Feminine Gospels

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The Long Queen

Summary: Duffy presents a patron saint of woman who is their ruler and maternal figure. 

Themes

  • Motherhood: 'no girl was born who wasn't the Long Queen's always child' - may explain why she 'couldn't die' if her influence lives on in her children. 
  • Time: 'All her possession for a moment of time', she has 'taken Time for a husband'. 
  • Feminine inheritance: 'her word of law was in their bones, in the graft/of their hands'.
  • Suffering integral to female identity: 'tears: salt pearls, bright jewels/for the Long Queen's fingers to weightr as she countered their sorrow'.

Patterns of language

  • Anaphora: 'some said' 'some said' 'some said' - emphasises mystery as she is 'unseen'
  • Hypophora: 'what was she queen of? women, girls,/spinsters and hags, matrons, wet nurses,/witches, widows, wives, mother of all these.'
  • Heat imagery: 'cold weight of the crown' portrays responisibility as negative.
  • Progression from short, snappy comments to longer sentences and lines with expansive tone provides detail on the four laws often by listing.
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The Map-Woman

Summary: A woman is born with a map of her home town on her skin.

Themes

  • Identity: the subject is defined by the map through determiners in title and 'a woman'.
  • Feminine body: she must hide it ('when she went out, she covered it up/with a dress, with a shawl, with a hat...') - fated as 'body was certain/an inch to the mile' but she's 'unsure'.

Patterns of Language

  • Deathly imagery: 'graves', 'had heard of a kid [...] tossed by a lorry into the air like a doll', 'knew of a girl who had not been seen', 'her own small ghost', 'shroud to be dead in'.
  • Frequent proper nouns: 'Glasgow, London, Liverpool', 'Market Square to the Picture House by the way of St Mary's Church' - enables reader to visualise map.
  • Archaic clothing language: 'shawl' 'cloak' versus 'leggings' 'jeans'.
  • Serpentine imagery: 'her artery snaking north', 'her skin' simile 'like a snake'.
  • Verbs of evasion: 'duck', 'dive' shows desire to escape 'she ate up the miles'.
  • Personification: 'the motorway groaned' and 'trains sighed' - life given to inanimate infrastructure but taken from subject - she is dehumanised as map is brought alive.
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Beautiful

Summary: four women embody beauty ('Beauty is fame'=Helen of Troy, 'Tough beauty'=Cleopatra, 'Dumb beauty'=Marilyn Monroe and 'Beauty is fate'=Princess Diana)

Themes

  • History/Time: 'she couldn't die when she died', 'She never aged', 'History's stinking breath in her face' - suggests feminine objectification is cyclical. 
  • Female body/inheritance: metonymy of 'The camera loved her' for society.
  • Transformation: the 'divinely fair woman' into a 'little bird inside a cage'.

Patterns of language

  • Semantic field of beauty and sexuality: 'divinely fair, a pearl, drop-dead/gorgeous, beautiful, a peach', men are 'enchanted by the perfume of her breath, for her skin's celebrity', 'They filmed her famous, filmed her beautiful', 'her face was surely a star', 'loved and loved/ and loved again', use of verb 'sashayed'.
  • Imagery of restraint: 'she lay high up/in a foreign castle's walls', 'ankles crossed, knees clamped, hands clasped', 'she posed alone' but not always as 'she lay above him'.
  • Anaphora: repetition of unidentified collective 'Some' - shows ambiguity of endings.
  • Semantic field of precious minerals: 'her hair was platinum, her teeth gems, her eyes/sapphires', 'her skin investors' gold, her fingernails mother-of-pearl'. 
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The Diet

Summary: explores the maxim 'inside every fat woman is a thin one trying to get out'. 

Themes

  • Female body (in particular, how modern expectations of it are unrealistic): subject undertakes the diet to become 'svelter, slimmer' 'thinner' by 'skipping breakfast, lunch, dinner'. Although diet is effective (simile 'The diet worked like a dream'), it is not healthy (emphasised by  listing, the speaker is 'a slip of a girl, a shadow, dwindling away' at 'the width of a stick') and left 'alone, head splitting, mouth dry, hungry and cold'. 

Patterns of language

  • Natural imagery: 'the wind blew her away', 'seed small', hypophora 'What passed her lips? Air,/water' portrays women as externally linked to natural regardless of if they are pressured by or excluded from society - thus the feminine seems eternally linked to nature. 
  • Terms of address: 'Anorexia's true daughter', 'tiny others', 'the Fat Woman' - sees people defined by their size.
  • Hyperbolic portrayal of weight loss: once she is thin instead of 'the wind blew her away', she finds that 'she could fly on the wind' and 'drifted away on a breeze' - thus she has gained some form of power over natural elements but this is detrimental to her health. 
  • Deathly imagery: she is a 'skeleton' under a 'tight flesh dress'. 
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The Woman Who Shopped

Summary: woman's materialistic obsession leads to hyperbolic transformation into shop. 

