Essay, Research Paper: Carol Anne Duffy's Adultery


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Carol Anne Duffy’s poem “Adultery” is structured in a traditional and
straightforward way. It is comprised of eleven verses - each with the common
four lines, which consist of between four and nine words. This makes the poem
not particularly striking at the first look, before it is read. The typography
does not attract the readers attention, this is probably because Duffy wants the
reader to concentrate on the language, and is not concerned with the shape that
the lines form, or how they relate to the themes of the poem. RHYME AND RHYTHM
Duffy does not seem particularly interested in rhyme in this poem, and probably
decided before writing it that she did not want any. Therefore rhyme has been
avoided, as has a regular, repetitive rhythm. I think that Duffy wants to allow
the language to speak for itself, without getting tangled up in rhyme and rhythm
schemes, and having to change what she wants to say in order to make it fit
these limitations. She also wants to avoid losing the impact of the poem. This
has much to do with the language used, poetic devices, and very often, the lack
of rhythm, seen clearly in the first verse when she writes: “Guilt. A sick,
green tint” The caesura breaks up the line, splitting it into two. If she were
writing within the barriers of a specific rhythm, she would probably be tempted,
and perhaps compelled to, split this line exactly in half, in order to balance
it and keep the structure. This would not have the same effect. The caesura is
used as dramatic device, implying that the poem is intended to be read out loud.
The break makes the reader pause, giving the first word a larger impact as it is
isolated from the rest of the text. It also does the same for the following
sentence, and as it is on the end of the verse, there is a natural pause here as
well, giving this line impact and power. Seeing as it also highlights a key
theme in the poem, guilt, it is also an important line as it tells the reader a
little about what to expect, and also raises their interest and expectations,
Guilt? Why? Who? LANGUAGE Duffy uses language very effectively in this poem. She
wants to create a specific atmosphere and then build on it, creating characters,
situations and emotions as she does so. She wants an atmosphere of sleaziness
and seediness, but wants it to sound exciting, dangerous and seductive. She also
examines the harm that the situations cause. The first verse (or stanza) is
packed with intrigue, mystery, excitement and questions. “Wear dark glasses in
the rain”, demands the first line, and the reader gets ideas of disguise. It
goes on to mention “unhurt” and “bruise” - dark glasses to hide a black
eye? Maybe not, another glance at the title, “Adultery”, suggests something
else - sado-masochism? Then comes the “guilt”, as mentioned above, and
reader knows she is talking about a sexual affair - but who? What? Where? We
want to know more. The second verse builds on the sexual intrigue with mentions
of “hands can do many things”, and “money tucked in the palms” suggests
prostitution, as well as “wash themselves” maybe implying that they feel
dirty? Duffy is building an atmosphere which is sexually charged and filled with
riddles and ambiguous comments, daring the reader to assume a sexually link. The
next verse features the line: “You are naked under your clothes all day...”,
another sexual connotation, perhaps implying that the clothes are a disguise,
and all day the character does something which is not really them, and
underneath they are different, “naked” suggests vulnerability. There is also
“...brings you alone to your knees...” and “...more, more...”, which
could suggest oral sex, while the repetition shows that Duffy considers this the
most important word of the line, demanding it stands out, and it could suggest
an unsatisfied sexual appetite, or description of the frequency of the
couple’s meetings. Dishonesty is mentioned with “deceit” and “Suck a lie
with a hole in it”. This could be a more explicit reference to oral sex, or
more obscurely, Polo mints, the mint you suck with a hole in it. Duffy could be
saying that the lies are sweet, addictive and refreshing compared with a mundane
life, like Polo mints; she could mean that the lies come as easily as sweets
from a packet, although probably not. Or perhaps the key is in the next line:
“On the way home from a lethal thrilling night.” Maybe the character is
mulling over what the excuse will be to the spouse, how he/she will lie their
way out of where they have been, but the lie will always be flawed as it is not
true - hence the hole. The “lethal” also brings a touch of danger to the
atmosphere. Duffy does not want the reader to be comfortable with this deceit or
the situation as a whole. We know it is sordid, and now we know it could be a
bit hazardous. Duffy continues with “up against a wall, faster”, an obvious
reference to the e night they’ve just had, with fast exciting sex - quick
gratification. The last line of this verse: “unpeels to a lost cry. You’re a
bastard.” The caesura breaks up the line, balancing it, and giving greater
impact and significance to the second half. The colloquialism “bastard” is
used for several reasons. It has a big impact, surprising the reader, and
shocking a minority, who aren’t used to taboo words in poetry. This gives it
more power - it is swear word, and is offensive. Duffy could have said
“You’re a bad person”, but this is dead, lame, and ineffective. It is also
more emotional, as “bastard” is more dramatic than “bad person” and so
has more feeling in it. It is likely that Duffy is revealing what the spouse’s
reaction would be to the news that his/her wife/husband is having an affair. If
not then the adulterer is imagining what their spouse would say, and is calling
him/herself a bastard. It is unlikely that Duffy herself is calling the
adulterer a bastard. Firstly Duffy does not appear to pass judgment on the
characters in the rest of the poem, she lets their actions and feelings speak
for themselves. Secondly, Duffy would probably realise that it is more
interesting to hear another character’s opinion, than her own, especially when
she has focused on what the characters are thinking in the rest of the poem.
