Post-1990 Poetry Havisham (1998) by Carol Ann Duffy Essay
Post-1990 Poetry Havisham (1998) by Carol Ann Duffy
‘Havisham’ by Carol Ann Duffy surrounds the ideology of the character of Miss. Havisham, famously featured in Charles Dickens ‘Great Expectations’. It is written from the perspective of herself as a monologue directly giving her a realistic and creating a persona. The poem explores the anger and hatred of the woman who was jilted on her wedding day by her fiancï¿½, leading to a theme of the unfairness of relationships; possibly how this affects the woman in contrast with the male figure. This is shown between Havisham’s confusedness between love and hate for her ex-lover.
Throughout the poem, there is a repetitive use of enjambment, for example, in the line “who did this – to me”, in two separate stanzas and the line “the dress – yellowing” on two different lines. This could emphasise the period of time she has been frozen in time for, and how this feels longer than it essentially is. It may also portray her unknowingness at the time at present as the clocks have completely unmoving and therefore she does not know who her physical self is or the actual date; she cannot make sense of any realism, except acknowledge her past.
In the first stanza, the poem opens with a striking clash of emotive language; “Beloved sweetheart Bastard.” The technique of oxymoron in this line suggests her torn feelings of love and hate toward her past lover, in correlation with the alliteration of the ‘b’s suggesting anger and bitterness. There is another usage of oxymoron within the line “Love’s hate behind a white veil”; affecting the reader in a way that seems that love is an almost close emotion to hate; although they are supposedly, by definition, in opposition to one another, and a sense to rediscover what she truly feels.
Another instance of alliteration is within the fourth stanza; “a red balloon bursting in my face. Bang.” This represents the ruthless nature of the situation, and the shock of the ‘bursting’ which would be natural to any other individual. Balloons are typically used for celebration; however this is contradicted by an oppositional view. Also, the colour red symbolises love and passion and the relevance of this bursting is the hatred that has overcome this initial emotion. Another example of this alliteration is “b-b-b-breaks”; portraying her sobbing sounds and again suggesting violence. This almost gives the reader an image of the heart fighting to beat once more and breaking repetitively. It is also noticeable that Duffy uses the ‘b’ consonant throughout using alliteration; exaggerating the cruelty of the situation.
An outstanding line is the description of Miss. Havisham’s eyes as “dark green pebbles”; creating a feeling of emptiness and sense of harshness within the tone of the writer. The use of the colour “green” suggests cruelty and as monsters are typically associated with this reference of colour, it indicates her emotions toward herself; a psychological hatred swallowed with bitterness and jealousy.
Furthermore, “Ropes on the back of my hands” is a metaphor evidently for her veins, darkened and swollen by age. This could be associated with the stereotypical use of ropes; the intention to hurt someone, possibly her husband whom she feels a deep bitter hatred for. However, she may feel older because time is passing so slowly in her own mind and she does not realise that although the clocks have stopped; her body in the physical sense is moving on and aging.
The second stanza opens with a one word sentence, “Spinster.” This creates a caesura immediately and suspense upon the reader, ultimately portraying her coldness towards herself and others, as well as her inability to endure anything other than the thoughts of her previous lover within her own mind, and what she has now become.
There is much to suggest in this stanza that Havisham has been frozen in the same place for a substantial, unknown amount of time with phrases such as “the dress yellowing” and “I stink”; leading to vivid imagery for the reader and perhaps slight sympathy as this is very unnatural for any being.
“cawing Nooooo at the wall” illustrates her animalistic instincts, surviving in her individual habitat because of her refusal to move forward in time ultimately becoming like an animal. This is also associated with a crow “cawing”, traditionally being a symbol of bad luck.
In addition, another striking phrase is “her, myself”. This may have different interpretations; one of them being that there is a momentary failure to recognise herself because of her aging without having lived life, being unnatural and feeling that her youth has been stolen. She may also be unable to replicate the fact that it is she that has done this, ultimately meaning that she be psychologically disturbed, as may be the case within this situation.
It is noticeable that there are also evident references to other poems of Duffy’s, as it suggests a violence theme by the words ‘strangling’, and ‘stabbed’, perhaps associated with poems such as ‘Education for Leisure’ and ‘Stealing’.
In conclusion, Duffy’s poem ‘Havisham’, aims to explore and exploit the situation of the woman who was left deserted by her fiancï¿½, using various different poetic techniques in correlation with the language and structure, impacting overall the themes of violence, love, hatred and unfairness between men and women debatably.