Themes

  • Female body: distinctively feminine even after transformation - defined by her female biology  'her skirts were glass doors opening and closing' and (crude language) 'crowds would queue overnight/at her ****' 'desperate for bargains!'.
  • Consumerism: desires ('she pressed her face to the pan of the biggest and best') seen as universial - semantic field of money from archaic 'silver shilling' to 'plastic'.
  • Transformation: dehumanises female subject 'stone', 'concrete' and 'glass' shop - but she's  happier 'light blazed from her now' and repetition of emotive language ('love') show self-love. 

Patterns of language

  • Frequent listing: reflects speaker's materialistic obsession prioritised over emotional connection ('walked with a suitor [...] ditched him') yet wanted  ('wanted a wedding, a wedding dress, groom, married him').
  • Lack of punctuation (in particular full stops): -  with frequent enjambement and lack of rhyme conveys manic, obsessive tone reflecting speaker's mind. 
  • Biblical allusion: 'apple, red as first love's heart' - like Eve, temptation leads to her downfall.
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Work

Summary: Duffy tells of a woman who endures to care for her multiplying children.

Themes

  • Self sacrifice: the speaker is willing to work 'to the bone' to care for her children, willing to 'put in/a 90-hour week' and 'scattered the teeth in her head for grain'.
  • Transformation: the children multiply  from 'one' to 'a thousand more' to 'a billion' and  mother transforms from individual to matneral deity figure.
  • Capitalism: 'she worked at home' to 'she worked outside' then Industrial Revolution work 'was factory gates' - she later goes on 'she built streets' ''cities grew'. 'she flogged TVs,/ designed PCs, ripped CDs, burned DVDs.' - use of past tense.
  • Femininty as natural: she 'wept rain' - thus femininty nurturing and wise. But population grewoth facilitated by women and is dangerous to 'feed more, more' as 'mother to millions'.

Patterns of language

  • Deathly imagery: mother's pursuit to provide for her children ultimately leads to her destruction -  she is 'sickened' and then 'lay in a grave' but still 'worked' even then. 
  • Close proximity rhyme and enjambement: convey momentum but is it out of obligation or her own decision?
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Tall

Summary: heroine's immense height gives her power or expectation of it.

Themes

  • Female empowerment and transformation: hypophora of 'What could she see/up there? She told them what kind of weather was heading their way...' makes persona powerful. But 'cured no one' and couldn't stop 'burning towers' only catch 'souls'. 
  • Female isolation: she is ostracised - the verb of necessity in 'she needed a turret', she is 'in the wind and rain' 'all night'. 'local crowds' physically below 'around her feet'.

Patterns of language

  • Language of measurement across time: '8 foot' '30 foot', 'could see for miles'. 
  • Religious imagery: simile 'like a christening gift', 'local crowds [...] chanting', 'she knelt [...] as if she were praying for rain', persona attracts 'pilgrims', 'day one' 'day two' 'day three' 'day six' Biblical - no day four or five (animals and plants) - infertility?
  • Natural imagery: idiom 'her head in the clouds now', metaphor 'the stars trembled', 'the moon came closer' 'dust storms over the Pyramids, hurricanes over the USA, floods in the UK', biblical 'a tree dangled an apple at bite-height. She bit it'.
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Loud

Summary: a woman's voice become a powerful force against 'the News' - may be metaphor for women (possibly autobiographical) success in their careers and thus soceity.

Themes

  • Female empowerment via transformation: from a small voice in the 'national whoop' and 'boos' into individuality - 'Now she was Loud'. But despite being able to make the moon spin 'away into space' she cannot be louder than the News ('loud, loud, louder the News').

Patterns of language

  • Violent verbs: 'her voice ripped out', 'her voice stomped through the city'.
  • Animalistic language: 'she howled', 'she could roar', 'her scream was a huge bird/that flew her away into the dark; each vast wing a shriek,/awful to hear, the beak the sickening hiss of a thrown spear' pairs serpentine imagery ('sickening hiss') with dactylic heroic hexameter typical of epic poetry.
  • Natural imagery: simile 'like an avalanche', 'in the wind and rain', simile 'like thunder', classical reference to Zeus via 'uttering lightning' could reflect how power historically gendered as male but also influence of epic tradition as heroes seen to be descended from or protected by the Gods - further seen through her reaching celestial heights 'the stars trembled'.
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History

Summary: History is depicted as an old woman 'alone' and vulnerable to 'theives/in the night'. 

