Carol Ann Duffy's 'Originally'

Some notes on Carol Ann Duffy's poem, 'originally'.  I found a detailed analysis on the internet, and decided to break it down a bit.

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  • Created by: Jem
  • Created on: 03-04-12 17:36

Meaning of The Poem

Focus on journeys, moving on.  Persona longs for the past, safety and security against life, but realises reluctantly that everyone must face necessity of experiencing change in community and environment.  Because of this the persona must endure questions of her origins and identity.

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Stanza 1

·         Assonance connections between words; ‘fields’, line 2, ‘wheels’ line 3.  ‘more’ line 7, ‘paw’ line 8.  Emphasises order and familiarity of ‘home’ being left behind.  Reminders of times gone by.  No more assonance in stanza 2; unfamiliar surroundings. 

·         Contrasting scale; ‘our own country’, compared to ‘red room’.  ‘red room’ possible reference to womb, ultimate symbol of originality and dependence.

·         ‘as the miles rushed back to the city, the street, the house, the vacant room…’ asyndetic list, increasingly personal locations.  ‘vacant’ not only describes rooms, but also the list; the journey, goes nowhere.  ‘where we didn’t live anymore’ futility of hanging onto something belonging to the past.

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Stanza 1, continued

·         Alliteration; ‘fell through the fields’, natural comfort of home.

·         ‘our mother singing/ our father’s name.’ balance of love in family; both parents, situation is well, no discord.  Verb, 'singing'; melody, music, expression of happiness.  In tune.

·         Imagery; ‘I stared/ at the eyes of a blind toy, holding its paw.’ Childhood comfort, like original location, or home.  Oxymoron; ‘stared…a blind toy’ intimacy of the surroundings is an illusion, the persona has been decieved

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Stanza 2

Stanza 2

·         More consideration of emigration, ‘some are slow’ long meandering sentence.  Sibilance.  ‘Others are sudden. Your accent wrong.’ Emphasis  by short consonantal sounds ‘c’, ‘t’.  Contrast between two types of emigration.

·         More graphic, negative language, ‘big boys eating worms’, bad reaction to new surroundings.  Plosive, ‘big boys’, emphasises that boys are bigger, scarier.

·         Simile; ‘anxiety stirred like a loose tooth’ suggests uneasiness always conscious of.

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Stanza 3

·         Three commas in first line plus language/writing style-persona’s search for sense of comfort, familiarity.

·         First line with ‘forget’, moving to ‘don’t recall’; weaker form of forget, and ends with ‘change’.  Self doubt.  Coupled with self-condemnation, sibilance in ‘seeing your brother swallow a slug, feel only a skelf of shame’ persona’s anger at brother blends in now surroundings, copies local habits to gain anonymity.  Ironic, though, poet uses dialect ‘skelf’ remembering childhood, past can’t be erased.

·         Sibilance; ‘shedding its skin like a snake’, snake associated with threat, danger, treachery; distrust of foreigners.  Speech, voice-biggest symbols of foreignness.  No more accent, dialect, nothing shows past life; snake shedding skin, scars marking previous hunts and fights go with skin.  However, shedding skin is natural; the changes are natural way to regain sense of belonging.

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Stanza 3, continued

·         Rhetorical  question; ‘do I only think…’ without answers builds up and emphasises persona’s longing for home, original location.  ‘only’, indication of more implications that in the emotive asyndetic list ‘river, culture, speech, sense of first space’, also rhyme of ‘first space’ and ‘the right place’ represents persona’s feelings of being lost and in wrong place.  Feels she doesn’t belong/ doesn’t want to belong.

·         ‘And I hesitate’ portrays persona’s confusion, lack of identity, identity crisis in first two stanzas. 

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