DUFFY MARBL: “from Mrs. Tiresias”

While looking at Carol Anne Duffy’s notes for “from Mrs. Tiresias”, several things stood out. The first observation I made was that there were several drafts of the poem, with each draft being altered slightly. From the first draft, however, the general structure and message of the poem remained the same. One of the more interesting observations, however, was her insertion of the word “whistling” in the latter drafts. It did not seem significant until I looked up who Tiresias was. According to various sources on the Internet, Tiresias was a prophet known for his blindness. It seems that whistling may be important for someone who is blind. From the notes, however, it is apparent that she wanted to insert the word somewhere in the poem. On a similar note, as I delved deeper into Tiresias’ story, I found that he was not born blind but rather had his blindness given to him as a punishment for watching Athena bathe nude. Additionally, as a result of this blindness, Tiresias was able to understand the language of birds. These facts bring light to some of the language present in the poem. For example, Duffy writes, “He liked to hear/the first cuckoo of spring” (10-11). In the notes, Duffy also wrote but scratched out “He relished the bird watching”. Furthermore, the reason why Tiresias was given the punishment explains why Duffy uses sexual language in some of the verses. For example, Duffy writes, “And this is my lover, I said…and watched the way he stared/at her violet eyes…at the slow caress of her hand on the back of my neck” (75-83).  It seems that there is some context to the flirtatious nature of the character. I think Duffy’s use of a blind prophet for her wanting to transform a man into a woman is quite smart. Duffy is using the transformation from a man to a woman to criticize the misrepresented perception men have of women. This point is illustrated when Duffy writes, “if she had his way…telling women out there how, as a woman himself, he knew how we felt”. Additionally, Tiresias’s literal blindness contributes to Duffy’s criticism of that perspective as wrong.

2 Comments on “DUFFY MARBL: “from Mrs. Tiresias””

  1. Rafid Kasir says:

    I am not sure if you made the connection and forgot to mention it, but perhaps the whistling is related to the birds? After all, birds whistle.

    • Tarun Ramayya says:

      Yea, you’re definitely right on that. I’m not sure why I didn’t see that at first–whistling is much more related to birds than the blind. I guess I was thinking so much about it that I overlooked that comparison. good catch!