Recognition – Carol Ann Duffy – Analysis


Things get away from one.
I’ve let myself go, I know.
Children? I’ve had three
and don’t even know them.

I strain to remember a time
when my body felt lighter.
Years. My face is swollen
with regrets. I put powder on,

but it flakes off. I love him,
through habit., but the proof
has evaporated. He gets upset.
I tried to do all the essentials

on one trip. Foolish, yes,
but I was weepy all morning.
Quiche. A blond boy swung me up
in his arms and promised the earth.

You see this came back to me
as I stood on the scales.
I wept. Shallots. In the window
creamy ladies held a pose

which left me clogged and old.
The waste. I forgotten my purse,
fumbled; the shopgirl gaped at me
compassionless. Claret. I blushed.

Cheese. Kleenex. It did happen.
I lay in my slip on wet grass,
laughing. Years. I had to rush out,
blind in a hot flush and bumped

into an anxious, dowdy matron
who touched the cold mirror
and stared at me. Stared
and said I’m sorry sorry sorry.

Carol Ann Duffy (1955 –
from her Selected Poems book

S1, S2 – This is a lady talking, seemingly a lady of that age where her children have left home and leading their own lives and a lady that unfortunately has let things go a little regarding her body and weight. She reflects back to the time when she was lighter and this appears painful for the word strain is used. Her weight problem may have affected her face or it is just painful to accept what has happened to her over time. She is in the process of coming to terms with the situation and hence the title recognition.

S3 – She can’t change of hide the situation with powder on the face. This is merely a superficial way of dealing with the change. She still loves her partner out of duty and it appears that sex is no longer happening – the proof has evaporated.

S4 – This is the start of a shopping sequence. Shopping is a dominant female duty in providing for the household and getting all the essentials can be regarded as a metaphor for life’s journey for she realises that she hasn’t got everything right on her journey and she is crying. Quiche is chosen against the thought of her partner’s unrealistic promise at the start of their relationship – a foreign word.

S5 – She may have weighed herself early in the morning before going shopping and this has caused her thoughts to go back to her slim figure of her younger years and generate tears. Shallots are chosen; well she could have chosen onions. She may have seen mannequins in a shop window (creamy ladies) and this has accentuated the difference when comparing the ideal with that of her own figure.

S6 – And then her predicament at the check-out when she can’t find her purse and the shopgirl shows no sympathy. Claret is such an appropriate item considering her blushing state.

S7 – Cheese for a smile and Kleenex for a tear. And that strong statement to herself that ‘it did happen’ (italics to give emphasis)– yes, she was happy once remembering a certain sexual instance Nice balance with the lack of sex in stanza three..

S8 – She rushes out of the shop. It is also menopause time. But she can’t escape who she is now and gives recognition to this fact in terms of – an anxious, dowdy matron – and she is so regretful saying sorry sorry sorry.

It is change of life time. The big question is – will she change her way of life and recover in some way and be more disciplined in the way she looks after her body. And having recognised the reality of where she is now will she forgive the past and look to a happier future. Is this going to be a turn around point in her life?

Carol Ann Duffy is the current Poet Laureate (since 2009 replacing Andrew Motion)

A Wikipedia link

Footnote … I participate in Parkrun and it is encouraging to see a number of over weight women starting to get back into exercise … walking is quite permisable … a free weekly event on a Saturday morning.

Sonnet 15 – Elizabeth Barrett Browning – Analysis

Sonnet 15

Accuse me not, beseech thee, that I wear
Too calm and sad a face in front of thine;
For we two look two ways, and cannot shine
With the same sunlight on our brow and hair.
On me thou lookest with no doubting care,
As on a bee shut in a crystalline;
Since sorrow hath shut me safe in love’s divine,
And to spread wing and fly in the outer air
Were most impossible failure, if I strove
To fail so. But I look on thee—on thee—
Beholding, besides love, the end of love,
Hearing oblivion beyond memory;
As one who sits and gazes from above,
Over the rivers to the bitter sea.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 – 1861)

From ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’, written ca. 1845–1846 and first published in 1850, a collection of 44 love sonnets written after she met her husband Robert Browning. The collection was acclaimed and popular in the poet’s lifetime and it remains so today.

L1-4 … we see life differently – we have different emotions and the poet (EBB) asks to be accepted when seen as calm and sad

L5-7 … you (Robert) look on me (EBB) as viewing locked beauty because of love – as a crystalline bee … it suggests precious jewellery

L8-10 (part – … if I strove to fail so.) … and if I were to strive to fly away you would still see me in that light

L10 (part – But I look on thee …) -14 … but I look on you and think of the end of our love … when I will forget you … without memory … as one who gazes beyond the rivers (the present time of my life) to a bitter sea (a future time) – implies death when all is lost forgotten and no more … our love is a mere diminishing window when compared to the enormity of the never ending procession of time

Details of Elizabeth Barrett Browning on Wikipedia –

If I Could Tell You – W. H. Auden – Analysis

If I Could Tell You

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

W. H. Auden

Looking at the structure, this is a villanelle – a distinct poetic form of 19 lines with five three line stanzas and a closing four line stanza.

The key to the villanelle is the two rhyming lines which flow through the whole of the piece, in this case …

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Once you have created ‘the key’ you have in fact created eight of the nineteen lines.

Another feature of the villanelle is the end-rhyme word of each second line in the six stanzas as well as the rhyming dictated by the key in the other lines.

It has a detached tone and there is modification to the iambic pentameter rhythm in line 14. A well crafted poem.

