Close Critical Commentary Essay
Close Critical Commentary
Thetis is a poem written by the British poet Carol Ann Duffy in her collection The World’s Wife. Unlike most of the other poems in this collection, Duffy has not titled the poem as “Mrs… ” (such as Mrs Lazarus and Mrs Tiresias) but as just “Thetis”. This may be making the point that in this case, it is Thetis herself who was famous, not her lover, and this shows female independence. The poem shows the transformations of Thetis, a Greek goddess and sea nymph, as she attempts to escape her mortal lover, with whom she is destined to have a child.
Duffy uses the poem to celebrate the adaptation and flexibility of women, just as she does with Mrs Lazarus- who moves on after her husband dies- and Mrs Midas, who moves her husband out and remodels her life without him. The poem is written in free verse, which helps keep the pace of the poem fast, and reminds us of the freeness of Thetis’ form. She is a slippery, darting creature, being a sea-nymph, and often changes her form rapidly. Despite this, the poem is in eight sestets, a regular shape, and this is to remind us of Thetis’ bonds, and her inescapable fate.
The poem is written as a dramatic monologue, as are the other poems in the collection, and this means that we are seeing the world from the imagined view of one person- in this collection, always a woman. The sporadic rhyme- such as in stanza four where the majority of words rhyme, and the last stanza, where there are only two rhymes, one of which is internal- is again reminding us of freedom, and also speeding up the pace to match Thetis’ frantic changes of shape.
Duffy uses enjambment freely here, running lines on to create pace and free movement. She only once uses a caesura in the poem, and this again creates fluidity, which is a reflection of not only her freedom of form, but her connections to water and the sea. Duffy varies her language throughout the poem to express thoughts and highlight her key ideas. By using religious metaphors such as “shouldered the cross” and “[carried the cross] up the hill” she brings in the idea of Christian suffering, and ties it to the suffering of Thetis.
Similarly, the albatross and the “squint of a crossbow’s eye” are also images of suffering- that of the mariner in ‘The Rhyme Of An Ancient Mariner’- and could also signify the suffering felt by her suitor as he tries to capture her, only to be cursed by her hatred. The suitor is described in varying ways throughout the poem. He goes from being a “charmer” (the snake charmer image gives us the idea that she is under his power) to a “strangler” (a powerful image) in stanza three, and this shows his two personalities- the powerful man and the lover.
The sudden change in description also gives the premonition of a sudden change in her feelings. In stanza four he is coldly described as “the guy”- an impersonal reference. This lets the reader see the development and progression of her feelings for him. Throughout the poem we perceive the suitor to be violent and powerful, particularly in the line “I sank through the floor” which sounds as though he forces her to sink, it is not through her choosing, and this exaggerates his power, and the line “I felt the squeeze of his fist”, which again suggests his violence and power.
At the end of the poem, the suitor becomes “the groom”, and this sudden acceptance and a more personal feel shows the change in her emotions towards him. A ‘chatty’ and conversational tone is used throughout the poem. This is a common feature of Duffy’s monologues- in Queen Kong the language used suggests a chatty American interview or “real life” story in a magazine, and in Mrs Midas, the poem is written as though it was being spoken to a close friend. In this poem the chatty tone helps to evolve a fast pace, and reflects the freeness of Thetis’s form using the freeness of her language.
Lines such as “I changed my tune” and “his hook and his line and his sinker” are clichi?? s used to give the end of the poem a tiresome feel, which reflects Thetis’ exhaustion at changing shape. They allow Thetis to seem bored of running from her suitor, as they are over-used phrases, and they are used in a satirical manner, which also shows humour. Similarly “Stuff that” is a chatty, every-day phrase, and Duffy also uses it humorously as a pun, referring to the art of taxidermy. Interestingly, the lines “I shopped for a suitable shape.
Big Mistake” suggest a criticism of today’s society, where size 8 is a perfect size to be. Duffy is criticising men for forcing women to be slim, and women for giving in to them, and this fits well with Duffy’s theme of being forced to change. The “Big Mistake” line shows Duffy’s contempt for the conformers. The internal rhyme speeds up the pace, and this fast pace mirrors the speedy lifestyle of women today, especially their high street shopping, which is frantic but ultimately meaningless, just like Thetis’s changes.
Duffy is making a joke of the ‘ultimate’ shape and appearance so valuable to women in today’s society. The last verse of the poem is different to the others. Thetis is no longer running from her suitor but embracing him. The references to fire -“flame”, “burned”, and “asbestos”- can be interpreted in many ways. Perhaps this is the heat of her passion, brought on by the relentlessness with which he has pursued her, or perhaps it is Thetis again trying to have an effect on him, by burning him, but he is still impervious to her- “the groom wore asbestos”.
Perhaps when she says “my kisses burned” she means that it hurts her to be kissing him, and to have given in to him. The line between passion and destruction here is all but invisible, and this adds an interesting twist to the poem. The last two lines deal with the birth of Thetis’s child, Achilles, and are fairly violent and almost visceral. The reference to her having “turned inside out” could reflect her change in opinion from hating him to loving him.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 7 July 2017