Themes

  • Time/History as cyclical and fated: anaphora of 'how the saints whistled and spat in the flames,/how the dictator [...] blew out his brains'. Freqeutn internal rhyme 'brains' 'trains'
  • Feminine abuse: there are 'theives/in the night' who 'rang on her door', 'sprayed 'fresh graffiti' and posted through her door '**** wrapped in a newspaper'. 
  • Femininity as powerless: despite being a representation of history itself, she has 'not a tooth' thus is toothless - an adjective that can mean lacking genuine force or effectiveness.

Patterns of language

  • Colour imagery: decaying yellows and browns portrayed through 'smelling of pee' and 'slurped tea' could reflect how history has been neglected (particuarly herstory which is history from a feminist perspective).
  • Crude language: '**** wrapped in a newspaper' - reflect the violent nature of many historical events and the abuse history (in particularly herstory) may be seen to recieve today. 
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Sub

Summary: a woman undertakes the roles of men in historically significant events.

Themes

  • Femininity as a powerful force: the persona refutes forces such as bad luck (she wears the 'no. 13 shirt') which could be chance or reflect the obstacles placed upon women (by men). 
  • Unity between the genders as a solution: the enclusion of the speaker means 'we don't have a problem' in the Moon Landing.

Patterns of language

  • Feminine imagery and references: 'my breasts' were 'bandaged' and later 'two of his boxes over my chest', 'time of the month', 'skirt' - feminine physicallity is accepted and accomodated by soceity, or it may be seen as hidden away/denied/buried. 
  • Masculine imagery and references: 'team bath with the lads', 'carried shoulder high by the lads'.
  • First person narrative: provides personal, intimate tone with the persona - Duffy sways the reader to be in support of the persona's pursuit.  
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The Virgin's Memo

Summary: a short note perhaps written by the Virgin Mary to her infant son Jesus. 

Themes

  • Motherhood: alphaetical structure with 26 lines as 26 letters in the alphabet may reflect childish, light tone for baby Jesus. Tone of poem attempts to impart wisdom onto boy as if he is still learning or being chided by his mother - connotes maternal guidance as powerful. 
  • Religion:  poem may be regarded as a biblical text that didn't make it into the Bible - may reflect how female voices ignored by wider society and how little importance they have been historically seen to hold. This could be emphasised by the 'memo' form that connotes a passing thought which may make the poem seem less important.  

Patterns of language

  • Lexical field of animals: 'mice', 'giraffe', 'jellyfish' - only positive 'the unicorn is lovely' a mythical creature that does not exist thus ironic or sacastic even critical of creation process.
  • Lexical field of disease: 'herpes', 'fungus', 'diarrhoea', 'mucus', 'boils' - vulgar imagery.
  • Unreadible sections: '(text illegible)' '(untranslatable)' - Mary would have been illiterate.
  • Bathetic (anti-climatic) ending: 'maybe not' could suggest Mary continued the list or that corrections were made to her work as if it were censored.
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Anon

Summary: speaker explores the experiences of undefined women.

Themes

  • Feminine inheritance: the subject is associated with a kind of social or cultural presence which has gone unrecorded across time but eternal - 'down through the years'.
  • Feminine voice: not expressed verbally - through 'pen' 'passed on [...] like a baton'.
  • Female role in society: anaphora of 'maybe' ('maybe a nurse, a nanny,/maybe a nun')  - all jobs are caring for another - lack of independence. Yet inanimate desk personified 'it cleared its throat/as though it had something/to get off its chest'. Social pressure cause women to 'packed it all in,/ the best verb, the right noun' despite superlatives showing talent. 

Patterns of Language

  • Extended metaphor/allegory for women across time as one/Symbolic personification of an abstract concept: 'Anon's' - reflects how they are unreachable and to reinforce how they have been neglected despite being incredibly important voices. 
  • Decreasing line length: imitates how subject not defined - anonymous 'she'.
  • Simplistic word play: opposing serious subject - light hearted, playful tone.
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The Laughter of Stafford Girls' High

Summary: mock-epic allegory follows a laugh as it takes over a girl's grammar school. 

Themes

  • Transformation: of teachers and students by the laughter - Mrs McKay 'walked into the sea', Senora Devizes 'plans to return to Spain', Miss Batt and Fife 'moved to a city/where women danced, cheek to cheek' so must no longer hid at 'dawn' or in a 'small room'.
  • Childhood: narrative style lack of rhythm and rhyme - satirises childhood stories. 