This is a poem about time and the repetitive nature of the villanelle is ideal for holding the thought on one aspect of time. The inability to see the future but inevitably the future will arrive given time. We all have to pay the price – our lives are input. How do we influence the future? – well that’s another question.

Time is personified. The reader contemplates and adds his or her own thoughts. For example, if time is an animal then this animal knows something that we don’t know … the animal makes real its nature on an on-going basis … until eventually it swallows us up. Or if time is a novel of infinite pages then we must wait for time to turn the page at the same time adding our own lines in the process. Each page is of course unique according to the reading of the individual and when we no longer feature in the story the story still progresses … hopefully there will be a happy ending or happy endings to chapters … we all seek happy endings don’t we?

But returning to the text, the thing is we all want to know the future … we may have expectations … and looking at the text …

In S2 … will we enjoy the show that we are going to tonight … our expectation is usually positive … will we stumble make mistakes, interfere or disrupt others
In S3 … fortunes are unknown … but it looks as though time has a thread of love and would like ‘fortunes’ to occur
In S4 … whatever eventuates has a reason … things will happen because … but we often have little understanding of the ‘because’ and any rationality
In S5 … do the roses really want to grow … does nature have a force for survival … and if roses equates to love then does love always seek expression

In the closing quatrain … there is fear … what will happen if we have no army … a sense of being insecure.

This poem is decontextualized from time and place and this perhaps adds value to the poem. If it was specific to a period and place would this detract?

Adding a date adds a dimension to the poem … this poem appeared in Auden’s posthumous Collected Poems – the editor Edward Mendelson attached a date at the end of the poem – October 1940 … he then linked it to the war equating the ‘lions’ to the English and the soldiers to WWII. This disturbs the notion of the poem as a self-contained unit … perhaps I should say as a timeless unit! And if you have just read this post you will see that I have influenced the future in some small unknown way – enjoy your day!

An Arundel Tomb – Philip Larkin – Analysis


An Arundel Tomb

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd–
The little dogs under their feet.

The sculpture is of the Earl of Arundel and his second wife Eleanor of Lancaster and it resides in Chichester Cathedral … in art dogs are a sign of fidelity … apparently over the years the sculpture has been vandalised and repaired

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

In all the cathedrals and churches Larkin visited he never saw such tenderness depicted in stone and he was quite moved by the sight … generating this poem.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends could see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They have been together for centuries in stone whereas in life they would never lie so close given that marriages were very much a political arrangement … there is a double take too on the word ‘lie’ as there probably would have been a lot of deceit in the arrangement. The Latin names around the base probably ignored by those visiting the cathedral today – but the holding of hands an attraction to the eye.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
Their air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Well, the nature of marriage has changed over the years and those visiting today would view the holding of hands perhaps as a more loving union. Supine = lying on the back without energy.

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the grass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

I like the view of the outside while the tomb is fixed and oblivious to the changing seasons. Apparently the grounds of Chichester Cathedral are known for bird song.

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

People today don’t understand the history and context … washing over the sculpture … history becomes a scrap – unarmorial = not decorated with a coat of arms

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone finality
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

Philip Larkin

We have the contrast – the truth of love – the reality of love being something different from what this time-frozen stone fixture might suggest … the important things that survive are not so much the physical –but ‘love’ (whatever this means to the reader) … but then the physical may be needed as a catalyst or prompt. It certainly prompted Larkin to think about love – and he was certainly not a ‘love’ poet – but it has been said that he was haunted by such notions although of a melancholic nature.

A YouTube video of Philip Larkin reading this poem

Fern Hill – Dylan Thomas – Analysis

‘Fern Hill’ is one of Dylan Thomas’s most read poems. Dylan Thomas happens to be a favourite poet of The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles that is, and how appropriate). Prince Charles visited the poet’s birthplace in Swansea in September 2013. The following is a YouTube video of his reading of ‘Fern Hill’ …

Here are the words of the poem, my commentary appears after each stanza  …

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

(lilting house – a touch of music and song in the house, dingle = a small wooded valley or dell … this reflects to the green apple days of his youth – nice that when young ‘time let him climb golden in the heydays of his eyes’ – wonderful expression of how time lets the young stretch to the sky … and the young are always honoured by those older as he rode on the wagons and he himself lord of his rural environment invoked by easy movement as he went his merry way – another great line ‘down the rivers of the windfall light’- again linking with apples and movement)

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

(Invokes a very joyous outside childhood … I too can remember time spent as a child playing with friends on a farm … wonderful environment so many things to explore … so I can identify strongly with this stanza … here we have time again … time gives such a lot to the young – very merciful … the Sabbath rang slowly … the holy day distant, and defined in terms of the outside and nature – his holy place … the sound of water on pebbles his Sabbath bell)

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

(the haystacks as high as a house – the sound of wind in the chimney and the fireplace empty for this is summer his mind is fired by rich green grass … and as he falls asleep the farm is still much within his soul … the sound of owls fall away – what a great line ‘as I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away’ … the movement of the night farm sleeps within him as he rides to sleep)

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

(the farm is personified in white dew … a religious reference to the first garden … and it was as though everything was reborn for him as the simple light defined the environment anew … the fields in praise for the gift of light and sun) 

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,

(I can imagine the trophies of pheasants and foxes and he equally honoured … and the endless days of happy sun-rich care free wanderings – that is before time starts to diminish and ‘follow him out of grace’)

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

(in the days of childhood there were no cares on how time would swallow and leave forever the days of innocent joy – he was ‘young and easy in the mercy of his means’ – we are all chained if you like, like the sea is chained by land – but it’s great to sing in our chains whether in childhood or a little older – nice that in childhood the chains are well hidden)