Circe

Stanza 1

The satire becomes a little more biting, and the vocabulary implies criticism. Skin isn’t smooth or silky but ‘bristling and salty’ – unattractive, in short. There is nothing delicate or complimentary about perceiving the smell ‘in my nostrils’ and ‘yobby, porky colognes’. There is a suggestion of the sexual act in ‘skin of their backs’ as well as female dominance in ‘under my thumb’.

Circe moves us deeper into insult mode. ‘Hogs’ is an unappealing word and ‘runts’ are the weakest in a litter; neither sounds sexually attractive. ‘Oinks and grunts’ and ‘squeals’ are not only the sounds of the animals but imitate those of the sexual act.

The ‘pail of swill’ is what pigs eat and maybe also the only food fit for men. ‘Dusk’ suggests the time of day of sexual arousal. The gate of the sty is ‘creaky’, perhaps to indicate that where these pig-men live is broken down, uncared-for. These creatures are clearly perceived by Circe to be unattractive ‘slobs’.

1 of 4

Stanza 2

This opens up complex ideas. The ‘cheek’ could be another sexual reference, as it may refer to a buttock. But then Duffy states ‘the tongue in cheek at that’. The reader may wonder if the poem is a flippant joke pulling fun at men, or if the intention is more serious, a critique of male nastiness.

This is clearly sexual, exaggeratedly alliterative in the use of the ‘l’ sound. The word ‘lie’ has, of course, a double meaning, not only cookery related but with a sexual association — that of oral sex.

While Circe is prepared to acknowledge that some men may be ‘noble’ and ‘wise’ and ‘kind’ they are all condemned to have those ‘piggy eyes’. The sound and implications are derogatory, implying slyness and meanness.

2 of 4

Stanza 3

Again, the sudden characteristic Duffy change of mood. Circe asks the question in poetic terms. ‘Prayers and rhymes’ and ‘chimes’ and ‘singing’ and ‘clear’ make up a lexical field relating to music and with religious connotations. The reasons for the bitterness and resentment are, for the first time, becoming clear. The men have betrayed Circeand the women who have ignored their needs, despite the hospitality and love given. They have focused only on their own egotistical concerns; ‘did it listen…to your prayers … etc. The two lines are lyrical, a contrast to the sardonic, contemptuous tone of the lines before and after. Note also the internal rhyme of ‘rhymes’ and ‘chimes’, to reinforce the music metaphor. And, to emphasise the idea of male selfishness, Circe suggests immediately afterwards — no doubt with sarcasm — ‘mash the potatoes, nymph, open the beer.’ The women, naturally, find themselves inevitably pandering to demanding men… as so often happens in the present day and centuries past

Again a change, reverting to the cookery demonstration, Circe addresses her audience. The ‘nymph’ – the female spirit of the natural world – is almost affectionate, implying a female-only world of shared resentment at male insensitivity. Duffy produces yet another list, ending with the ‘slit, bulging, vulnerable bag of the balls’. This is a brutal, direct attack on male weakness; in short emasculation. ‘Dice it small’ is a typical recipe instruction, but here it is a metaphor for revenge, for the destruction of cold, selfish, egotistical men

3 of 4

Stanza 4

The ‘myths’ that Circe is referring to may be the myth of the broken promise of these men to the women that they would one day return. The next section is ******, and describes Circe’s sensual farewell to the men in the hope that the women will be remembered. Slipping off her dress, waving, calling, swimming on her back are all sexual invitations. The fact that the ships ‘sighed’ can be interpreted in different ways; either the men were sad to leave or the women were sad to see them depart. The reason why the ships were ‘black’ is because they had to be treated with pitch almost daily to keep them more or less waterproof. However, there may be a hint of something sinister, a foreshadowing of a darker future

The final section is soft, poetic and reminiscent of past, lost hopeful times. The words are fluid, a long thoughtful sentence, with soft, alliterative ‘sh’ sounds in ‘shining shore’ and ‘ships’. These are repeated later in the stanza with ‘ships’ and ‘shallow’. The vowels are long and stretched out, as in ‘sail’ and ‘tall’ and ‘burning’. The mood is of joy, love and hope

4 of 4

Comments

No comments have yet been made

Similar English Literature resources:

See all English Literature resources »See all Poetry resources »