The World’s Wife: “Salome”Posted: November 30, 2011
“Salome,” by Carol Ann Duffy, is a poem told from the point of view of Salome, a biblical character who is the stepdaughter of King Herod. According to Oscar Wilde, who wrote a play featuring Salome as a character, Salome lusts for John the Baptist, and when he rejects her, she uses her political influence to have him beheaded. After John the Baptist is beheaded, Salome kisses his severed head. Duffy’s poem is based off of Oscar Wilde’s telling of the story. The poem begins the morning after all of the events of the story occur, where Salome appears to be hung over, which implies that Salome had been drinking the night before. Consequently, Duffy writes that the lust for John the Baptist that resulted in his eventual beheading was simply a mistake Salome made while she was intoxicated, similar to a one-night stand induced by alcohol. The beginning of the poem is marked by confusion, as she questions the name of the head next to her on the pillow, “What was his name? Peter? Simon? Andrew? John?” (Duffy 14-15). Next, she claims that she is going to, “clean up my act” (Duffy 25) and “get fitter, /cut out the booze and the fags and the sex” (Duffy 26-27). Salome’s vow to improve seems characteristic of someone who feels guilty of overindulging in simple pleasures, and it adds to Duffy’s characterization of Salome as “party-girl” who seems temporarily remorseful. Finally, Duffy completes the sarcastic and understated tone of the poem by using the phrase “and ain’t life a bitch” (Duffy 35) when Salome finds that the man she thinks she slept with was actually just a severed head.
Duffy’s notes seem to help reveal her intentions for the poem. For example, she makes lists of words that rhyme or sound good together, such as “bitter, butter, batter, etc” with the apparent intention of creating a poem that flows well. If she were more concerned about meaning, she would have chose words based off of meaning not sound. Finally, the biblical references in the poem are built slowly through the drafts. She starts off with the name Peter, and then slowly adds in John and Simon, followed by Andrew. The earlier drafts of “Salome” do not seem as associated with the biblical story as the final draft, and it is apparent that Duffy realizes this as she rewrote her drafts. By making the poem biblically flavored and then adding in words that flow, in addition to phrases such as, “ain’t life a bitch,” Duffy seems to aim for a poem that is a mildly sarcastic, irreverent, and funny version of a classic story.