Excel as a tool to analyze poetry

While the two works of Carol Ann Duffy, The World’s Wife and Mean Time, appear to be different from a qualitative perspective, there also appears to be a difference in examining the texts quantitatively.  By entering the words counts, character counts with and without spaces, lines per stanza, and other features of the poem and calculating their averages in Excel, we were able to find differences and similarities in the two works.  This is expected because by pure length, The World’s Wife is a much longer work thanMean Time.  This is somewhat surprising since one would expect the words to be longer.  Most significantly, the average number of words varies between the two works.  In Mean Time, the average is 183 words per poem, while in The World’s Wife, there are 350.6 words per poem. Therefore, this indicates that Mean Time has more concise poems than The Worlds’ Wife.  Therefore, brevity may result in more poignant and focused poetry in Mean Time.  Interestingly, the average number of characters per word is 4 for both works, signifying a similar writing style in word choices for the two works.

In examining the average number of lines per poem, the average is 23 for Mean Time, while there is a higher average, 53 lines, inThe World’s Wife.  This suggests that the poems are more concise in length in Mean Time, although there are more poems in this collection.  Further, the length varies more in The World’s Wife, as some poems, such as “The Devil’s Wife” is a number of pages, while “Mrs. Darwin” is only a few lines.

Despite Mean Time trying to convey more complex ideas, the average number of characters per word is still similar.  Duffy writes more concise poems for “high” poetry, while The World’s Wife is more narrative.

In conclusion, by utilizing the tools available in examining Duffy’s two texts from a digital humanities lens, we are able to illuminate more of the differences between the two works and understand her poetry from a different perspective.

The Mind of the Author

As an English major, I know the struggles of trying to find just the right word for a piece or writing.  Sometimes the word just doesn’t feel write, or there is another word that you know would be perfect, but just can’t think of it.  Or there is that one sentence where you keeping going back and forth, changing it again and again.  It was comforting to discover that even poet laureates, such as Carol Ann Duffy go through the same process. Seeing the changes she made to her works made me wonder why she chose one word over another, what those word changes evoked, if the poems would be different if she had placed another word there instead.  This notion contradicts the idea expressed in Roland Barthes’ essay “The Death of the Author,” which states that the text is almost entirely autonomous from the biography and perspective of the person who created it.  However in looking at Duffy’s papers, this gives readers more of an insight into the minds of the author and makes us wonder about their motives and decisions.

For example, in “Before You Were Mine,” Duffy changes the word “Mother” in the line that now reads “your Ma stands at the close” (line 10).  Although this is a subtle change, it evokes a different feeling, as “Ma” is less formal than “mother.”  Further, the rest of that line states she stands there “with a hiding for a late one,” but originally, and even in her “final” written copy, hiding was  instead “good belt” (line 11).  “Belt” intimates that she will be whipped, a more literal description of the tool used for this scolding.  Another example of this includes three word changes in all the copies examined.  In the first, the line read  “now your ghost clatters toward me over George Square/ till I see you, clear as a bell” (line 15-line 16).  However, in her second handwritten draft “bell’ is replaced by “braille,” an interesting contrast, since she moves from the sense of hearing, to that of feeling.  Ironically, those who use braille are not able to see it “clearly,” creating an interesting dynamic in the prose.  Notably, in the actual print version, the line reads “clear as scent,” as she explores a third sense, that of smell.  This choice is important, since one often does not associate scent with clarity.  Here, it seems Duffy was toying with which sense she wanted to employ, making us wonder, why did she decide on scent as her sensation of choice?

Similar changes can be observed in “Mrs. Lazarus,” her poem featured in The World’s Wife.  For example, in the opening line, “I had wept for a night and a day/ over my loss,” in both versions of her hand written papers, “night” is instead “months” (line 1-line 2).  This alters the time frame of the poem in which Mrs. Lazarus has grieved.  Therefore, this change makes the pain more fresh, as she has not had as much time to contemplate her husband’s death.  Further, she switches the adjectives from “sly light” to “shrill eyes” in the poem (line 32, line 33).  Why did she feel these adjectives would be better suited for one of the descriptions than the other?  Did this have to do with the timing and diction of the poem, or was it a meaning change?

