Critical Essay Question

Choose a Carol Ann Duffy poem in which the poet explores one of the following emotions: anguish, dissatisfaction, regret, loss.

Show how the poet explores the emotion and discuss to what extent he or she is successful in deepening your understanding of it.

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Posted on August 29, 2013, in Critical Essay Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. ‘Havisham’ by Carol Ann Duffy

    A poem which contains a strong emotion of anguish is “Havisham” by Carol Ann Duffy. The poet uses various techniques throughout the text to convey this emotion. Havisham describes the life of Miss Havisham from the Dickens novel, “Great Expectations” and how her life has spiraled into madness since her to-be husband abandoned her shortly before they were due to get married.

    The poet opens with the phrase “Beloved sweetheart bastard.”The technique within this phrase is an oxymoron which shows her anguish as even though she is referring to the subject as a “beloved sweetheart”, which would suggest he is loved by her, her heart suddenly changes to then calling him a ‘bastard’. This suggests that even though her to-be husband has left her, Havisham is torn between the love and hatred for her former lover. She still shows signs of love towards him, wishing nothing had went wrong on her wedding day and things could be normal unlike the way she has been left to deal with things on her own, turning her insane.

    Another example of how Havisham’s anguish is expressed is when Duffy writes, “..ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with.” Through imagery, ropes suggest the veins sticking out on the back of her hands which has gradually got worse over time, this emphasises the point that she has been feeling this way for a long period of time holding the same grudge never getting over the pain and distress she is feeling. Also, this gives the reader the idea that the ropes on her hands would be used to cause her former lover pain for what he has put her through. This demonstrates how badly the situation has left her, that even after such a huge gap of time she is still living in anguish everyday.

    Duffy effectively manages to convey hatred towards her former lover though her word choice in the last verse. She writes, “I stabbed at a wedding-cake.” The use of the word “stabbed” as oppose to “cutting” or “slicing” indicates the anger she feels towards what the wedding cake symbolises. The wedding cake symbolises happiness and marriage, these are two things Havisham feels she should be entitled to and deserves but because of her former lover she has been left out of such luxuries. Therefore she turns her anger towards the wedding cake as it is a reminder of the life she should have had but instead lives a life of anguish and regret.

    Duffy also manages to convey the emotion of anguish in the second verse, this is done through personification. She writes, “..trembling if I open the wardrobe;” In this sentence Carol Ann Duffy is talking about the wedding dress trembling if Havisham should decided to change it. This effectively demonstrates how insane Miss Havisham has become over time as even though she, herself, may want to change the dress, she is imagining that the dress isn’t letting her. This emphasises the amount of time she has spent in the dress since the day she was left at the alter, never removing it once.
    Duffy writes, “I’ve dark green pebbles for eyes.” This metaphor shows the reader that even though it was such a long time ago, Havisham is still green with envy towards her ex-lover. Also, it demonstrates that she has never properly and perhaps never will, get over the fact that they can never be together. Another idea behind this is that, the word “pebbles” indicates that Miss Havisham is stone cold, meaning she is almost dead inside as she feels she has no reason in living another day, as everything she loved most in the world has been taken away from her all at once.

    Lastly, another effective way the emotion of anguish is portrayed is in the last verse, when Duffy writes, “Don’t think it’s on the heart that b-b-b-breaks.” Through her word choice, she shows that its not only her heart that has been destroyed in the process of her spiral into madness, but also her mind. This tells the reader that she has gone insane as the whole ordeal has ruined her sense of sanity. Also, when Duffy writes “b-b-b-breaks”, it informs the reader that eventually Miss Havisham couldn’t take it anymore as she has held it in for so long and has finally broken down into tears, caused by being left on her own for so such a long period of time.

    To conclude, a poem which explores the emotion of anguish throughout the text is “Havisham”, by Carol Ann Duffy. The poet effectively conveys the emotion of anguish through techniques and a series of word choice which helps to portray how Miss Havisham felt throughout the poem and how her life had took a dark turn since being abandoned on her wedding day.

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