Notes on the content and structure but…
Please note this is not a comparison it has none of the comparing techniques like – both, yet, similarly, while on the other hand, but, whereas, in contrast, however… etc!
Havisham, Anne Hathaway, Mother Any Distance
In the poem Havisham the speaker is Miss Havisham the character of the novel by Charles Dickens. She was famously jilted at the altar by her fiancé in the story. Here the poet takes the story from another angle and imagines Miss Havisham putting her feelings into words some years later.
She feels bitter, angry and resentful at his behaviour and treatment of her. She hates him, ‘bastard‘ could happily kill him, has ‘wished him dead‘ would ‘strangle‘ him, wishes for him to be a ‘male corpse‘ so she could do what she liked with him. So long has gone by while she has been stuck in that moment imagining her revenge upon him that her wedding dress has changed, ‘yellowing‘ and yet she has not forgotten nor forgiven as she also thinks ‘puce curses‘, and that ‘love’s / hate behind a white veil‘, and remembers having ‘stabbed at a wedding cake.’ Yet in her sleep her body and mind betray her as she dreams of his ‘lost body‘ and her ‘fluent tongue in its ear.’ And longs for him.
A clue here to the state of her mind is her use of the pronoun ‘its‘ as if her lover’s name is forgotten as indeed she seems to have forgotten who she is, as she sees herself in ‘the slewed mirror…her, myself, who did this / to me?‘ Splitting this between two stanzas makes this more poignant as if she is surprised by her own reflection, and in a moment of lucidity she no longer recognises herself.
The even length stanzas belie the depth of the feelings portrayed here but the line breaks, the harsh words, the colourful imagery and sound words all ensure that the reader is in no doubt about her passion, the strength of her hatred and of her love, which she has seen are but two sides of the same coin.
This sonnet by Carol Anne Duffy tells of the love shared by Anne Hathaway and her husband William Shakespeare. Using Anne’s own words to describe it to us, the poet yet starts with an item from his will, that he leaves the second best bed to his wife. An unusual start that perhaps gives us a clue to the purpose of the poem.
A sonnet is of course a love poem’s traditional form and Shakespeare was undisputed master of it! Hence the irony of this verse. Since although the character of Anne describes their love in metaphor using his own writing as the vehicle of comparison and the words and phrases of that craft, ‘my body now a softer rhyme / to his, now echo, assonance…‘ and ‘his touch / a verb dancing in the centre of a noun…‘ yet the more she tells us how she feels the more we become convinced that his writing was his first love and perhaps this is why she was left the second best bed, as she was second best in his life.
Her love and gratitude to her husband transcends this demotion, he makes her come alive, ‘Some nights I dreamed he’d written me…‘ he takes her into realms she hadn’t previously thought possible, ‘The bed we loved in was a spinning world / of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas…‘
The fact that the poet does use most of the traditional conventions of the sonnet underlines the fact that this was a great love despite being ‘second best’!
Mother, any distance…
Another almost sonnet, Simon Armitage here lengthens it to 15 lines to emphasise the point of the poem, the stretching of the umbilical cord, of the ties that bind mothers and their children ‘to breaking point…‘ but which eventually have to be broken in order for the children to have independent life.
Using the single words ‘Anchor‘ and ‘Kite‘ the poet describes the nature of the relationship between mother and child. But the whole poem is an extended metaphor as the character in the poem’s mother helps them to measure up a new house for curtains etc. She is a ‘second pair of hands‘ they hold the measuring tape between them, her ‘at the zero end‘ significantly and them at the other ‘unreeling‘ the tape, of course, and also ‘the years.‘ The house is empty, but then so probably is the parent’s and the new adult feels the space and freedom as both a challenge and a responsibility. ‘I reach / towards a hatch that opens on an endless sky / to fall or fly.‘ This is the last line of the poem and tells us that the character is nervous, what if they fail / fall? But if the line between them is broken gently, kindly then the parent will always be there to come back to.
The speaker’s attitude is one of great love and gratitude for always being there, undemanding and yet now they know they have to make the break, start a new life, to force the parent’s fingers to let go of the tape even while they’re holding the ‘last one-hundredth of an inch.‘
The rhyme at the beginning tails off in the middle before reasserting itself again at the end indicating the speaker’s love and that his / her mother is their security, so that the middle is the part where the break is contemplated along with all the insecurity which will inevitably follow, and ending not quite as neatly as the second to last rhyme is within the line perhaps showing the new balance of the relationship that is not quite what it was.