Consistency and Continuity in Mean Time

After reading the second half of Mean Time, I noticed that certain parts of Mean Time contain a string of connecting poems that express and describe various aspects of a relationship. From poems such as “Crush”, “Valentine”, “Adultery” and “The Suicide” (not exhaustive), it seems that Duffy is expressing the birth, conflicts, struggles and dramatic (and possibly literal) death of a relationship. In Valentine, for example, Duffy writes, “I give you an onion. /It is a moon wrapped in brown paper. /It promises light/ like the careful undressing of love.” Duffy uses the image and description of an onion as an object that conceals within it a greater meaning. According to Duffy, as you delve deeper into a relationship or ‘carefully undress it,’ one will experience much more than what he/she may expect initially, as there is a greater meaning within. This does not necessarily mean that the meaning is positive, as the onion’s “fierce kiss will stay on your lips, possessive and faithful…Lethal. Its scent will cling to your fingers, cling to your knife” (34). There are several things going on in this excerpt in terms of imagery. After reading the rest of the poems and coming back to this, these images of lethality and knives foreshadowed what I noticed in poems such as “Havisham” and “The Suicide”. Poems like “Valentine” and “The Crush” are similar in that they both represent similar parts of a relationship, namely the start of the relationship. As a result, these poems have similar tones, as they are both evoke emotions of excitement, innocence, joy, etc. (more applicable to “The Crush”). In contrast to these poems, “Havisham” and “The Suicide” have significantly darker tones. In “Havisham”, for example, Duffy writes, “Beloved sweetheart bastard. /Not a day since then I haven’t wished him dead…Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon” (40). This is one of the more creepy lines in the entire collection and not surprisingly, is in stark contrast with some of the earlier poems. Here, we see Duffy using very strong language to illustrate the end of a relationship. The language of death and murder is consistent with earlier descriptions of the meaning behind a relationship in “Valentine.”  Additionally, from strong language such as this and earlier themes of nostalgia, confession, etc., I feel that these poems are connected to Duffy on a personal level. I don’t know enough about her life to make a claim, but she could possibly be venting about certain dark times in her life through these poems.

2 Comments on “Consistency and Continuity in Mean Time”

  1. Chelsea Edwards says:

    I like how you characterized the connections between Duffy’s Mean Time poems. I noticed it seemed like Duffy specifically put these poems in a specific, deliberate order. And I think reading them in order effects a reader’s concept of meaning behind each poem.
    Do you think Duffy is as deliberate in Worlds Wife? If we were to reorder each collection would it be as big of a difference in our reading of Worlds Wife?

  2. Brian Croxall says:

    This is an excellent question, Chelsea, and worth following up on in class today, I think.