These questions make the reader want answers explaining the decisions of the author, however, if we had answers to all of these changes, would this take away from one of the key components of reading literature, creating our own interpretations and understandings of the work at hand?

The Writing Process

While it is clear that the content varies in comparing two of Carol Ann Duffy’s poems, one from her anthology Mean Time and another from The World’s Wife, in looking at her original papers, the way in which she went about writing the poems also varies, suggesting the different way in which she relates to the topics of these works.  This may be the core difference between her two works, her connection to the different poems which therefore evokes different sentiments in the readers.  Essentially, while it took her only one day to write “Before You Were Mine,” the poem from Mean Time, she seemed to stop and then return to completing “Mrs Lazaraus,” after some time.  This provides an interesting insight into the nature of the themes of the works as wholes.

The ease with which Duffy wrote “Before You Were Mine” may suggest that the content of this poem, and perhaps Mean Time in general, was more natural and stemmed from her own personal experiences, almost like completing a diary entry.  In writing “Before you Were Mine,” there are only two entries in her journal, both of them on March 20, 1990.  Further, there were minimal alterations, cross outs, or changes to the language and structure of the poem.    Therefore, this may intimate that Duffy was simply putting emotions down onto paper which she had previously contemplated.  This poem discusses her relationship to her mother, looking at an old picture of her before Duffy was born.  These intimate contemplations of her mother when Duffy was “ten years away from the corner you laugh on” in the picture, are an expression of emotions between mother and child, very real sentiments (line 1).

In contrast, the poetry in The World’s Wife focuses on presenting well-known stories and characters from the perspectives of women in their lives.  Duffy begins writing “Mrs. Lazarus” with very few changes, however, she crosses out the entire last portion of the poem she initially writes, and does not include a large section of the poem that is ultimately included in the final draft.  Further, there are no more entries of  Mrs. Lazarus in any of her journals, the poem is left unfinished on October 22, 1993.  While going through the papers, I was surprised to find this was the last entry pertaining to “Mrs. Lazarus,” since I knew this was not the end of the poem.  I had to search through a number of different folders to eventually find the final version which was hidden in the “November 1993-May 1994” folder.  When I finally found it, it was neither titled nor dated, and did not have any indication or link to the other version of the poem or of other works in The World’s Wife.  Therefore, it seems she had to let the poem sit for a while and come back to complete the poem later, as it did not flow naturally as the other had.

Further, with “Mrs. Lazuus,” Duffy begins on October 12 with an attempt to develop the idea, rather than just jumping into the writing as she did with “Before You Were Mine.”  This includes the description “short story – woman who had husband, handwriting analyzed.”  To an outsider, the connection this note has to the poem is not clear, perhaps this is what inspired her to write “Mrs. Lazarus,” or was a direction she decided not to pursue.   Although the final products are both moving poems, seeing her writing process suggests the difference in relation she feels to the nature of the poems, as one is a nonfictional message, while the other is an act of creative writing and therefore, creates a different feeling of the works overall.

I Won’t Grow Up!

In Carol Ann Duffy’s work Mean Time, she focuses on the presence of one’s childhood as a critical stage in developing one’s identity.  While many of her poems explore various childhood experiences as she reflects on them as an adult, the focus of her poem “Beachcomber” illuminates the struggle and desire to reconnect with and incorporate one’s childhood self within one’s adult self, while still acknowledging the growth that has occurred throughout one’s life.  This makes the reader question their own perspective on their “inner child,” considering such topics as are these two, one’s childhood self and one’s adult self mutually exclusive?  Are they the same?  Or do they connect in a unique way, different components of the same entity?

Duffy identifies that this is a sensitive and complex topic, since considering this notion can make one “think till it hurts” and “scare [one]self within an inch of the heart,” both of which suggest difficult experiences and emotions (20).  However, the fact that these deep thoughts are prompted simply by “a word” suggests that this is a crucial topic to consider, and perhaps eternally lies in one’s subconscious, easily triggered to move into one’s conscious (20).  This reflects the notion that one’s childhood self may also always be present.  Duffy further supports this notion as indicated by her statement that “the child, and not in sepia, lives” (20).  Therefore, beyond a tangible image captured in a photograph which immortalizes youth superficially, the essence of that child as an entity is also everpresent in every individual.  However, it is how one comes to terms with and embraces this child that is the true struggle for one’s adult self.

