The draft versus the published introduction in “Penelope”

One of the interesting things that I found in MARBL on the poem “Penelope” was an entirely different introductory verse. Although some portions of the draft exist in the published version of the poem I think that examining what the poem would have gained versuses lost will help readers understand more about Duffy’s writing style and the poem. The drafted introductory verse that is written inside of Duffy’s notebook reads as follows:

For twenty years I sewed my tapestry by day

at night unpicked it.

I knew which hour of the dark the moon

Would start to fray,

I stitched it.

Blue threads and green

Followed my needle’s leaping fish to form a river that would never reach the sea.

I tricked it.

I thought that this was an extraordinary introduction and I question why Duffy decided not to use it in her published version. I thought that maybe her editing drafts were thoughts of what came to mind. For instance, if anyone can recall the story of the Odyssey you are aware that it took 20 years for Odysseus to return home. So maybe Duffy began with the basics and then expanded. Furthermore, I begin to examine why she used the draft she did more closely and what better way to start then with the published introduction.

At first, I looked along the road

hoping to see him saunter home

among the olive trees,

a whistle for the dog

who mourned him with his warm head on my knees.

Six months of this

And then I noticed whole days had passed

Without my noticing.

I sorted cloth and scissors, needle, thread,

After examining the two verses I could see some of the strengths in Duffy using the published verse. She already knew she was creating a “different type of volume,” so if she would have kept the original verse it might have been more cliché. However, the published version really allows the reader to understand Penelope’s hope for her husband to return as opposed to making a poem out of the story the readers are familiar with. By doing so Duffy creates a more emotional and personal image of Penelope. Other than this revision there were few revisions in “Penelope.” Once again, I am left with the conclusion that Duffy is a very careful and skilled thinker which reflects in her writings.


4 Comments on “The draft versus the published introduction in “Penelope””

  1. Tarun Ramayya says:

    I noticed something similar when reading Duffy’s notes on “Valentine”. She had a completely different introduction in her initial drafts. But each draft still contained similar themes and points. Duffy seemed to have a general idea of what she wanted to do with these works, even with all these revisions.

  2. Reza Bhiwandiwalla says:

    I think you are exactly write in your analysis of why Duffy decides to scrap her original introduction to the poem. I too found that she would oftentimes start with something that (although not necessarily cliche) might be interpreted as easy to understand, and instead went with something more complex. The reason for this could be that although she claims she wants TWW to be more easily accessible to general readers, she also wants to conceal layers of meaning in having vaguer links to the myths and thus invite the reader to further interpretation.

    • Ani Deshpande says:

      I agree with Reza here. I believe sometimes she could get carried away with her inspirations. Then she has to reign herself in and think that since TWW’s goal is commercial success, how can she convey a similar image in a more accessible way. This way she changes around phrasings or words to what she would deem more popularly appealing.

  3. Daniel Crispino says:

    For me, the introduction to almost anything is one of the hardest things to write, whether it be a paper, short story, or poem. In the poems that I checked out in MARBL, specifically “Elvis’s Twin Sister” from The World’s Wife, I noticed that Duffy gave herself a lot of leeway with the order of the verses, before settling on a final order for publishing. More specifically, it was the initial, introductory verse that she constantly moved around the most. First the second verse, then the final verse, then the third, then the last again, then the first. It’s interesting to think about Duffy’s creative process in determining verse order in addition to actual content.