‘Delilah’ by Carol Ann Duffy has an undeniably sexual element running throughout – an element which is highlighted by its suggestive language and presentation of gender roles between the characters ‘Samson’ and ‘Delilah’. Many of Duffy’s poems have a similar element running through them such as in ‘Salome’, ‘Little Red Riding Cap’ and ‘Pygmalion’s Bride’ therefore it can be said that her poetry is mainly concerned with the politics of sex. However, Carol Ann Duffy states in an interview in 2005 that ‘Delilah’ is not about sex but is a love poem exploring the nature of Samson’s wish to become ‘gentle’, ‘loving’ and ‘tender’.
This would therefore suggest that the main concern of the poem is more to do with love, power and gender.
There are several references to sex throughout the poem, however the most direct reference comes in the fourth stanza where Samson ‘fucks’ Delilah. This is in stark contrast to his request in the third stanza only three lines above of wanting to learn how to ‘care’, or ‘be gentle or loving or tender”.
Despite wanting to become gentle, Samson ‘fucks’ Delilah rather than ‘makes love’ to her, implying that his wish was only a half-hearted one i.e. a wish he only makes but not something he would act upon. ‘He fuck(s her) again’ further shows this is not the first time Delilah has been ‘fucked’ suggesting a repetitive nature of this act. Furthermore, Delilah allows herself to be ‘fucked’ – through Delilah’s submission, Duffy could be making a statement that women can not break free from this subordinate role in sex.
Samson’s language is also sexually suggestive, possibly implying that a man can not have his libido driven out of him regardless of the situation. For example, in the second stanza Samson is boasting about his achievements which demonstrate his strength and fearlessness, however he is distracted by a sexually suggestive note, telling Delilah to ‘put your hand here -‘. This continues in the third stanza; he asks for a cure for his inability to be gentle and in the following line proceeds to ‘fuck’ her as though he believes the cure is in ‘fucking’ her. The situation – Samson opening up to Delilah about something personal- would usually be assumed to be free from anything conjuring violence however Samson ‘fucks’ her anyway suggesting that regardless of the time or place, sex is something which remains rampant in a man’s mind.
On the other hand, it could be said that rather than sex, the main concern of the poem is with power distribution in this relationship. Whilst many would argue that Delilah was dominated by Samson in the poem due to the sex, in the end Delilah cut Samson’s hair which biblically represented the demise of his strength. Cutting his hair in the poem may be symbolic of her dominating Samson as she has successfully seduced him and at his most vulnerable (during slumber) she has taken away his strength. This is also in sync with the biblical story in which Delilah disarms Samson and gives him up to the Philistines, ultimately dominating him.
Sex is only a way by which Samson is pacified after which he goes to sleep and becomes ‘soft’, thus vulnerable. Furthermore, Delilah cuts Samson’s hair with ‘deliberate, passionate hands’ suggesting she enjoyed disarming him and stealing his power away from him. This is a reversal of the typical gender roles in literature and Delilah’s ‘passionate hands’ may be showing that Delilah enjoyed this.
Furthermore, the idea that Delilah had to pacify Samson through sex suggests an element of power on Delilah’s side as sex was a method through which she satisfied Samson and put him to sleep, leaving him vulnerable. Duffy may be making a statement through this that women can use their sexuality as a weapon to weaken men and thus overpower them. This interpretation is concerned with both sexual politics and power distribution demonstrating that Duffy’s poetry is not only concerned with the politics of sex.