Recognition

The tragedy of age plays itself out most acutely in this poem, as a “dowdy matron’ yearns for her past glory.

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Practical Criticism of Die Natalis

Momentous themes of rebirth, renewal, rejuvenation, as well as death and loss, are touched on in this poem, as the story of life developed, from frame to frame, and played out in all its vivacity, from cat to bird to lover to baby, in words that assailed the eyes of the reader. The cycle of life, one in which the end meets the beginning, runs itself through the lines of the poem, condensed and crystallised by Duffy, till only its core remains. In evocative language, Duffy brings us through the joys of birth, and subsequently, the pain of death. She shows that life and death are one and essentially the same. They are complements, not antagonists. The subsiding of one gives way to the encroachment of the other as life gives way to death and death to life. Tradegy pervades the poem. One’s beloved owner is killed. Love wilted and grew stale. The egg destroyed itself against the hard deck of the ship. The baby loses memory of its past life. And with tradegy, also comes the idea that life is transient, fleeting and unsubstantial. The poem moves in astonishment pace through four lives and each of the life merely last for at most, twenty four lines, which mirrors the twenty four hours that make up the cycle of the day. The incisive conciseness that characterised the poem, the brevity of its presentation, only serves to illustrate the idea of memento mori, that life is short, and death, never too far away. The recurring motifs within the poem evokes the cycle of life, death and how the link between both can never be severed.

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Practical Criticism of I Remember me

From the very first glance at the title, we could see that this is a very personal poem from the usage of first person pronouns, ‘I’ and ‘me’, in the title. However, it is not a blatant display of narcissism and egotism. Rather, it is more like a self reflection or meditation on the nature of memory as in the word ”Remember”. The tone is one of wistfulness at the temporality of memory and its pace is sad and slow.

An insufficiency is mentioned from the very first line; there is something that is “not enough”. Enough of abundance and perfection, now there is famine and incompleteness. “Of what?” Of ‘faces’, emphasized by a caesura. “Faces” are symbols of personal uniqueness and a lack of faces might signify a lack of individuality and also a suffocating conformity. There is the suggestion of individuality by the usage of “Your own” and “you” but it is always superseded by that “someone else”. That “someone else” is representative of normality and the sea of strangers that you see on the reflection of the train doors and ‘forget(ting) yourself’ represents a losing of one’s identity.

Conformity and unique also manifest itself in the second stanza, not as a competing force, but in a beautiful alliance. In the romantic and dreamy world of dreams, we are ‘different’ . In a superb analogy, Duffy paved the way for conformity and individuality to co exist in “Private cells inside a common skull”.Yet, one ( the unique one) also has to conform, having the other look and memory and thus individuality is suppressed.

The story continues in the finally stanza where sometimes, out of the mind-numbing conformity, the crowd surrenders one that ‘you’ could brand as one own by naming it and thus asserting a sense of individuality to it. Yet, mostly, it is a case of conformity scoring the final victory, as one ( your lover) could not recognize you, which accounts for the melancholy that perfused the poem, of one lost amidst the conformity of a sea of strangers and not having a single soul in which you could call your own. A type of loneliness in a sense.

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Practical criticism of Whoever She Was

This poem explores the nature of the relationship between mother and her children. “She” refers to the mother which is the first person voice of conscious, the “I” for the first three stanzas. However, it changes to the third person, “She” in the fourth and final stanza. The tone of the title is one of apathy as the children seem not to care about who their mother was. It reflects a lack of genuine understanding of the mother on the children part. The sense of distance between the mother and child is a recurring theme in this poem. From the very first line

They see me always as a flickering figure

on a shilling screen.

‘Flickering’ suggests something as insubstantial and weak as a flame that is about to be extinguished. ‘Shilling’ alludes to something defunct and archaic as it is a form of currency that is no longer in usage. The ‘f’ alliteration in ‘flickering figure’ and the ‘s’ alliteration in ‘shilling screen’ serves to reunite both descriptions of the relationship between the mother and children as distant. In addition to the first line, the penultimate line of the first stanza also refers to children as ghost. Again, ghosts are unearthly beings; the metaphor of ghosts suggests something distant from life and reality. The sense of distance is further enhanced by the medium of communication between mother and child, which is the telephone. The distance between the mother and children is remote to the extent that they communicate not face to face, but through an indirect medium. Also, an aspect of the distance between mother and child is also shown through their speech. From

The chant

Of magic words repeatedly

The ‘magic words’ meaning ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ characterized their relationship as something oddly formal. It seems as though the relationship between the mother and children is devoid of actual warmth. The mother is actually just a robot, a functionary machine that only knows how to do household chores. The poem is heavily suffused with imagery of household chores. This includes firstly, the washing of cloths, in which the hands of the mother ‘still wet sprouts wooden pegs’. Secondly, the olfactory imagery of “apple (pie)’ burning baked by the mother. Thirdly, folding paper dollies, cleaning the wounds of children who have hurt themselves, preparing food “ boiling eggs for soldiers.

The series of household chores seems to have entirely consumed the mother’s existence, as she lived not for herself, but for the children. The action of destruction by her children is fully realized as ‘six silly ladies (are) torn in half with baby fists. Perhaps, the dominance of her children made her lose her own identity as her maiden name sounds wrong and she turn over it with a clumsy tongue.

