2008 Higher tier poets answer to question 23

A) Compare how female speakers are presented in ‘Havisham’ by Duffy and one poem from the pre 1914 poetry bank

And then

B) Compare how male speakers are presented in Sonnet 130 and one poem by Simon Armitage.

 

In ‘Havisham’ the poet presents the speaker as bitter and full of hatred for the lover who jilted her at the altar, as she says: ‘not a day since then I haven’t wished him dead.’

In fact the horror of what happened to her has so twisted her mind that she no longer even recognises herself in, ‘the slewed mirror… her myself, who did this / to me?’ But the way the poet has stretched this sad moment of realisation over two stanzas underlines her semi-madness, just like the poet’s use of the word ‘slewed’ meaning twisted.

By contrast in ‘The Laboratory’ we are presented with a mind that is gleeful in its vindictiveness. The real life character of Marie Madeleine D’Aubray Brinvilliers is seen here as deliberately seeking out an alchemist and getting him to make a poison for her to use on her rivals ‘Pauline’ and ‘Elise.’

She takes an almost childlike delight in watching the potion being made and asks questions like ‘that in the mortar – you call it a gum?’ or ‘and yonder soft phial, the exquisite blue… is that poison too?’

But the poets’ use of violent words in both poems – like ‘grind… moisten… mash’ and ‘pound… brand…burn up’ with their harsh alliteration in the Laboratory and ‘ban! …stabbed…strangle…’ in Havisham really reveal the depths of these women’s madness.

Both women feel they have sufficient reason for their feelings of hatred and their desire for revenge. But Miss Havisham, Charles Dickens’ character, is probably the one we empathise with more as it is evident that she still loves her ex as she reveals in the oxymoron ‘love’s / hate.’ This is again stretched across two stanzas and shows how deeply she feels torn between the two emotions.

Whereas the character in Browning’s poem shows no remorse and dwells in detail upon the damage the poison is going to inflict on her rivals, ‘and Elise with her head / and her breast and her arms and her hands should drop dead!’

 

In Sonnet 130 by Shakespeare we are given a picture of a man who seems to be quite critical of his mistress in his description of her for example her hair like ‘black wires’ her ‘breasts are dun’ and worst of all her ‘breath reeks’ and so we might think that here is a rude and mean man. However he redeems himself in his comment that his love for her is as ‘rare’ as any of those women his fellow poets rave about as if they were goddesses. And when we realise that he is actually mocking his fellow poets whose habit of always writing in ridiculously glowing terms about their women we can possibly forgive him completely.

 

By contrast Simon Armitage’s character in Mother Any Distance seems a caring and compassionate young man. Here we are shown a man who is moving out of his mother’s house but who is keen not to hurt her feelings. He knows it’s time to go, to make his way on his own ‘to fall or fly’ as he puts it and yet he is grateful that his mother has always and will always be there for him his: ‘Anchor. Kite.’ These two powerful metaphors perfectly illustrating the idea of freedom with safety.

Armitage even shapes his poem in the same way as a sonnet, albeit not a perfect one like Sonnet 130, which follows all the conventions and yet whose content seems rather at odds with that form. Here his sonnet is a stretched one of 15 lines as if to symbolise the stretching of the bonds between mother and son – almost to ‘breaking point’ but not quite.

 

612 words

Compare the ways Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage try to make you feel disturbed

a) Compare the ways Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage try to make you feel disturbed in ‘Stealing’ and ‘Hitcher.’ Compare: what you think could be disturbing in the poems and how the poets make you feel disturbed by the ways they write.

In the poem ‘Stealing’ the character disturbs the reader by their coldness, callousness and general lack of feeling for the victims of their crimes: ‘part of the thrill was knowing / that children would cry in the morning,‘ and ‘sometimes I… break into houses just to have a look.‘ His or her actions are clearly deliberate.

By contrast, in ‘Hitcher’ we realise this is a spontaneous, unplanned crime: ‘stitch that I remember thinking, you can walk from there‘ but when the driver says ‘ I let him have it… once with the head then six times with the krooklok‘ the callousness is just as shocking.

Perhaps the most shocking thing is the thief’s admission that they’ve a ‘mind as cold as a slice of ice,while the driver in ‘hitcher’ is clearly bragging that they ‘didn’t even swerve.

The poets have both chosen a regular structure for their poems which would seem to indicate following the rules and conventions of society and yet within the poems the enjambment where the lines run on across the stanza divide for example in ‘I dropped it into third/ And leant across’ seems to show the character’s complete disrespect for the unwritten laws of hospitality to travellers. The reduction in punctuation in stanzas 3 and 4 also seem to show his haste to tell his story before he has time to think about his actions.

Similarly in ‘Stealing’ the jumble of short and long phrases underlines the randomness of their actions and the chaos of their thoughts: ‘I took a run and booted him. Again. Again.

A final disturbing aspect of the poem ‘Hitcher’ is the irony that the driver who assaulted his passenger had earlier ‘thumbed a lift‘ to where he had left his own car and yet is unable to treat the hitchhiker with the same respect he’d been given. Neither of the characters in these poems has a good reason for their anti-social actions: one gets a ‘thrill‘ and the other seems to boast and neither shows any remorse or guilt just a ‘you don’t understand a word I’m saying do you?‘ in ‘Stealing’ and an improvement in his day from ‘moderate to fair‘ in ‘Hitcher.’

 

And then

b) Compare the ways Thomas Hardy and Ben Jonson try to make you feel sorry for the speaker in ‘The Man He Killed’ and ‘On My First Sonne.’

Compare: what might make you feel sorry for the speakers and how the poets try to make you feel sorry by the ways they write.

The poets make us feel sorry for both characters in these poems in the first because this must be a common dilemma for soldiers who suddenly lose confidence in their commanders who have told them they must kill the enemy ‘just so my foe of course he was‘ while in Ben Jonson’s poem it is particularly poignant because this is autobiographical. His 7 year old son is dead and Jonson calls him ‘his right hand‘ and ‘best piece of poetrie‘ both of which indicate just how much he loved his son and how much he misses him.

The soldier in ‘the Man He Killed’ shows us that sometimes it is not enough to be told that someone is your enemy; a soldier needs a better reason than that. In his case he has already killed his enemy in a situation of kill or be killed ‘I shot at him as he at me‘ but now he seems ridden with guilt; his repetition of ‘because – /
Because’ and ‘my foe, / Just so: my foe’ clearly demonstrates his attempt to believe what his orders told him. But hisalthoughending stanza 3 equally shows us that he’s not convinced and he goes on to imagine a scenario where he and his enemy are similar in why they became soldiers, both ‘out of work… no other reason why‘ and how under other circumstances they could have been friends, ‘wet right many a nipperkin,’ or ‘treat… where any bar is.’

However both men have something in common because they both blame not only themselves but also a higher power. In the soldier’s case it is his superior officers but in Jonson’s it is God whom he blames for taking away his son because his ‘sinne was too much hope of thee.’ He thinks God is blaming him for his blasphemy.

The saddest thing though is the title and structure Jonson has chosen for his poem. The title includes the word ‘sonne‘ which is the word sonnet without the ‘t’ as if cut short, and the poem seems to be a shortened sonnet having only 12 lines rather than the traditional 14 – again as if cut short like the child’s life.

 

Phrases

comparison

structure

feelings of or for characters or about actions