Carol Ann Duffy – Havisham
Havisham is a poem by Carol Ann Duffy. It is part of the Mean Time collection that was released in 1998. Havisham is a poem about that fits into Carol Ann Duffy’s body of work throughout this collection as it deals with the theme of memory and nostalgia and it charts the impact of time on the character fates in this instance which is related to love, life, loss, and death, and its damaged irreconcilable relationships also form a part of this poem. This poem is typical of Carol Ann Duffy’s writing style, it is about love, it is about memory, and its about human experience. Carol Ann Duffy has followed her typical style in writing through the thoughts of a famous character or woman as she has done in her other collections for example: Mrs. Darwin, Mrs. Aesop, and Anne Hathaway, Havisham is similar that she has taken a prominent female character and given it a voice and explanation.
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This poem is a 16 line and four stanza poem with four lines making up each stanza. This poem shows the nature of an old woman after being devastated at being left at the her wedding day and having lost her fortune to the man who left her. The four stanza poem is a harsh reflection of anger, pain, and disbelief, it’s a sad tale of a wedding and life gone horribly wrong that still haunts the character.
The diction and tone used within the poem is of anger, grief and distaste and the speaker comments on the man who left her at the alter, she comments on how she is still single, how she still lives in that day and hasn’t been able to move on from that unlucky day. The speaker says how she still thinks about the man who left her however also wants to kill him at the same time. In my commentary, I will explore the poem through each line and comment on the literary terms and the meaning of each line.
The title of the poem is very important in understanding the poem. The title is the name of a character from Charles Dickens’ famous book called Great Expectations. Ms. Havisham is an eccentric character from the book who lives in the past, she had been left at the alter and she never took off her wedding dress and her clocks had stopped at that time. Carol Ann Duffy has taken a big risk as she implies with the title that the reader has read the book and would understand the relationship between the book and poem as she uses the same story to base her poem on. The poem is a dramatic monologue as Ms. Havisham is speaking in the poem and she is speaking with a tone of anger, grief and distaste. The first line starts off with an oxymoron which is “beloved sweetheart bastard”. Oxymorons are used to show conflicting ideas and feelings and with the use of this oxymoron it is clear the Carol Ann Duffy wants to show that Ms. Havisham has these conflicting feelings about the man who is both sweetheart and a bastard.
In line 2, Ms Havisham tells the reader that she not only has she wished that the man died but she has prayed for it to happen so hard, this shows how she is scornful of the man and she believes that the best punishment is death.
In line 3, there is a metaphor used which is “I’ve dark green pebbles for eyes”, Green represents the the color of jealousy, greed and in some cases sickness, Pebbles are small stones that are hard. These two factors combined show the reader that being left at the alter has left Ms. Havisham jealous and stiff.
In line 4, Ms. Havisham talks about “ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with”. In this line, the ropes she talks about are the veins that pop out in old age and her old hands could be used to murder someone.
In line 5, Ms. Havisham calls herself a spinster as she sees herself as an old single woman and probably the world sees her the same way. She also says that she stinks and that is because she has been wearing the same dress for years and she also says that she remembers the whole day when she was left at the alter.
In line 6, there is a metaphor used when Ms. Havisham compares herself to a lowly animal like a crow or a bird as she says “in bed cawing Noooo at the wall”, cawing is a harsh cry of a bird or a crow and Ms. Havisham says that she caws No at the wall but no one is listening to her.
In lines 7, Ms. Havisham talks about her dress that is yellowing due to the fact that she has worn it for decades, she says that her wardrobes door is so old that it trembles if she opens the wardrobe which could also show the state of Ms. Havisham’s mind.
In Line 8, Ms.Havisham is shocked at looking at the slewed mirror that is full-length, she can’t believe what she is looking at her which causes her to first say “her” then she realizes its herself which causes her to say “myself” and then she asks “who did this”. Its not exactly clear what happened to Ms. Havisham’s body but whatever happened, it was a lot and its seems like she’s saying that she did it to herself.
In line 9, its start off with “to me?” which is a continuation of line 8, with this question Ms. Havisham believes someone has done something to herself and that she is not the one to blame for her current state of affairs. The break in the line is called an enjambment. This poem has many different enjambments throughout as nearly every line ends in the middle of a sentence. This adds different meanings and contributes to the sound of the poem which is all over the place. “Puce curses that are sounds not words” is very difficult phrase to breakdown, puce is a color and curses that are sounds are very strange and it is not clear who she is cursing.
In line 10, Ms. Havisham says “Some nights better, the lost body over me,” this is clearly a sexual connotation with Ms. Havisham feeling erotic by his thoughts, she calls him a body rather than him over me and that is the feeling she has for him.
Lines 11 and 12 are clearly sexual connotations as Ms. Havisham describes what she does to the body with my fluent tongue in its mouth in its ear then down till I suddenly bite awake. These lines describe the thoughts Ms. Havisham has at some nights however also shows how she has depersonalized the fiancé and just uses his body. She bites awake however that is very ambiguous and it could have several different connotations. Carol Ann Duffy uses another enjambment at the end of line 12 as she ends the stanza with “Love’s” which prompts the reader to read the last stanza.
In line 13, “Love’s hate behind a white veil” is a paradox used by Carol Ann Duffy.
There are two ways to read this either as love is hate behind a white veil which would mean they are the same thing or Love’s hate behind a white veil which would mean that the hate that belongs to love is behind a white veil and it is not clear which one is used in the poem. There is another metaphor used in “a red balloon bursting in my face.” this metaphor represents love as floating around in the air and being all jolly and happy and then suddenly bursting in Ms. Havisham’s face. “Bang. I stabbed at a wedding cake” is a reference to the wedding cake that Ms. Havisham never threw and has been slowly rotting away in her house in the book. She possible stabs it in a fit of anger.
In line 15, Ms. Havisham says “Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon”, this is particularly disgusting as she wants to spend time with a corpse and there are several meanings to this however it is not clear by her tone what she intends to do with the corpse. It could refer to stanza three with her erotic plans or it could be to gross out the reader. The last line of the poem is a traditional pathos line. She asks for the readers sympathy and she says “Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.” The last word in the poem represents Ms. Havisham as broken, tired, out of air and falling apart.
This poem has left me feeling very sorry for Ms. Havisham, she has lived a miserable and terrible life and by the end of the dramatic monologue and after she has achieved all her feelings she is a broken women not being able to live with the facts of life. I have learnt about her terrible heartache, her terrible bitterness, her erotic fantasies, her ugly view of herself, and weird thoughts about cakes and corpses.