as an extended metaphor throughout.
The strangeness of this unusual gift, which can make a lover cry, highlights the negative as well as the positive effects of a deep and loving relationship. The forceful presentation of this gift, and the final word choice, also suggests this is a relationship which is cruel, domineering and menacing.
The poem is written in free verse using irregular stanzas to support its content and purpose, which is to reject traditional restrictive conventions such as marriage and other notions of love and to warn lovers that being overly possessive can have undesirable consequences.
While ostensibly a poem on the theme of love, Duffy deliberately avoids the use of language or imagery that we associate with this type of poetry. Instead, the words are often stark and monosyllabic to allow her to present her ideas clearly and unambiguously.
In stanza seven, Duffy builds to a penultimate climax with the speaker becoming even more insistent by using the imperative command in the words ‘Take it.’
The speaker then reminds us that traditional romantic relationships usually culminate in marriage which here is considered to be similar to a constricting death.
She compares the creamy white rings of the onion with the precious metal platinum loops of a wedding ring which over time will, like the onion rings, ‘shrink’ in size.
Here the poet is inferring that marriage requires an adjustment which may in fact restrict a person both physically as well as emotionally, warning others of the consequences of following conventions which can be destructive, diminutive and even unnecessary when compared to free romantic love.
The final stanza begins with the single minor sentence and powerful adjective ‘Lethal’ which reinforces the notion of imminent death to individuality, where a long-term union is pursued.
The ‘scent’ from this relationship has positive connotations of the pleasant smell of perfume, echoing back to the ‘fierce kiss’, and reiterating the fact that the memory of a deep relationship may last, even long after it has ended
However there is no doubt that even where powerful love is very difficult to forget, it may lead you into dangerous situations where the final outcome could be brutal and violent as suggested by the final word ‘knife’.
A knife can slice through an onion just as honest language can incisively reveal the truth concerning a loving relationship.
Like most of the poems in Duffy’s Mean Time collection, Valentine deals with those involved in damaged or irreconcilable relationships.
In Valentine, Duffy ends on a warning note that love can be ‘Lethal’ and so life-threatening, forcing the reader to confront the notion that a real love based on honesty and truthfulness can be painful and destructive as well as fulfilling and enriching.
The allusion to the negative aspects of conventional relationships suggests that, ultimately, they can often be restrictive to the individual, while a love which is free from such constraints is an ideal worth pursuing.
Try the test @ http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/guides/znhk7ty/test
OVERVIEW OF POEM
Carol Ann Duffy explores the concept of love through unusual comparisons and imagery.
In ‘Valentine’, Duffy chooses to challenge the conventional symbols of love, namely the ‘red rose’ and the ‘satin heart’. This rejection of classic love tokens is indicated through the negative ‘not’ in the first stanza. Instead Duffy introduces the reader to her own symbol of love, the onion, which is unusual because the onion is a very unflattering, smelly, acidic and unromantic object. Duffy spends the rest of the poem proving to us how the onion is more faithful and reflects the true nature of love.
The poem itself is an extended metaphor about how the unromantic properties of the onion fits the notion of love. Each stanza also shows the different phases of love, how it begins with all the best intentions yet gradually deteriorates into misunderstandings and violence.
STANZA 1: Negative adverb ‘not’ indicates rejection of traditional symbols of love.
STANZA 2: Duffy introduces alternative symbol of love; the onion. An unusual comparison, however Duffy begins to make valid connections by comparing the shape and colour of it to the moon.
Metaphor – ‘a moon wrapped in brown paper’ refers to the romantic connotations that the moon carries. The moon influences the tides and all water on earth. Since 75% of the earth is water and our own bodies also contain the same amount, it means it also has an effect on our emotions too. In ancient mythology the moon was ruled by Diana, a goddess worshipped by the Roman women. She had two sides to her personality; the pure maiden and the huntress. She was believed to help pregnant women through labour, yet had a violent side to her. Duffy makes use of this in stanza 6 and 7, where love becomes a desperate hunt with violent imagery. However at this point, the image of moon/onion takes on a sensual image, and we have a hint of love-making as the beginning of the relationship.
Direct address – ‘I give you…‘, Duffy addresses the reader directly, giving the poem a personal tone.
STANZA 3: Beginning to explore the negative sides of love through similes and metaphors.
Direct address: ‘Here.‘ An offering of the onion to the reader. Very intimate, confident and bold.
