the biographer - carol ann duffy

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  • the biographer
    • what is the poem about
      • The poem is about a man (a male) who is a biographer and is writing one on a subject who he has admired since a young age. We learn that the persona has an obsession with this subject and criticise himself because he can’t relate to his subject.
    • who is the persona
      • The persona appears to be someone who is obsessed with their subject because of the personal attachments that they seem to be creating – “My fingers caressing the grooves in the wood” The use of the verb “caressing” suggests sexual and intimate connotations.
        • Persona also describes his wife, yet much like the persona in ‘The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team’ they don’t like her much and find her boring – “Then I snivel home to my wife. Her poems and jam. Her forgiveness. Her violent love.”
    • themes
      • Relationships = the relationship between a biographer and their subject and how it can get to the point where the biographer becomes obsessed and tries to become their subject.
      • Unhappiness = through the persona describing their subject we learn of their own unhappiness of themselves and how they are often self-critical
        • “You wouldn’t have wanted me or needed me.” This self-doubt suggests to a reader the reasons why he is so obsessed with his subject.
      • Identity = the poem could fit within the theme of identity as it explores how the persona’s identity is lost within their subject.
    • language
      • “Because you are dead // I stand at your desk”
        • The use of direct address and the use of the conjunction “because” suggests that maybe the persona is standing at the side of the desk instead of sitting because of his respect for his subject as in the poem he shows great admiration for them so by standing he is paying respect. However he may also be suggesting that if the subject of the biography was still alive, the persona wouldn’t be able to stand by the side of the table because later in the poem we learn that the persona doesn’t think that their subject would have liked them.
      • “Where an early daguerreotype shows you excitedly staring out from behind your face,”
        • The use of the concrete noun “daguerreotype” suggests that the picture is old and creates a distance between the subject and the persona, reinforcing the idea that the persona’s subject may have not liked the persona.
      • The fact that the subject is reported as smiling “excitedly” also contrasts with the last line of the poem when the persona describes their own smile on a dustjacket – “Its talentless, duskjacket smile” The verb “excitedly” and the adjective “talentless” contrast and portrays the attitudes that the persona holds towards themselves and their subject.
      • “I’m a passionate man // with a big advance // who’s loved your work since he was a boy.”
        • The use of the enjambment suggests that the persona is trying to justify their reasons for writing the biography. They begin to explain that they are doing it because of the passion that they feel towards the subject, they then go on to say they are doing it because of the money that they are being paid to do it and they finally say it is because of their admiration for the subject. The use of enjambment may also represent the persona as being star stuck and that by talking fast they seem to be bewildered at the fact that they are being able to be in their heroes house, therefore linking to the fact that the they stood at the desk out of a sign of respect.

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