WORK AND FAME

As we got deeper into Duffy’s poetry, “The World’s Wife”, I figured that there are lots of connections between the poems in the collection. As this poem is wrote in the perspective of female, there are many opinions and impressions for the male identity that Duffy incorporates with the well-known stories in the world. The three poems I found connections in were Mrs Sisyphus, Mrs Faust, and Mrs Quasimodo. All of which were told in the perspective of married women, whose emotions are left unattended by their husbands. These poems emphasize on the materialism life as well as the unreasonable focus on fame and work.

 

So, starting with “Mrs Sisyphus”, it was based on the Greek mythology of the king of Ephyra. The most famous image of him is the figure pushing the stone up the hill, but the stone keeps on falling back to the starting place after Sisyphus has pushed it to the top. This is exactly how the poem starts “That’s him pushing the stone up the hill” but Duffy added an internal voice of the persona commenting that action right behind it, “the jerk”, showing her distinct attitude and introducing the main idea of the poem: male focus on lame and infinite work and tend to lose their meaning in these meaningless actions. The structure of the poem is somewhat interesting as it ties in with the main idea and sort of helps express it. The poem is made with three stanzas, the opening, 5 lines, the ending, 8 lines, and a massive long 19-line middle stanza full of pieces of Sisyphus’s beliefs and will. The long middle stanza of the poem symbolizes the tedious task Sisyphus repeats, both contextually and structurally. Another interesting point taken from Duffy’s interview with Barry Woods is that almost all the words rhymes or half rhymes with the word “work”, again emphasizing the main idea of the poem. If we look into the lines of the poems, it also provides the same idea. For example, in the middle stanza Duffy writes “Folk flock from miles around just to gawk//they think it’s a quirk” to show the meaning less of the work itself through the reaction of the “folk[s]” that came from other places to watch the work, and thought of it as a “quirk”, a joke, a bad habit. Moreover, this work that Sisyphus is so focused on never ends, as shown through lines “that feckin’ stone’s no sooner up//than it’s rolling back//all the way down”, the stone rolls down right after he’s pushed it up. The attitude of Sisyphus towards his work, despite the obvious flaw, is surprisingly optimistic as he says “Think of the perks” and “Mustn’t shirk”, Sisyphus is certain that the work he is doing has purpose and feels the responsibility to accomplish it. By pointing that out, Duffy leads the poem to the useless “hundred per cent and more” effort that people give to their work.

 

Moving on to “Mrs Faust”, this poem talks about the life of Faust and his wife. Faust, as a famous literary figure, is an ordinary person whom sold his soul to the devil in exchange for honor and fame. In this poem he represents the side of fame, and Mrs. Faust represents the side of materialism. Again, structure first, the contextual shape of this poem goes from the two being together, then split apart each living their own lives, coming back to each other at the end when Faust confessed his guilt, and finally with Mrs. Faust alone in “everything [Faust left] to me”. After they married, Faust “grew to love the kudos,//not the wife” and even “went to whores.” But on the contrary, Mrs. Faust, who’s focused on material life only, “felt, not jealousy, but chronic irritation.” So she accepted the relationship and shifted her focus onto other things such as “t’ai chi, Feng Shui, therapy” and so on. The next few stanzas revealed the pernicious habit that Faust picked up, he went to parties and enjoyed the fame that he trade with his soul, he continued cheating on his wife, and tried many different jobs just for fun. This is the exaggeration of the habit of those who blindly looks for fame in the real world while the tragedy ending serves as a warning. On the other hand, Faust’s wife spent her life going around and trying everything out, she lived completely to her greed, “celibate,//teetotal, vegan,//Buddhist…” That on itself actually sounded like a stylish lifestyle to me at the start, but the ending where Mrs. Faust bought a kidney and cured her illness flips the whole message around. In one way it emphasizes the effect brought by such a husband like Faust, on the other hand it criticizes the materialism lifestyle, which is a common trend in people nowadays. Even the author herself, Duffy claimed to be a shopaholic in the interview with Barry Woods.

 

Lastly, “Mrs Quasimodo”. This poem is based on Victor Hugo’s story of a deformed bell ringer, who fell in love with a beautiful girl. But Duffy told it in Quasimodo’s wife’s view, she was as ugly, deformed as he was, and was also a bell ringer. Although not the most significant focus, this poem mentions the change of love, Quasimodo slowly loses interest in his wife, and Mrs. Quasimodo results that change in his love of his work, ringing the bells. The structure of this poem is quite random, as there are no specific number of lines to each stanza, and there are no consistent rhyme scheme throughout. At the start, when they’ve just married, Quasimodo would swing “an epithalamium” for his wife and she viewed the poem as “sexy” and “exuberant”, which are all generally praising words. The contrast that exists between the word “sexy” and Mrs. Quasimodo’s description of her husband’s trait highlights the value of her love, how it has gone past the appearance. Even such pure love was betrayed, and Mrs. Quasimodo blames this situation on the bells that Quasimodo values very much, he even gave names to each one of them. Mrs. Quasimodo revenged by “murdering” all the bells and pulling all the clappers in the bells out, that way they cannot sound anymore. On one side this is a poem about jealousy and betrayal, but it also signifies the importance of the bells to Quasimodo. This makes one of the main ideas of the poem to be the amount of attention people, especially males, put on their work and the consequences that comes with it.

 

In conclusion, the three poems, Mrs. Sisyphus, Mrs. Faust, and Mrs. Quasimodo, more or less focuses on the idea of man being too focused on specific aspect of life, either work or fame, and the consequences of these.

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