In the bible, Delilah was a Philistine and the mistress of Samson, a man noted for his strength, who fought against the Philistines. She was promised a large sum of money if she could find out the source of his strength. Eventually she discovered that it lay in his long hair, which she cut off as he slept, enabling him to be captured and enslaved by her countrymen.
In her poem, Duffy imagines Samson as tired of being strong all the time, and wanting Delilah to teach him to be gentler and more caring. It is this idea that begins the first stanza "Teach me, he said –we were lying in bed –how to care." Delilah reveals herself to be caring in the way she "nibbled the purse of his ear", while Samson’s response is "He sat up and reached for his beer."
Stanza two has the voice of Samson talking about the feats of strength he can perform. In the bible story he kills a lion with his bare hands, ties dozens of foxes in pairs with torches between their tails and sets them loose in the Philistines’ crops and slaughters a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ***. In the poem the things he talks about are even more unlikely. Duffy mixes her biblical and mythological allusions when she refers to "the Minotaur’s lair" – this was the monster, half man, half bull, that was killed by Theseus. She also uses one her favourites devices, the transferred epithet to describe how Samson would "flay the bellowing fur / from a bear" where it is more effective than ‘flay the fur / from a bellowing bear’ as the word ‘bellowing’ is also ***ociated with ‘billowing’ and the impression is of the fur flying around. The rhyming of "lair / bear / dare" adds to the feeling of heroism and it all leads up to "There’s nothing I fear."
This boast is ironically undercut by his guiding of Delilah’s hand to his heart – since it is her influence over his…