Simile/ personification: ‘…blind you with tears like a lover‘. The onion is compared to a lover and the way love often leaves us in tears. A large part of being in love is also the risk of being left heart-broken. This connection is explored in the way an onion stings our eyes when we try to get to the ‘heart’ of it (cut it), the same way we may be stung by another person’s heartlessness.
Metaphor: ‘…make your reflection a wobbling photo of grief’. Imagery where we are looking ‘through’ the eyes of the upset lover who may be gazing at a their own reflection in the mirror and crying at the same time.
STANZA 4: A single sentence stanza that stands on its own. Duffy underlines how she is trying telling the bitter truth half-way through the poem. A line conveying honesty.
STANZA 5: Can be seen as the ‘second half’ of the poem and refers back to the first stanza.
Repetition: Both stanzas have the same syllable count (9), similar wording ‘Not’ and a rejection of two typical symbols of love ‘cute card‘ and ‘kissogram‘.
NOTE: Kissograms are not used now, but during the 70′s were popular. Kissograms were people who were hired on special days/ occasions like valentine’s day to go round and kiss the sweetheart on behalf of their lover with a special message.
STANZA 6: Images of jealousy and violence begin to creep into the notion of romantic love.
Repetition: Mirrors the first line of stanza 2, carrying on with the pattern of repetition established in stanza 5.
Metaphor/ Personification: The onion is compared to a jealous lover and the way their kiss at this point in the relationship would be a mixture of passion and punishment. This is further illustrated through the way an onion’s smell clings stubbornly to our fingers when we cut it. The key word here is ‘possessive’, and this hints at obsessive love and how this is turning into an unhealthy relationship. One of the partners is evidently suffering from this claustrophobic relationship.
STANZA 7: Images of married life flash are introduced as Duffy implies that marriage kills romance and makes romantic love a chore or a punishment.
Direct Address: ‘Take it‘. Duffy is still addressing her readership in a bold and confident tone.
Metaphor: The loops of the onion are compared to a wedding ring that ‘shrink’ which implies being trapped. The loops are ‘platinum’, meaning a very precious metal, which is ironic because the onion is not at all precious or desirable. The words ‘if you like’ are added to show that the relationship could go in this direction, but it is not necessary for the things that will inevitably follow. The word ‘lethal’ is on it’s own, showing what the relationship has turned into and drawing attention to it.
The last two lines again imply the smell of the onion and introduces the knife. This is violent imagery which implies that the two lovers have become enemies. This is when the image of the moon (Diana) as huntress becomes relevant, as the dark side of romantic love (or the moon) reveals itself in the later stages of the relationship.
In this intense love poem Duffy rejects traditional symbols of love, such as ‘red roses’ or ‘satin hearts’ in favour of ‘an onion’. This suggests Duffy is criticising conventional ideas and empty gestures of love.
She is promising her lover, and the reader that her love is more original, honest and true.
Duffy shows her wit and poetic cleverness by managing to keep the extended metaphor of the onion being like her love going throughout the poem. By doing this Duffy turns an ordinary object, an ‘onion’ into an unusual symbol of love, and makes it seem a more appropriate symbol than traditional Valentine gifts.
How would you feel if a boy or girl friend offered you an onion on Valentines Day? Quite. Only Duffy’s confidence and intelligence prevent an onion being a disastrous Valentine’s present!
When you listen to the poem concentrate on the tone of voice. Then think about how you would describe it.
Duffy’s poem is structured around an extended metaphor comparing love and an onion.
In what ways is the onion like Duffy’s love?
|It is round like a moon||The moon is associated with Romance|
|Its skin is white||It promises light – light is associated with truth, faith, beauty, innocence, etc.|
|You peel an onion||Lovers undress each other|
|Causes tears||Causes tears|
|Its taste is strong and lasting||Duffy’s kiss is possessive and fierce|
|Onions have rings||Relationship are often symbolised by a ring|
|The smell of onions will stay with you||So will her love|
Duffy creates a sense of an intimate conversation by using the words ‘I’ and ‘you’ as if she is talking personally to the reader. By starting lines in the middle – ‘Not a red rose’ – it seems as the conversation has been going on for some time. The use of the present tense suggests it is happening now and she is handing something over – ‘here’ ‘take it’ – to someone present.
This poem is a monologue spoken by Miss Havisham, a character in Dickens’ Great Expectations. Jilted by her scheming fiancé, she continues to wear her wedding dress and sit amid the remains of her wedding breakfast for the rest of her life, while she plots revenge on all men. She hates her spinster state – of which her unmarried family name constantly reminds her (which may explain the choice of title for the poem).