“She” ‘Whoever she was’ at the beginning of the fourth and final stanza reverting the first person voice of previous stanzas and brings us back to the title at the start. It represents a cycle of life, as the children grew up through the process of the poem, from the early ‘little voices’, ‘baby fists’ to the grown up children with their mother reminiscing about the past with the emphasis on the past tense ‘was’ in ‘This was the playroom’ and the mother ‘making masks from turnips in the candlelight’ in case they (the grown up children) comes. The wide eyes of the children suggest one of bewilderment and amazement as the children finally realized that their mother is something more than a dead machine, ironically when the mother is actually dead as the mother fashioned a church and steeple in the air and the children are left with a box of dusty presents to confirm her existence.

It is a tragedy as the mother they neglected and thought of only as a household chores robot in life is the very same mother they will miss and ‘remember the little things’ when she is gone. She is only acknowledged by her children with “Mummy’s never wrong’, when she is gone.

You open your dead eyes to look in the mirror which they are holding to your mouth.

The action of holding the mirror to one’s mouth is actually to check if the person is respiring, or whether she is dead by the condensation of water on the mirror by the warmth of one’s breath.

“you’ in this case could refer to the mother, who gains a rebirth in the minds of her children as she open her dead eyes or it might be the children who finally realized what a great and self sacrificial mother they have. It could be a optimistic ending, or the sad one, depending on one’s interpretation.

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Practical Criticism of “Dear Norman” by Carol Ann Duffy

The title ‘ Dear Norman’ subtly suggested a love poem dedicated to a newspaper boy named Norman. “Dear” implies a certain degree of affection and romance. “Norman” is actually a normal name, which represents the banality of an ordinary newspaper boy, which the narrator lovingly transforms into a diver for pearls. Besides the magical and elevated status of a “diver for pearls” compared to the newspaper boy, there is also a phallic connation to “diver” as “diving’ also suggests the act of the penis plunging into the vagina.

“I can do this”

The narrator boldly asserted. She is highly confident. A similar sentiment resonates in the next line

“In my night there is no moon”

Since “Moon” symbolizes something that is unachievable and unattainable, the absence of the moon in her night shows that nothing is impossible for her. It is by her conscious intention in which she mentioned the stars and moons. It is within her power. It is within her design. “Design” denotes a singular purpose in which the narrator aim to make Norman hers.

Firstly, her imagination projects an image of Norman body with the usage of strong visual imagery, healthy toned “brown” skin and perfect white teeth, showing Norman’s attractiveness and also the narrator’s power in defining the image of Norman.

Secondly, the narrator interpreted Norman’s act of posting the Mirror (the newspaper) to be his action of searching for the perfect shell.

“He is equal with dolphins”

Dolphins are highly intelligent, graceful creatures and the narrator’s comparison of Norman being equal with the dolphins shows her high regard for Norman, whom she believes his action of diving for pearls to be elegant as dolphins.

A third demonstration of the narrator voice of confidence is her decision to name Norman Pablo. The act of naming is very symbolic and reminds us, the readers, of the power her imagination wield over her object of affection. The tone is definite and draws us to the narrator’s superiority, “Because I(she) can”.

The narrator brilliant imagination saw that Pablo expresses his delight and charm, laughing and shaking seaweed from his hair. It is an act of total innocence as Pablo presented the pearl to the narrator, in striking contrast to the raunchiness that follows.

A remarkable feature of the name Pablo is its allusiveness to the erotic love poetry of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Also, the following line is a line from Pablo Neruda’s poetry.

Cuerpo de mujer, blancas Colinas,muslos blancos (English translation: Body of woman, white hills, white thights…)

Other than infusing the exoticness of a Chilean melody, the line leaks of sexual strength. Evocative of fecund powers, it is playfully suggestive.

Like us, the narrator found it difficult to comprehend the obscure poetic language of Pablo at first and then she understood. This is the more innocent of the interpretation. Otherwise, it is that the narrator found the sexual act of copulation difficult and then easy.

The line “As I watch him push his bike off in the rain” is repeated twice. Perhaps this poignant and romantic image of Norman’s silhouette disappearing in the rain keep reverberating in her memory, over and over again…between the space of the last line of third stanza and the first line of the fourth stanza.

As the narrator savours her fantasy, she engages in her childish but romantic act of tracking Norman’s name on the window plane. It expresses her longing as she wishes for Norman to dive for her again.

“Tomorrow I shall deal with the dustman”

Those who expect a bout of melancholia to follow after the departure of Norman might be mistaken, as the narrator enlightens us with this last line that the above process is a cycle. Her imagination is magnificent as she prepares to make another target hers- the dustman, when he comes to her home tomorrow.

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Dear Reader

Dear reader,

Poetry is indeed a wonderful thing. I do believe in the free sharing of ideas regarding poetry. That is the reason behind my creation of this blog.

Do bear in mind that my interpretations of the poems may be flawed or unintelligible. Hence, I humbly accept any criticism from anyone.

Hope that you, like me, would find joy in understanding poetry 😉

Yours,

Yuen Kei

 

 

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