Patterns of language

  • Extended metaphor of the laughter as water: 'the sound of the laugh [...] was a liquid one', 'a spalsh', 'dribble', 'ripple', 'gurgle' - Water uncontrollable and natural thus rebellion natural 'the clouds were being slowly torn up/like a rule book'. Paired with natural imagery: simile 'like a tropical wind', metaphor 'the daisy chain of a grin', 'blooming rose of her throat', 'her lips slip from the closed bud of a kiss' - show laughter natural.
  • Listing: interrupted by the laughter - conveys factual, geographical knowledge not useful. 
  • Terms of address: all girls names have four syllables ('Emily Jane', 'Carolann Clare' 'Rosmary Beth') - education system breds conformity opposing individuality. 
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A Dreaming Week

Summary: a series of negative statements ironically argue for a dreaming week as a working one

Themes

  • Time: the 'week' presented as a lifetime
  • Female power: can be seen as a comment on the power of women in society.

Patterns of language

  • Natural imagery: nouns 'stars' 'trees', personification: 'stars are blue in the face'. 
  • Repetition of the preposition 'under': 'under the stuttering covers', 'under the covers', 'under closed eyes' - coveys a sense of depth perhaps process of REM sleep or burial.
  • Biblical allusions: simile 'like an arc' could reference Noah's arc as a form of escape, seven days in the seven stanzas could recall the biblical creation of the Earth in seven days. 
  • Rhetorical refrain: 'I'm dreaming' - paralipsis?
  • Poetic figurative language: 'a sleeping S on the page of a bed', 'the tome of a dim room', 'like the typed words of a poem' - present poetry are naturally occuring and utilised by poet.
  • Deathly imagery: the final day is a 'date' with 'the dark' and foreboding auditory language 'stuttering clock'.
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White Writing

Summary: speaker creates their own ceremony to marry their same-sex lover. 

Themes

  • Marriage: there are 'now vows written to wed you' because they are written by men  and exclude same-sex couples leasing the speaker to create their own vows. Yet ironically they must keep their 'maiden names' though these are not stated as if language is inadequate for this loving expression. 

Patterns of language

  • Light imagery: 'flame', 'gold sun', 'moonlight'.
  • Natural imagery: nouns such as 'clouds', 'sea', 'water'.
  • Refrain: 'I write them white' - ironic as Duffy is writing with black ink. Could reference Helene Cixous' idea of women writing in 'white ink' as the force of love. 
  • References to romantic love: 'my lips on yours', 'your hand in mine,/palm against palm'.
  • Ephemeral imagery: 'words on the wind', 'inked water in moonlight' - could reflect how lesbian relationships have no place in traditional society thus not recognised. 
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Gambler

Summary: The process of writing poetry is expressed through gambling.

Themes

  • Gender equality: feminine poetry is equated to masculine gambling.

Patterns of language

  • Conceit of gambling as the process of writing poetry: 'it's words/ she picks, names she ticks'and 'she sits [...] writing the poems of bets'- makes the poem metafictional.
    • Semantic field of poetry: 'sound of words', 'the form'
  • Frequent proper nouns: 'Indian Nectar', 'Heiress of Meath, Sprinfieldsupreme, Mavis, Shush, Birth of the Blue' all real life horses but may be utilised for their connotations of stereotypical feminine gender roles - 'Shush' as an exclaimation or verb can be to tell someone to be quiet, 'Heiress' is female inheritance but a passive activity. 
  • Rhetorical devices: 'And how can she lose?'
  • Final end-stopped line: presents continuous rhythm and flow in prior lines, perhaps reflects  addictive and obsessive nature of gambling despite the joyful and upbeat tone that can seem frantic - medial caesures seperate proper nouns 'Indiannectar.Indiannectar.' 
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The Light Gatherer

Summary: An expression of the adoration of a mother for their daughter.

Themes

  • Motherhood: religious imagery 'your kissed feet' 'I knelt' - reverence for daughter.

Patterns of language

  • Sustained conceit of light associated with the poem's subject (the daughter): 'light gathered in you', 'the light of a smile', 'your kissed feet glowed', 'you shine like a snowgirl', 'the soft lamp [...] mirrored in you' - metaphors mirror child's development. 
  • Lexical field of valuable items: 'jewelled', metaphor 'your eyes, warm pearls', nouns such as 'turquoise and diamond and gold' rhythmically reminesent of a children's song - 'gold' in alchemy representing the highest development of the soul.
  • Natural imagery: similes 'like a river', metaphors 'two clear raindrops/in your eyes' and nouns like 'buttercup'.
  • Use of structure to illustrate concepts: 'opening out' positioned with enjambement so that it imitates the evolution of the child whose environment she 'squeals at' is transformed into a  symbolic space via simile 'like a jeweled cave' with atavistic 'cave' showing destiny of child.
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The Cord

Summary: a daughter goes into the forest in search of the cord she was born with. 