To illustrate this relationship, Duffy links her meditation on childhood to an experience at the beach she had as a child.  She urges the adult to mentalize the experience, rather than just explain from an outside perspective, encouraging them to “go for the sound of the sea” and feel “the platinum blaze of the sun” (20).  This brings the individual one step closer to their past, as they have a visceral response to the experience.  However, Duffy does seem to suggest that there is a limit to how much this child can be reconciled as “this is as close as you get” since the individual has aged and “those older, those shaking, hands cannot touch the child” (21).  There is a distance that will always exist due to the passage of time and one’s life experiences since that era, but the degree to which one can reconcile the past child to become part of one’s present self is the key to Duffy’s message.  Finally, in concluding her poem, she asks readers to ponder “what would you have to say, of all people, to her [the child] given the chance?” (21). This seems to be a rhetorical question, however Duffy supplies an answer “exactly” (21).  The ambiguity of this answer makes Duffy an affirmative voice in response to whatever message the reader would say to their childhood self.  Therefore, they are left with their own thoughts and answers to this question, to apply Duffy’s musings to their own life.  This poem underscores the significance of one’s childhood, and perhaps affirms the advice to never lose one’s inner child.

Digital Duffy

Although poet Carol Ann Duffy probably did not have the ideals of digital humanities in mind when writing her poetry, the backdrop of this course as the basis for reading her work which highlights the stories of well known male characters from the perspectives of women in their lives, adds another layer of understanding to the text.  While she works to present new ways of understanding and considering these tales, digital humanities also works to join together different fields to explore scholarship in a new way.  With this idea in mind, I found I appreciated the poetry more than I had when previously reading it.

This notion of considering others’ perspectives was particularly apparent in her poem “Mrs. Midas.”  The phrase of having “the Midas touch” has become part of our vernacular and is often referred to as a positive, or desired trait, the ability to be successful in all one does.  However, Duffy illustrates the consequences this ability would have on other people in Midas’s life, specifically on his wife.  Although it is beneficial from a superficial standpoint to make everything he touches valuable, that as a result makes his relationship with his wife invaluable, as his touch is now deadly, causing her to “[fear] his honeyed embrace, the kiss that would turn [her] lips to a work of art.”  In making his wish, Midas is blind to how this will affect his wife, and it demonstrates a “lack of thought for [her],” simply put, “pure selfishness.”  This idea of being narrow minded perhaps can be applied to digital humanities.  As we explored in early discussions of the field, one of the aspects that makes it unique is the “building” component, and allowing new perspectives and new ways to explore well known topics.  Further, in looking at the consequences when one is narrow minded, it is perhaps a metaphor for the consequences that can occur, or impede progress if scholars refuse to consider the possibilities digital humanities has to offer.

Finally, Duffy’s work also highlights the collaboration aspect of digital humanities and the incorporation of a number of fields of scholarship.  While her work is one of humanities, she also incorporates history, women’s rights, and even mythology in composing her works.  As a result, this adds to richness in her work and expands her audience’s experience in reading and interacting with her work.  This brings into question what would happen if she were to add another layer to her work, a digital component. Would this alter our understanding of her poetry?   Enhance our understanding? Perhaps we should see what Duffy has to say about that…

Preserving and Exploring Civil War Washington

Zach Sold, Reina Factor

Dr. Brian Croxall English 389


Civil War Washington


The Civil War Washington project highlights some of the key advantages of digital humanities in crafting a comprehensive historical database, but also contains some sections that could use further expansion.  The project provides a digital resource that illustrates the impact that the war had on the nation’s capital, specifically exploring the “social, political, cultural, and medical/scientific” implications of the war.  The essence of the project lies in its emphasis on investigating Washington from numerous perspectives.  The project does not focus on only the Northern or Southern perspective of the war; nor does it highlight the political implications above the social, but instead evenly evaluates the capital city in terms of the various facets of the war’s influence to provide a comprehensive body of information. Read the rest of this entry »

The Danger in Categorizing

The necessity to categorize people and things into neat schemas that organize the social world seems to be a basic part of human nature.  We look for similarities and patterns in the world and are attracted to those who we recognize to be familiar.  Similarly, we often strive to place scholarly work into categories, as we discussed in contemplating what digital humanities truly is and whether or not there is actually merit in having this discussion.

