Life of the Author

In the second half of The World’s Wife,  “Demeter” stood out most to me because I couldn’t help but see autobiographical elements within it.  After Professor Croxall showed us the letter explaining that Duffy created this collection of poetry in order to support her newborn daughter, I saw that “Demeter” was a very fitting last poem.  In this way, the author’s life has significance to the meaning of the work.

I had to Google Demeter and learned that she is the Greek goddess of the harvest and the fertility of the earth.  Duffy uses Demeter as a symbol of her daughter. The poem begins with the speaker in “winter and hard earth,” perhaps relating to Duffy’s life before her daughter.  Then halfway into the poem, Duffy constructs a turn to happiness, spring, and all things new.  She uses vibrant imagery when she writes, “My daughter, my girl, across the fields,/ in bare feet, bringing all spring’s flowers,”  and perhaps symbolizes the arrival of her daughter as the start of Duffy’s new life as well.   Like most mothers would say, Duffy stated in an interview with the Times that the birth of her daughter was the single most important event in her life saying, “I divide my life into before and after [her birth] – they are separate continents.”

Although most of her poetry has darker themes and bleak tones, Duffy ends this collection with “Demeter,” which leaves a joyous, hopeful message.  Her choice to end The World’s Wife with this poem shows that perhaps she feels that despite all the hardships that come with being a woman, having children redeems all those pains.  Perhaps after having a daughter, Duffy wanted to emphasize this joy rather than other concerns.

Ironically, in the same Times interview, Duffy stated, “I want the reader to bring themselves to the poems, not be wondering about me. If a poem endures, the life is between the reader and the poem. The poet should not be in the way.”  Duffy didn’t intend for me to think about her personal life so much.  However, when Professor Croxall showed us her letter to her editor, from then we were exposed to her personal life and can’t help but to think of the life of the author.

One Comment on “Life of the Author”

  1. Brian Croxall says:

    I’m glad that you saw this connection, Candice. It’s certainly an important one, which Duffy has mentioned multiple times, in many different venues. That being said, I think it’s interesting to see her disavow the importance of her own experience for being able to read the poem. Barthes would be proud, I suppose.

    I read the poem a little differently than you, I think. I believe the speaker is Demeter. The daughter is Persephone, IMO.