Altogether, Duffy is revealing some of the emotions involved with adultery.
There is also the matter of whether the adulterer is male or female.
“Bastard” is traditionally an insult towards men, and it is unlikely that
Duffy would purposely confuse the reader in regard to the gender of the main
character, especially when their actions and thoughts are so vital to the poem.
This does not necessarily mean that the adulterer is male. The references
earlier to oral sex implied that the adulterer was female, but I could be wrong
about those, or maybe Duffy is saying that person the adulterer is having an
affair with is a bastard - hence a female adulterer. With the oral sex
references in mind, presuming they are correct, it suggests that the affair is
homosexual, but if this were the case then Duffy would almost certainly say it
in more explicit terms, as on first read this is not apparent, and Duffy cannot
want her poem to be that misunderstood. The next verse begins: “Do it do it do
it. Sweet darkness” Duffy is using poetic devices to convey the mood and
atmosphere she wants to create. The caesura again breaks the line in two giving
a big impact and significance to both halves as the readers pauses for effect.
The repetition shows that the phrase “do it” is important and needs to be
emphasized again and again, or perhaps it is describing how they “do it”
again and again - a possible sexual reference. The lack of punctuation conveys
the speed and urgency. “Sweet darkness” is almost an oxymoron; we are used
to thinking of darkness as spooky, scary and hiding dangers, and to think of it
as sweet seems to be a contradiction in terms, it isn’t really, but Duffy
knows that this impression will be given. She could be talking about the lovers
meeting in the darkness, or darkness hiding their sins, but either way, the fact
that it appears to be an oxymoron draws the readers attention to it, as does the
caesura. Duffy then returns to sexually ambiguous phrases like “how you are
wanted, which way, now”, and “pay for it in cash” this must be referring
to desire in the former quotation and probably prostitution in the latter.
However, Duffy never explicitly writes about prostitution, just hints at it in
order to increase the sexual tension and condense the atmosphere of seediness.
Duffy goes on to describe how the affair is taking it’s toll on the marriage
and conscience of the adulterer. “...The life which crumbles like a wedding
cake.” - Duffy uses a simile to describe how the life is being eroded, by
comparing it to a crumbling wedding cake, reminding that the adulterer is
married, and that the marriage must also be splintering. The seventh verse is
interesting: “Paranoia for lunch; too much to drink, as a hand on your thigh
tilts the restaurant. You know all about love, don’t you. Turn on your
beautiful eyes” The annotations show all the poetic devices that Duffy uses,
mostly in order to increase the mood of the poem and convey the theme. In the
next verse Duffy uses an interesting image: “the slicing of innocent onions
scalds you to tears”. I do not know what Duffy is trying to say to the reader
here, but there are several possibilities. The adulterer has returned to the
household chores for the family, and is crying because he/she feels bad about
how he/she has betrayed the family, and is reminded of this by the return to the
old routine; or possibly the “innocent onions” represent the innocent
members of the family that the adulterer has hurt - this would be the
“slicing” - and the realisation of this has made the adulterer cry, just
like cutting onions would. Duffy is telling the reader that the adulterer feels
remorse that the family has suffered for her affair, and this changes the
atmosphere. It appears that in these verses the poet is describing what happens
when the adulterer returns to the family home, he/she sleeps in a “marital
bed”, Duffy is pointing this out so deliberately to highlight the fact that
he/she has recently been sharing another bed, an extra-marital one. “The
tarnished spoon of your body stirring betrayal” - Duffy uses a metaphor to
explain that the adulterer feels dirty due to his/her actions, and is acutely
aware of how he/she has let down the family and betrayed the spouse. The reader
feels that the adulterer regrets their actions, and is now dealing with the
consequences, which could be severe as he/she has to send “dumb and explicit
flowers on nobody’s birthday” to try to win over the partner again and
apologise. If the partner hasn’t found out then the adulterer is probably
sending the flowers just out of guilt. However, the last verse implies that the
partner does know what’s been going on, as they appear to have an argument
about it: “...You did it. What. Didn’t you. Fuck. Fuck. No...” Duffy does
not explicitly show that it is dialogue by using inverted commas, but the
language suggests it is. The partner has just discovered what is going on and is
confronting the adulterer. The colloquialism is again used to give the line
power, impact, and the ability to shock, as “*censored*” is generally
considered to be the most taboo word in the English language. It is shows that
the this is very emotional. The characters are using “strong language”
because they have very strong feelings and are very upset. They both want to get
across the power of what they are feeling, and the lack of question marks-?-
show that they are not calmly asking each other questions, but are speaking in
statements - “You did it, didn’t you.”, rather than “You did it,
didn’t you?”. This also implies that they are shouting at each other. This
is usually shown in either capital letters, italics, or bold type, but Duffy
again does not want to be so explicit. She wants the reader to have to read the
verse a few time through to understand it, as this will make them concentrate
more and focus on what is being said. Throughout this poem Duffy is building up
atmosphere. She uses language and poetic devices to create a mood, and then
changes the mood, thereby moving the story on.
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