On “Moments of Grace”

The revision process for “Moments of Grace” from the collection Mean Time was certainly more rigorous than that of “Eurydice” in The World’s Wife.  The poem required over ten drafts and took a much longer time to complete than most of Duffy’s other work.  In this case Duffy seemed to really scrutinize each word, putting a lot thought into the connotations of each word choice as well as the overall theme of the poem.  The drafts definitely display this meticulous word selection as they are full of cross-outs and rewrites as Duffy searches for the right diction.  One interesting aspect of the revision process for this poem is that even the title underwent several different drafts.  The first entry for the poem consists of several different title choices, including “Calling In” which presumably relates to the line “The chimes of mothers calling in children/ at dusk” (11-12).  I found this particularly interesting in that when I first read the poem, I had grazed over this line without thinking it was very important in the scheme of the poem.  However, given that the entire poem was almost named in reference to this one line, I had to attribute more importance to it, and reread the poem with this in mind.

The fourth stanza of the poem underwent the most rewrites of any other.  This also forced me to modify my reading of the final product in that it made me read the stanza with more emphasis, and look for some underlying themes.  I was surprised that I had not picked up on it in earlier readings, but I realized that this stanza is characterized by linguistic terminology.  The speaker states that “These days/ we are adjectives, nouns. In moments of grace we were verbs, the secret of poems, talented” (16-18).  The last line of the stanza also refers the speaker’s search “for the doing words” (20), another literary reference.  After rereading the stanza it is clear that Duffy is drawing a deliberate connection between literature and the “moments of grace” that she talks about.  The stanza suggests that it is literary talent that really constitutes the happiness that characterize these moments.

Another interesting aspect of Duffy’s writing process in this case was the amount of thought she gave to the ordering of the poem.  After she was satisfied with the word choice and overall diction of the poem, she set about considering if everything was structured in the most rewarding order.  This is the only poem I saw in which order was such a crucial factor of the revision process.  In some of the earlier drafts the order of the second and third stanzas is reversed.  Also, the line “Now I smell you peeling an orange in the other room” (21), is originally the first line of the poem, although it later becomes the first line of the last stanza.  Furthermore, the line “Passing, you kiss the back of my neck” (25) is originally the first line of the last stanza, but is eventually made the concluding line of the poem, and none of the other original lines from this stanza appear in the final version.  All of these alterations in the line order are made in order to develop the progression of the poem.  I think that moving the orange peeling line to the last stanza was a particularly good choice in that the anaphora of “Now” in the first two lines of that stanza really solidify the reader and the narrator in the present.  It moves the reader from the speaker’s recollection of these “moments of grace” into the “now” as the speaker seems to be in the midst of one of these moments as she writes the poem.  I thought this was a really strong shift in the poem’s emotional geography.

One Comment on “On “Moments of Grace””

  1. Brian Croxall says:

    Excellent close reading, Zach.