Carol Ann Duffy's anthology Mean Time

Categories: MemoryNostalgiaTime

Carol Ann Duffy's anthology Mean Time is cluttered with referrals to the past. With the title Mean Time in its self describing time in an unclear methods, like Greenwhich mean time, or time related to upset feelings. The most typical analysis being that the characters represented in a number of Mean Times poems as in between two states, past and present. The characters are trapped, escaping, or thinking back about past times retrospectively from a present time.

Much of there past is what is now affecting there present situation or frame of mind and Duffy accentuates this factor by being explicit and accentuating language that would draw a conclusion to that notion.

The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Group is a 1960s quiz program between completing teams of school children who, representing their school and in school uniform, would address general knowledge questions in front of an audience of school children.

The separately competitive suggestion of the name of the program private competition was stressed in the education system of the 50s and 60s (it would not be uncommon for a class to be beinged in their rank order according to the last set of examinations) and it precedes the modification to a comprehensive system.

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This competitive tone, the sense of a hierarchy, is a crucial aspect in the poem. This poem questions the romantic view of the past forming a personality to there present as he characterises his children as his "thick kids" and his wife as "stagnant".

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He ambiguously highlights his past in that he desire "it back, The Captain". The captain is a symbol of his youth and past in that he wants it back however it's so separated and remote that he can't acquire it and just exists as memories in his mind. The comparison in between the very first six stanzas's representing the past and the last stanza representing today exhibits a barrier between the two. The consistent music referrals discussed within the poem to past artists and tunes reflects the abundant memories that are shown to the reader, by interesting more senses, the eyes and hears.

Duffy's purpose for inclusion of these songs is not only that they are connected to the time period and create a richer spectacle but they clearly reveal the more desired time period of the character, showing him to feel nostalgia. We see the nostalgia form as he describes his family and current situation in the last stanza previously discussed. Carol Ann Duffy's dramatic monologue The Suicide provides an intriguing insight into the forces of the past having an effect on a situation in the present. This poem establishes how the past and present are interconnectivly dependant on each other.

This is explained as, without a past of experience and events that shape u as a person there can be no present effects. This notion is also reversed in that without a present the past would never be expressed fully either emotionally or physically with no results or effects seen from past causes. The poem title explicitly provides the reader with exactly what the context of the poem is. The reasons for this is possibly to engage the reader into how is Duffy going to describe the feelings of suicide appealing to our macabre sides of personality.

It is commonly thought that language fails to describe many feelings especially that of suicide. The poem analyses the nature of suicidal impulse, by letting a would-be suicide talk to us in the moments before her death. It compares with The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team (The captain), as it is also a dramatic monologue but fails in comparison similarities to that poem. It does refer to the past like The Captain does, however not as explicitly. In The Suicide the reference to the past is, "Kisses on a collar. Lies. Blood. "

The above is a strong reference to a past event of what implicitly seems to be infidelity by the partner. This is followed by short sharp sentences of "Lies" and "Blood". These single emphasised words almost tell a complete story; the history of a relationship, written in lies. Lies that lead to blood (perhaps the blood of the suicide). There is a sense that the whole story is told in these few words. But this whole event can not be ignoring the fact that it was all triggered by a past event that is now influencing if not directly causing the present situation of suicide.

The Good Teachers is one of Duffy's explicit references to the past but written in present tense which instantly makes the reader form the opinion of reminiscence and living in the past letting past events form the future. We believe to be a male because of the hints to passion for female teachers, as he reveals that "you love Miss Pirie". It describes his memories of his life in school as a child but most significantly how he retrospectively looks back and regrets the tom foolery that took place then and how he wasted his time in school.

This forms similar themes to "End of innocence" about regret of the past and wants to escape it. The short sentences in the last stanza can be symbolic of time and how it speedily passed by to leave him where he is now which we never quite find out. Again a barrier is formed between the past and the present by the line "But there's the wall you climb". The wall denoting the barrier between past and present and shows how the two are separate. The context before the "wall" line is about the past, the context of the poem after the "wall" line is about the present.

This structure reinforces the separation of the past and present. Also this show how the past forms a barrier that forms the future and weather or not you accomplish successfully by getting over or around the barrier will have an impact on your life to come. The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team, The Suicide and The Good Teachers all portray the past, but in separate ways. In The Captain... the past is seen as a rich rejoicing memory, with dignity and pride at the forefront of it where the past was contrasted to the future to reinforce how commendable the past was.

The nostalgia was accentuated by the language and references to his current situation of him having a "stale" wife and "thick kids". The suicide depicts the past consuming the character and a direct cause for her present situation. The language illustrates a dyer situation and forms the opinion that "suicide is not chosen, it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain". It fails to by the inadequacy of language and context fully describe the emotion and direct feeling of suicide caused from the past events. It only refers to four words to describe the past, "kisses on a collar".

This is a classic example of the notion that the past is represented as irretrievable and irreplaceable. Also that not being able to alter the mistakes made in life will undoubtedly form the situation of present and which is suicide in this case but also that those events will characterise you for the future. The Good Teachers forms a view of the past being one of regret and wanting to escape from it. This also, like The Captain... and The Suicide, forms a barrier separating the past and present by language and contrasting stanzas.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Carol Ann Duffy's anthology Mean Time. (2017, Jul 11). Retrieved from

Carol Ann Duffy's anthology Mean Time essay
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