Mrs Tiresias

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In Greek mythology, Tiresias was a soothsayer (truthteller) or prophet. When out walking one day he saw two snakes copulating and wounded the female, whereupon he was turned into a woman. He remained a woman for seven years, after which time he again saw two copulating snakes and, after wounding the male, was turned back into a man. He was blinded after Zeus and Hera asked him to settle a dispute about whether men or women more enjoyed the pleasures of love. His reply that ‘Of ten parts a man enjoys one only, but a woman enjoys the full ten parts in her heart’ caused him to be blinded by Hera. However Zeus gave the powers of a seer and he was made famous in the story of "Oedipus Rex" as the prophet who told Oedipus that Thebes’ suffering was caused because he had murdered his father and married his mother.

The poem explores ideas of masculinity and femininity. Although Tiresias "came home female", he does not have all the female characteristics.

Duffy presents him as the typical man at the start of the poem, setting out on a country walk with his stick and the dog, giving a very informal effect with the Liverpool slang word, "kecks", which is added to by the open-necked shirt [slight rhyme here connects the clothes]. The Harris tweed jacket with the patched elbows is reminiscent of the gentleman farmer. The "whistling" is also typically male and the whole ensemble is rather like a scene from ‘One Man and his Dog’. The countryman impression is continued with the narrator’s comment that he liked to write to "The Times" after hearing "the first cuckoo of Spring". This is something that twitchers, and journalists who write ‘countryside columns’ actually do. She then adds that she’s usually heard it a while before him but, with a wife’s sensitivity, has not spoiled his pleasure by saying so.

The cuckoo has been heard that morning, but by evening there is an ominous rumble of thunder which suggests both the gods from the myth and an approaching storm – an emotional one as it turns out – showing Duffy’s ironic use of the pathetic fallacy. The first the narrator realises is when his face appears in the mirror alongside hers and Duffy uses a transferred epithet to convey the "shocking V of the shirt" because it is not the shirt that is shocking but the breasts it reveals.

Using one of a number of comforting colloquialisms, "Life has to go on", which is suggestive of bereavement, appropriately, since she has lost her husband, Duffy


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