Carol Anne Duffy’s AdulteryCarol Anne Duffy’s poem “Adultery” is structured in a traditional andstraightforward way. It is comprised of eleven verses – each with the commonfour lines, which consist of between four and nine words.
This makes the poemnot particularly striking at the first look, before it is read. The typographydoes not attract the readers attention, this is probably because Duffy wants thereader to concentrate on the language, and is not concerned with the shape thatthe lines form, or how they relate to the themes of the poem. RHYME AND RHYTHMDuffy does not seem particularly interested in rhyme in this poem, and probablydecided before writing it that she did not want any. Therefore rhyme has beenavoided, as has a regular, repetitive rhythm. I think that Duffy wants to allowthe language to speak for itself, without getting tangled up in rhyme and rhythmschemes, and having to change what she wants to say in order to make it fitthese limitations.
She also wants to avoid losing the impact of the poem. Thishas much to do with the language used, poetic devices, and very often, the lackof rhythm, seen clearly in the first verse when she writes: “Guilt. A sick,green tint” The caesura breaks up the line, splitting it into two. If she werewriting within the barriers of a specific rhythm, she would probably be tempted,and perhaps compelled to, split this line exactly in half, in order to balanceit and keep the structure. This would not have the same effect.
The caesura isused as dramatic device, implying that the poem is intended to be read out loud. The break makes the reader pause, giving the first word a larger impact as it isisolated from the rest of the text. It also does the same for the followingsentence, and as it is on the end of the verse, there is a natural pause here aswell, giving this line impact and power. Seeing as it also highlights a keytheme in the poem, guilt, it is also an important line as it tells the reader alittle about what to expect, and also raises their interest and expectations,Guilt? Why? Who? LANGUAGE Duffy uses language very effectively in this poem. Shewants to create a specific atmosphere and then build on it, creating characters,situations and emotions as she does so.
She wants an atmosphere of sleazinessand seediness, but wants it to sound exciting, dangerous and seductive. She alsoexamines the harm that the situations cause. The first verse (or stanza) ispacked with intrigue, mystery, excitement and questions. “Wear dark glasses inthe rain”, demands the first line, and the reader gets ideas of disguise.
Itgoes on to mention “unhurt” and “bruise” – dark glasses to hide a blackeye? Maybe not, another glance at the title, “Adultery”, suggests somethingelse – sado-masochism? Then comes the “guilt”, as mentioned above, andreader knows she is talking about a sexual affair – but who? What? Where? Wewant to know more. The second verse builds on the sexual intrigue with mentionsof “hands can do many things”, and “money tucked in the palms” suggestsprostitution, as well as “wash themselves” maybe implying that they feeldirty? Duffy is building an atmosphere which is sexually charged and filled withriddles and ambiguous comments, daring the reader to assume a sexually link. Thenext verse features the line: “You are naked under your clothes all day. .
. “,another sexual connotation, perhaps implying that the clothes are a disguise,and all day the character does something which is not really them, andunderneath they are different, “naked” suggests vulnerability. There is also”. . . brings you alone to your knees.
. . ” and “. . . more, more.
. . “, whichcould suggest oral sex, while the repetition shows that Duffy considers this themost important word of the line, demanding it stands out, and it could suggestan unsatisfied sexual appetite, or description of the frequency of thecouple’s meetings. Dishonesty is mentioned with “deceit” and “Suck a liewith a hole in it”. This could be a more explicit reference to oral sex, ormore obscurely, Polo mints, the mint you suck with a hole in it.
Duffy could besaying that the lies are sweet, addictive and refreshing compared with a mundanelife, like Polo mints; she could mean that the lies come as easily as sweetsfrom a packet, although probably not. Or perhaps the key is in the next line:”On the way home from a lethal thrilling night. ” Maybe the character ismulling over what the excuse will be to the spouse, how he/she will lie theirway out of where they have been, but the lie will always be flawed as it is nottrue – hence the hole. The “lethal” also brings a touch of danger to theatmosphere. Duffy does not want the reader to be comfortable with this deceit orthe situation as a whole. We know it is sordid, and now we know it could be abit hazardous.
Duffy continues with “up against a wall, faster”, an obviousreference to the e night they’ve just had, with fast exciting sex – quickgratification. The last line of this verse: “unpeels to a lost cry. You’re abastard. ” The caesura breaks up the line, balancing it, and giving greaterimpact and significance to the second half. The colloquialism “bastard” isused for several reasons. It has a big impact, surprising the reader, andshocking a minority, who aren’t used to taboo words in poetry.
This gives itmore power – it is swear word, and is offensive. Duffy could have said”You’re a bad person”, but this is dead, lame, and ineffective. It is alsomore emotional, as “bastard” is more dramatic than “bad person” and sohas more feeling in it. It is likely that Duffy is revealing what the spouse’sreaction would be to the news that his/her wife/husband is having an affair.
Ifnot then the adulterer is imagining what their spouse would say, and is callinghim/herself a bastard. It is unlikely that Duffy herself is calling theadulterer a bastard. Firstly Duffy does not appear to pass judgment on thecharacters in the rest of the poem, she lets their actions and feelings speakfor themselves. Secondly, Duffy would probably realise that it is moreinteresting to hear another character’s opinion, than her own, especially whenshe has focused on what the characters are thinking in the rest of the poem.