Themes

  • Motherhood: the mother is 'in the tree above' physically watching over her daughter.
  • Femininity as a natural force: daughter's increasing awareness of the bond shared with her mother expressed through the forest 'she went deeper/into the forest'

Patterns of language

  • Lexical field of valuable items: nouns like 'silver' and 'gold' showing value of their bond.
  • Extended metaphor of a forest: an 'ancient oak' hides the cord for it was 'buried [...] under a tree' - archetypally linked to fairy tales where female character is lost (other fairy tale references include 'princess' and 'golden spinning wheel' for Sleeping Beauty) thus could reflect how female identity and spiritual secret of femininty could be lost or never found. 
  • Darkness imagery: 'black', 'shadows, 'huge darkness' - could reflect patriachal qualities.
  • Natural imagery: through nouns such as 'bird', 'stars, 'wind' portraying femininity as natural.
  • Extended metaphor of the cord as the bond between mother and daughter: 'the cord she was born with' leads daughter 'to hunt for her cord' without 'a hint where she should do'.
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Wish

Summary: elergy expressing speaker's imagination ressurecting dead loved one.

Themes

  • Feminine abuse and mistreatment: 'her bare feet walk along the gravel path/between the graves' a reference to Robert Graves' poem 'Theseus and Ariadne' where Ariadne is abandoned, neglected, lonely and moribund until she is rescued by Bacchus to be his wife and in his household of everlasting celebration - Duffy perhaps symbolically rescuing someone through recalling Graves' lines with comparable diction. 
  • Bringing the feminine back to life: but there are obstacles between life and death the 'heavy door'. 'if I can only push open' suggests will-power sparks ressurrection.

Patterns of language

  • Sleep imagery: 'kicked off the covering', 'shifted', 'stirred' - perhaps denial paired with repetition of 'what if' could connote personal catharsis or wider lack of understanding for why specific individuals have been lost (i.e. herstory).
  • Light imagery: 'she'll be standing there in the sun', 'Nobody slept who couldn't be woken/by the light'- almost religious but can reach alive and dead equally well. 
    • Repetition of pronoun: 'Nobody slept', 'Nobody died', 'Nobody wept'. 
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North-West

Summary: modern elegy mourning personal history and lost opportunity via possibility of life. 

Themes

  • Loss: as a modern elegy Duffy presents a more broad sense of loss through teh loss of a place and its possibilities - place thought to be Liverpool due to 'yeah yeah yeah' Beatles reference but this song title is hidden (like the 'hidden streets') and thus must be uncovered by the reader. 

Patterns of language

  • Semantic field of loss: 'what we lost', 'what we always did' - more abstract sense of loss typical of the modern elegy form.
  • Natural imagery: through nouns such as 'water', 'wind', 'wave', 'flowers'.
  • Urban imagery used as a pathetic fallacy: 'the city drifts out of reach', 'hidden streets', 'the ferry grieves'.
  • Predominantly half rhymes rather than full rhymes: 'air' and 'yeah', 'board' and 'bird' - emphasises concept of unfinished business and inconclusiveness of poem perhaps from the 'unborn children' and general lost potential. 
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Death and the Moon

Summary: Subject mourns the loss of Adrian Henri, former partner of Duffy's.

Themes

  • Loss: conventional theme of traditional elegy. nostalgic 'tough confetti' funeral/wedding.
  • Grief: colour imagery ('gold' to 'red' to 'black') reflect stages of grief.

Patterns of language

  • References to the human anatomy: 'his hard old face', 'the lip of your open grave', 'tongues in the water's mouth' humanising Henri despite his death.  
    • Sensory imagery: visual 'your eyes', auditory 'your soundless ears', gustatory 'your tongue' with 2nd person to refer to dead subject to seek connection.
  • Semantic field of the cold: 'cold', 'ice', 'frozen pond' reflecting speaker's grief. 
  • Natural imagery: 'rain', 'wood', 'unseeable in the air', 'light', 'the water's mouth' presents death and greif as natural. The 'moon' is 'nearer than where death took you' could be metaphor for Henri - constant presense to living loved ones, maybe representation of how his memory lives on as 'the moon, surely, only as far again as the roof'.
  • Cosmic imagery: 'the moon', 'the sky's dark pocket', 'space', 'stars' - he is 'unreachable'.
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