In applying this idea to literature, there seems to be a desire to understand which genre of literature one is reading and quickly identify the genres we as readers enjoy the most.  During my reading of the first section of House of Leaves, I found myself struggling to distinguish what kind of text I was reading, which impacted my reading of the work.  At times it seemed that I was reading a modern tale, chronicling a young man’s experiences living in Los Angeles, doing drugs, trying to pick up girls and uncovering the story of a mysterious neighbor.  At other times, it seemed I was reading a nonfiction text about a photo journalist and the film he intended to create.  The quotes and references from different scholars, authors, and even in different languages made me feel that the text was educational, and I had to pull from other areas of knowledge to comprehend these references.  Due to all the shifts in voice and style, I often had to stop and reread sections when the style shifted, as the way I would read a nonfiction account of The Navidson Record is very different from how I would read the adventures of Johhny Truant.

This difficulty struck me that when a person or text strays from the norm, making it difficult to accurately understand, we tend to feel aversive and uncomfortable towards this subject.  This should not be the case, as we should work to embrace the different and open our eyes to new perspectives.  Therefore, although I have just begun the 600 plus text of House of Leaves, it seems perhaps this is one of the goals of the work, to push the reader outside of their comfort zone and consider a new perspective, assisting us in gaining more flexibility in deviating from these categories.  As I read the book, I realize I will need to be ready to shift my reading goggles, and learn from my experience with the text.


In my struggle to comprehend the unique and rather confusing text of Afternoon, I was struck with an understanding of the work that made it come together as a symbol of something greater than just an intricate hypertext work.  I came to see it as a representation of the human mind, of the way one’s memory works.  Although other authors such as Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner have attempted to delve into the human psyche in similar ways in their written works, the interactive nature of this text allows a different understanding of this concept which adds a new depth to the reading experience.

A quote from the text sparked this notion and made me see this work as an illustration of one’s mind.  The slide states, in discussing when one comes to a stories end that “a word which doesn’t yield the first time you read a section may take you elsewhere if you choose it when you encounter the section again; and sometimes that loop, like memory, heads off again in another direction.”  Each hypertext is like a little memory, stored in one’s brain which when activated, opens the gates to a flood of other possible memories, or in this case, to different slides.

As I began to consider this notion, it was clear that there are a number of other qualities the text possesses that mirrors memory.  Some memories or experiences come up again and again in one’s musings, sometimes the same slides seemed to loop, just like when someone is ruminating over a certain struggle or significant event in their life.  Some words or hypertexts lead to a seemingly unrelated section, just like in one’s memory, thoughts often jump around and it is not clear why a certain memory was ignited.  Further, this also explains why each reader has a different experience reading the text, because individuals also have different experiences and perspectives from the same events.  For example, although we are all part of the same digital humanities class, sharing the same events together each class meeting, my memory of the class will be distinct from all my other class mates’.  For instance, if we did an exercise where we all were asked to think about the first day of class when we read the Frost poem, this may then lead me to remember another class where I read the poem and the paper I wrote analyzing that, and then about the paper I need to finish this week, etc etc.  For another person, they may begin at the same starting point of recalling the Frost poem, then will consider literal frost, winter, being cold, how last winter they had to shovel snow for hours and had blisters….etc etc.  While the starting point was the same, just as it is in Afternoon, the paths the memories and reflections then took were quite distinct.  Joyce seems to capture the essence of the human mind and memory in a novel way, made possible by the nature of hypertext.

Do You Understand Me?

To what extent can we understand what others are thinking?  Although humans do have theory of mind, the ability to understand that others can have different thoughts than our own, it seems that this ability is limited and brings into question if we can really understand another person. Keeping in mind my last post, I realized that the end of the novel brought the notion of understanding others to another level, it truly leaves the reader pondering this idea: do we, or can we understand?  Do we understand the end of the novel?  Does Clarissa understand Septimus?  Does Sally Seton undertand Peter Walsh? Do we understand what Woolf was trying to express?  Virginia Woolf explores this notion of understanding in her novel Mrs. Dalloway through the stream of conscious style of writing and in the interaction between Clarissa and Septimus.

