The story of Lazarus is told in the New Testament, in the gospel of St. John. He lived in the town of Bethany with his sisters, Martha and Mary. The family were close friends of Jesus, who came to visit them and wept with the women when he heard that Lazarus was dead. He then asked the company to move away the stone from the mouth of the sepulchre, despite their protests that the dead man had been in there for four days and would be decomposing. He called to Lazarus to ‘come forth’ and the dead man appeared in his grave clothes. The gospel account is very understated, leaving it to the reader’s (or listener’s) imagination to fill in the details.
In her poem, told from the point of view of Lazarus’ imaginary wife, Duffy does just this, narrating how she goes through the grieving process only to have it all made into pointless horror by his resurrection.
In the first stanza, Mrs. Lazarus behaves as a grieving middle-eastern wife "ripped the cloth I was married in/from my breasts, howled, shrieked, clawed/at the burial stones till my hands bled, retched/his name over and over again, dead, dead."This form of grief seems excessive to the English, but anyone who has seen a funeral in for example, Palestine, will know this is expected.
The second stanza takes the form of a quieter, more private expression of sorrow, where the widow has gone home to feel the place empty. She sleeps in a single bed and feels herself to be only half a person (which refers to the idea that a man and woman become one flesh when they are married) "widow, one empty glove, white femur/in the dust, half." This expresses the idea of having a limb missing, or being only part of a whole. She has to do the usual sad clearing out, "Stuffed dark suits/into black bags, shuffled in a dead man’s shoes,/noosed the double knot of a tie round my bare neck". The double meaning of being in ‘a dead man’s shoes’ is brought out quite poignantly here, as she literally tries to walk in her husband’s shoes, knowing that she must now take on his role, as well as her own. The suggestion of ‘noosing’ his tie makes the reader wonder whether she is seriously considering suicide and her picture of the "gaunt nun in the mirror, touching herself" reminds us that she now has no sexual contact with the man she loved."I learnt/the Stations of…