Altogether, Duffy is revealing some of the emotions involved with adultery. There is also the matter of whether the adulterer is male or female. “Bastard” is traditionally an insult towards men, and it is unlikely thatDuffy would purposely confuse the reader in regard to the gender of the maincharacter, especially when their actions and thoughts are so vital to the poem. This does not necessarily mean that the adulterer is male.
The referencesearlier to oral sex implied that the adulterer was female, but I could be wrongabout those, or maybe Duffy is saying that person the adulterer is having anaffair with is a bastard – hence a female adulterer. With the oral sexreferences in mind, presuming they are correct, it suggests that the affair ishomosexual, but if this were the case then Duffy would almost certainly say itin more explicit terms, as on first read this is not apparent, and Duffy cannotwant her poem to be that misunderstood. The next verse begins: “Do it do it doit. Sweet darkness” Duffy is using poetic devices to convey the mood andatmosphere she wants to create.
The caesura again breaks the line in two givinga big impact and significance to both halves as the readers pauses for effect. The repetition shows that the phrase “do it” is important and needs to beemphasized again and again, or perhaps it is describing how they “do it”again and again – a possible sexual reference. The lack of punctuation conveysthe speed and urgency. “Sweet darkness” is almost an oxymoron; we are usedto thinking of darkness as spooky, scary and hiding dangers, and to think of itas sweet seems to be a contradiction in terms, it isn’t really, but Duffyknows that this impression will be given. She could be talking about the loversmeeting in the darkness, or darkness hiding their sins, but either way, the factthat it appears to be an oxymoron draws the readers attention to it, as does thecaesura. Duffy then returns to sexually ambiguous phrases like “how you arewanted, which way, now”, and “pay for it in cash” this must be referringto desire in the former quotation and probably prostitution in the latter.
However, Duffy never explicitly writes about prostitution, just hints at it inorder to increase the sexual tension and condense the atmosphere of seediness. Duffy goes on to describe how the affair is taking it’s toll on the marriageand conscience of the adulterer. “. .
. The life which crumbles like a weddingcake. ” – Duffy uses a simile to describe how the life is being eroded, bycomparing it to a crumbling wedding cake, reminding that the adulterer ismarried, and that the marriage must also be splintering. The seventh verse isinteresting: “Paranoia for lunch; too much to drink, as a hand on your thightilts the restaurant. You know all about love, don’t you.
Turn on yourbeautiful eyes” The annotations show all the poetic devices that Duffy uses,mostly in order to increase the mood of the poem and convey the theme. In thenext verse Duffy uses an interesting image: “the slicing of innocent onionsscalds you to tears”. I do not know what Duffy is trying to say to the readerhere, but there are several possibilities. The adulterer has returned to thehousehold chores for the family, and is crying because he/she feels bad abouthow he/she has betrayed the family, and is reminded of this by the return to theold routine; or possibly the “innocent onions” represent the innocentmembers of the family that the adulterer has hurt – this would be the”slicing” – and the realisation of this has made the adulterer cry, justlike cutting onions would. Duffy is telling the reader that the adulterer feelsremorse that the family has suffered for her affair, and this changes theatmosphere.
It appears that in these verses the poet is describing what happenswhen the adulterer returns to the family home, he/she sleeps in a “maritalbed”, Duffy is pointing this out so deliberately to highlight the fact thathe/she has recently been sharing another bed, an extra-marital one. “Thetarnished spoon of your body stirring betrayal” – Duffy uses a metaphor toexplain that the adulterer feels dirty due to his/her actions, and is acutelyaware of how he/she has let down the family and betrayed the spouse. The readerfeels that the adulterer regrets their actions, and is now dealing with theconsequences, which could be severe as he/she has to send “dumb and explicitflowers on nobody’s birthday” to try to win over the partner again andapologise. If the partner hasn’t found out then the adulterer is probablysending the flowers just out of guilt. However, the last verse implies that thepartner does know what’s been going on, as they appear to have an argumentabout it: “.
. . You did it. What. Didn’t you. Fuck.
Fuck. No. . . ” Duffy doesnot explicitly show that it is dialogue by using inverted commas, but thelanguage suggests it is. The partner has just discovered what is going on and isconfronting the adulterer.
The colloquialism is again used to give the linepower, impact, and the ability to shock, as “*censored*” is generallyconsidered to be the most taboo word in the English language. It is shows thatthe this is very emotional. The characters are using “strong language”because they have very strong feelings and are very upset. They both want to getacross the power of what they are feeling, and the lack of question marks-?-show that they are not calmly asking each other questions, but are speaking instatements – “You did it, didn’t you. “, rather than “You did it,didn’t you?”.
This also implies that they are shouting at each other. Thisis usually shown in either capital letters, italics, or bold type, but Duffyagain does not want to be so explicit. She wants the reader to have to read theverse a few time through to understand it, as this will make them concentratemore and focus on what is being said. Throughout this poem Duffy is building upatmosphere. She uses language and poetic devices to create a mood, and thenchanges the mood, thereby moving the story on.