‘The worlds wife’ is a collection of poems by Duffy written by the female halves of well-known men of time in both reality and myth. Duffy has created a literal version of an old saying behind every great man there is an even greater woman. These poems are both shocking and thought provoking as Duffy steps into the shoes of every woman, whose partner has affected history or the world in any way and given them a voice. Aesop was a fabulist credited with a number of fables now collectively known as ‘Aesop’s Fables’. Although his existence remains uncertain and no writings by him survive, numerous tales credited to him were gathered across the centuries and in many languages in a storytelling tradition that continues to this day. In many of the tales, animals speak and have human characteristics.
The impious (disrespectful) opening, ‘By Christ’ foregrounds Mrs Aesop’s disrespectful attitude towards her husband. She says he can ‘bore for Purgatory’ – this is a reference to the Catholic belief in a conceptual space between heaven and hell in which souls are condemned to suffer for their sins after death. Through this Mrs Aesop is literally expressing that her husband is capable of making such a place as purgatory worse than it already is. Aesop’s wife belittles him – ‘he was small’ – and the use of the internal rhyme “didn’t prepossess. So he tried to impress” is both comic and cutting.
Through the continuous references to Aesop’s fables, Mrs Aesop is clearly mocking and disrespecting his works that were popular with so many. On the fourth line of the first stanza, Mrs Aesop puts her own twist of one of her husbands many fables – “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”, changing it to, “the bird in his hand shat on his sleeve”. By putting this nasty little twist on his work, she is disrespecting both her husband and his work, reflecting her feelings that she appears to have been bottling up for a while. The sheer number of allusions reflects the deadening effect that his fables have on Aesop’s wife. In the first stanza, the end focus on ‘Tedious’, emphasised by the caesura that precedes it, highlights how she perceives his stories. The fables are chosen to reflect Aesop’s dull, cautious nature – he is the ‘shy mouse’, ‘the jackdaw’, one of the ‘donkeys that would, on the whole, prefer to be lions.’ It appears that through Duffy writing this poem, Mrs Aesop is finally able to convey her inner thoughts to an audience, bringing her huge relief.
In the second stanza, Duffy mocks Mr. Aesop, “look, then leap”. Duffy has used alliteration to emphasise the childlessness and immaturity of her husband and that his work represents him, making that childish and immature also. Duffy continues this idea onto the third stanza, describing their evening stroll as appalling, and using the tortoise from one of Mr. Aesop’s most famous fables – the hair and the tortoise – as a simile, by describing the way it crawled as “slow as marriage, indicating that her marriage is tedious and boring, like his work.
Duffy uses numerous successful techniques to convey Mrs Aesop’s views of her husband Mr Aesop and his work. However, like in many of Duffy’s poems where she convinces the reader to back the women, due to her feminist views, I don’t believe that she does this in this particular poem. I sympathise with Mr Aesop as his wife is mocking and disrespecting him and his work, something that he takes a lot of pride in.
Courtney from Study Moose
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