This concept is most clearly encapsulated in the final scene of the novel in which Clarissa quietly meditates to herself.  Although Clarissa and Septimus never actually meet, it seems that their “relationship” is the pivotal one of the novel, that the meeting of these two characters  encourages Clarissa to reflect on her life in more significant ways than she had before and underscore key components of the novel as a whole.  Their “relationship” illustrates the degree to which people who may not be physically present, or who one never actually meets, can strongly influence one’s life and thoughts.  The degree to which the knowledge of Septimus’ suicide affects her is clear in Clarissa’s statement that “in the middle of [her] party, here’s death.”  It is as if her enjoyment of the event has been disrupted directly by the death.

Further, this scene also indicates that one’s understanding of another’s thoughts and experiences is restricted.  Although Clarissa feels that she has experienced death with Septimus, the outcomes and the impact it has on her life are truly different.  Although Clarissa “felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away,” she will never understand the motives behind Septimus’ decision, limiting her ability to relate.  While Septimus chose to end his life, she instead reaffirms her desire to live.  From Septimus’ death, “he made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun,” opening her eyes to once again appreciate the gift of life, and consequently inspires her to “assemble” and return to her party, return to living life.  This pushes the reader to question how one event can drive people to act in such varying ways.  This sentiment is similar to the connection she feels with the older woman who lives across the street, as she watches her going to bed, wondering “could she see her.”  Clarissa reflects that “it was fascinating, with people still laughing and shouting in the drawing-room to watch that old woman, quite quietly going to bed.”  This meditation suggests that there are other spheres, other lives which with one comes into contact, but they continue to go on, unaware of one’s presence and whose motives and thoughts one cannot understand, even if observing their resulting action.

By highlighting the drive to understand the thoughts of others, the way in which this connects people, but also the limitations and consequences of failure, Woolf leaves the reader questioning their own internal narrative, interactions, and their personal examinations and relations to those around them.

Striving to Understanding

In reading Mrs. Dalloway for the third time, I was struck by a different interpretation this go around in light of the digital humanities articles we have been reading.  I saw a similarity between the digital humanists who are struggling to define who is a digital humanist and what digital humanities actually is, and the characters in the world of Virginia Woolf’s novel.  This similar notion of how to interact with others and essentially, how to understand others who may be different, or not as different as oneself is present in both the novel and the digital humanities articles.

Woolf employs stream of consciousness to examine the complexity of the human mind by presenting internal conflicts and musings of individuals.  By exploring the way in which people think, Woolf suggests that the drive to understand another’s thoughts is a key aspect of being human, and when it is ignored or overlooked, this leads to negative consequences.  For example, the treatment of the complex character of Septimus suggests that unhealthy relationships and people stem from the inability and unwillingness to try to predict or relate to what other people are thinking.  Septimus is unable to feel anything, and identifies this as his downfall.  Therefore, without trying to relate to or understand others, he is not able to function in the social world.  Further, the way in which Septimus is treated clearly illustrates this outlook.  The doctor who treats Septimus believes that the problem with Septimus is that he needs to “take an interest in things outside himself,” intimating that without the desire to consider what others are thinking, his own thinking is deficient.  However, the novel indicates that simply being aware of other people is not enough.  Lucrezia, while constantly interacting with people, still feels that “there was nobody.”  The fact that Septimus does not attempt to comprehend her thoughts or relate to her initiates these feelings of loneliness and does not fulfill her need for bonding.

In applying this notion to the digital humanities sphere, Alex Reid articulated the divide between what is digital humanities and what is not, and questioned if the ideas can be reconciled.  Additionally, he also presented two venn diagrams, and suggested that perhaps there is an overlap between the notions of the digital and humanities world, and that “all humanist study is mediated by the digital.”  Therefore, he too illustrates that considering the “thinking” of the other may be beneficial.  The notion of grouping the digitists and the humanists in different groups is widely accepted, yet Reid suggests that delving into the overlap and seeing that they are not so different may be the more accurate route to take.  In applying Woolf’s model, if the digital humanist scholars do not attempt to reconcile the differences, just like Septimus, this may lead to a breakdown and will not be as successful as they could otherwise have been.  Just as Woolf presents the notion of attempting to understand others as essential for one’s existence in society, Reid speaks out about this idea as well, suggesting where connections can be made that can advance the field of digital humanities.