Summary of Poem
She begins by telling the reader the cause of her troubles – her phrase “beloved sweetheart bastard” is a contradiction in terms (called an oxymoron). She tells us that she has prayed so hard (with eyes closed and hands pressed together) that her eyes have shrunk hard and her hands have sinews strong enough to strangle with – which fits her murderous wish for revenge. (Readers who know Dickens’ novel well might think at this point about Miss Havisham’s ward, Estella – her natural mother, Molly, has strangled a rival, and has unusually strong hands.)
Miss Havisham is aware of her own stink – because she does not ever change her clothes or wash. She stays in bed and screams in denial. At other times she looks and asks herself “who did this” to her? She sometimes dreams almost tenderly or erotically of her lost lover, but when she wakes the hatred and anger return. Thinking of how she “stabbed at the wedding cake” she now wants to work out her revenge on a “male corpse” – presumably that of her lover.
The poem is written in four stanzas which are unrhymed. Many of the lines run on, and the effect is like normal speech. The poet
- uses many adjectives of colour – “green”, “puce”, “white” and “red” and
- lists parts of the body “eyes”, “hands”, “tongue”, “mouth”, “ear” and “face”.
Sometimes the meaning is clear, but other lines are more open – and there are hints of violence in “strangle”, “bite”, “bang” and “stabbed”. It is not clear what exactly Miss Havisham would like to do on her “long slow honeymoon”, but we can be sure that it is not pleasant.
HAVISHAM is an exploration of love turned to hatred through the bitterness of rejection and was inspired by Miss Havisham, a character in Charles Dickens’ novel, GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Dickens is my favourite novelist. Once a beautiful heiress, Miss Havisham had been jilted by Compeyson and had lived ever since in her wedding dress amongst the decaying ruins of her wedding feast at Satis House, Rochester, where she brought up her protegee Estella to despise men. She paid for Pip’s apprenticeship and he believed her to be his secret benefactor. He rescued her from nearly burning to death; but when she later died she left almost all her fortune to Estella. In my poem, the title is HAVISHAM, to indicate a move away from “Miss” Havisham- ie this is my creation now, not Dickens’- and the poem is in Havisham’s voice. Havisham is a woman driven mad with loss and rejection and the poem is a hymn of pain and rage as she moves in and out of dream and awakening, always remembering the love of her life who jilted and betrayed her. In many ways, HAVISHAM as a poem is the opposite of ANNE HATHAWAY.
Free verse. No rhyme scheme or formal metre and the poem ordered into 4 4-line verses against which restraint the violent tone and imagery of the poem push. The jerky rhythm of the lines is dictated by the voice of the character, a voice filled with pain and bitterness. In the opening line of the poem the punctuation has been removed to emphasise this passionate intensity (“Beloved sweetheart bastard…”) and lack of control. This device is used again in the third verse when the woman dreams of lovemaking (“…my fluent tongue in its mouth in its ear/ then down till I suddenly bite awake…”). Some internal rhyme or half-rhyme is used as the poem moves towards its ending (“awake”, “hate”, “face”, “cake”, “breaks”) to end on the chord of the final “b-b-b-breaks”.
The first two words of the poem are common romantic endearments (‘beloved, sweetheart”) which are immediately followed by the angry and aggressive word “bastard”. Thereafter, the poem is the opposite of a love poem. Bodies are described harshly and negatively-Havisham’s eyes are “dark green pebbles”; the veins on her hands are “ropes”; her body “stinks”; and at the end of the poem, the body of her beloved is described as “a male corpse”. Havisham’s mind has been unbalanced and the words used to describe other things in the poem mirror this- “yellowing”, “trembling”, “slewed”, “puce”, “bursting”. Havisham’s language has been affected by the pain of rejection- (“cawing Nooooooo at the wall”; “puce curses that are sounds not words”;)- and it is only when she dreams about the time when she and her lover were together that she feels “fluent”. From the first “bastard”, the vocabulary of the poem is harsh- “dead”, “hard”, “strangle”, “stink”, “curses”, “bite”, “hate”, “bang”, “stabbed”, “corpse”- and the very last word of the poem is deliberately fractured to show that Havisham’s mind and spirit have been broken as well as her heart. (“Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.”)
This poem comes from the collection Mean Time, published in 1998. It probably provided the inspiration for Duffy’s first themed collection of poetry The World’s Wife (1999), in which she considers the often neglected women behind some of the most iconic male figures from history, literature and legend.