Havisham

Background

Miss Havisham is a Dickens character from Great Expectations who was jilted and from then on always wore her wedding dress. Duffy successfully explores her mind, changing those once romantic images, twisting and “breaking” them into violence.


The Poem

Beloved sweetheart bastard. Not a day since then
I haven't wished him dead. Prayed for it
so hard I've dark green pebbles for eyes,
ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with.

Spinster. I stink and remember. Whole days
in bed cawing Nooooo at the wall; the dress
yellowing, trembling if I open the wardrobe;
the slewed mirror, full-length, her, myself, who did this

to me? Puce curses that are sounds not words.
Some nights better, the lost body over me,
my fluent tongue in its mouth in its ear
then down till suddenly bite awake. Love's

hate behind a white veil; a red balloon bursting
in my face. Bang. I stabbed at a wedding cake.
Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon.
Don't think it's only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.

-- Carol Anne Duffy


Analysis

"Beloved sweetheart bastard"

The alliteration on the ‘b’ creates a harsh sound – showing the violence of the poem. It also connects ‘beloved’ and ‘bastard’ as an oxymoron. This shows the persona's conflict – love and hate. A short, dramatic, and very powerful opening.

"dark green pebbles for eyes"

'Green' is the colour of jealousy; it shows the mind set of persona to whoever he left her for. ‘Pebbles’ are very hard, which shows what she feels like inside.

"Spinster"

The full stop is used for affect, to make ‘Spinster’ stands out and seem important. It tells us everything we need to know with one word.

“yellowing” shows the age off the dress and that she’s aging with it.

"cawing Nooooo at the wall"

Although I can see why the writer has done this, to evoke the sound sense in creating complete and utter despair, in my opinion, it’s not that effective. It’s a clichéd image, and whereas yes, this can be seen as showing the persona’s mind set, to me it just seems more comical and thus breaking the mood of the poem.

"her, myself, who did this / to me?"

There’s an identity crisis. She no longer knows who is to blame.

"Some nights better..."

Dreaming of man and sex are when some nights are better. But ‘bite’ is a very violent word. She is being awaken back to the violence that is her life… (Perhaps that’s showing a reason why she was jilted in the first place?) It could also be her anger that she’s woken right at the best bit. Interestingly, she only called him ‘it’. She disassociates herself from him, showing again her hatred.

“Love’s hate”

Another’s oxymoron. It shows how she doesn’t trust love as it let her down. Also again, it shows her confusion – she's trapped between hating and loving him.

“stabbed at the wedding cake”

She stabbed the cake when you’re supposed to cut it – a very strong image, capturing her rage.

"Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon"

She’s rather have him dead, then have nothing at all… (Sick, deranged come to mind) kinda like Salome…

“b-b-b-breaks”

The heart isn’t the only thing broken. Here’s a visual example of her language (and thus her mind) being broken.


Compares well with...
  • Hitcher - that is are very detached from the murder, whereas Havisham is very emotional. (And technically despite her longing never kills.)
  • Laboratory - that poem is very emotional like Havisham.
  • My Last Duchess - Like Havisham, love has gone wrong.

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All text copyright © 2006 to EJ Taylor. Page Template created by James Taylor. Site created: 10 April, 2006. Last revised: 2 August, 2015