Carol Ann Duffy – What Makes Her So Different?

Carol Ann Duffy is a British poet who was the first poet to hold a firm position on LGBT rights. Her poetry is expressed in a conversational and casual way which made it possible for her to communicate with a greater variety of readers. Each of her poems hold a message behind it; from gender equality to the freedom of ideas. Carol Ann Duffy also breaks readers’ conventional understandings towards certain pieces of literature. In the poem Penelope, Duffy chooses to portray the story of Homer’s Odyssey from a contemporary point of view. Different from the original story of Homer’s Odyssey where the story focuses on the main character Odysseus, who was portrayed as a heroic figure, Duffy sheds light on the story of Odysseus’ wife Penelope. Throughout the poem, one main theme would be the transition of Penelope’s mental state. In the first stanza of the poem:

“At first, I looked along the road

Hoping to see him saunter home”

Through Penelope’s actions such as “looked” and “hoping”, Duffy emphasizes her dependence on Odysseus. From these lines, Duffy suggests that Penelope’s love for Odysseus even when he went to war and is thought to never return again. Duffy then introduces some new subjects to the poem: the needle and thread. Throughout the poem, Penelope grows increasingly intrigued by the works that can be accomplished from the needle and thread :

“I sewed a girl

under a single star – cross-stitch, silver silk –

running after childhood’s bouncing ball.

I chose between three greens for the grass;

a smoky pink, a shadow’s grey

to show a snapdragon gargling a bee

I threaded walnut brown for a tree”

Penelope’s daily life no longer revolves around Odysseus, instead, her newly found hobby is now the main source of her happiness. In the final stanza, Duffy emphasizes the transition of Penelope’s mental state by including:

“A far-too-late familiar tread outside the door”

This suggests that Odysseus’ return did not impact Penelope at all as she was perfectly absorbed by her new hobby: sewing. This changed the conventional view of the reader’s understanding of the story of Odysseus. Penelope was originally seen to be “the epitome of patience and constancy” (Geoffrey Chaucer), yet Duffy suggests that Penelope merely lost her affection for her husband Odysseus and has developed mental independence.

Reflection on Carol Ann Duffy’s Work

During this period of time, we dedicated our focus on Carol Ann Duffy’s poems. This was quite a challenge for me as I have always found that poems are difficult to throughly understand. Throughout this period of time, I started gradually grasping the hold of how to break down parts of the poems. From those broken pieces, I then learnt how to piece them back together to generalize it into a large picture of what the poet was trying to communicate to the readers. Although I have improved a lot throughout this period of time, I think I could improve more on identifying literary devices in the poem. I can do this by reviewing lists of literary devices and their respective effects.