This poem is not a traditional love poem. The poem presents love in many different ways but is very unique in its interpretation of love. Havisham is a poem written in 1998 by Carol Ann Duffy. It responds to Charles Dickens’ character Miss Havisham from his novel Great Expectations, looking at Havisham’s mental and physical state many decades after being left standing at the altar, when the bride-to-be is in her old age. It expresses Havisham’s anger at her fiancé and her bitter rage over wedding-day trauma and abandonment. Duffy’s use of language is very powerful and passionate. Throughout the poem oxymoron’s such as “Beloved sweetheart bastard” and “Love’s hate” portrays the ambivalence and restless uncertainty of the character, while a sexual fantasy reveals both the unrequited love and the passion that remains within Havisham following the wedding, a devastation from which her heart has never recovered. Violence is a common theme in this poem which is rare for a love poem, once again making it a contrasting poem.
The opening line portrays the order of events. “Beloved sweetheart bastard.” The man she describes was someone special but soon became someone she hated. She shows that love is conflicting by using alliteration of “beloved” and “bastard”. She has longed for revenge on her fiancé for leaving her as the reader is told, “Not a day since then I haven’t wished for him dead.” The words “prayed” also tie in with this deep seated longing for change. The imagery of her eyes being like “Dark green pebbles” hints to the hardness of stone but also the green is jealousy. She has become trapped by obsession thinking, praying and waiting for her fiancé. The last line of this stanza is a very meaning full one. “Ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with”. It uses a metaphor to signify that she “ties her hands”. Also how she uses the word “strangle” shows that she is a violent person. This is important to her personality because it shows she wants revenge on her fiancé.
The second stanza starts with a single word sentence. “Spinster.” This word is an old-fashioned expression for a woman who has never married; when it was commonly used, it carried a negative connotation, since women back then were expected to have a husband. Calling a woman a spinster meant she was considered too old, outside the “normal” age for marriage. This demonstrates her hatred and bitterness for the character. The way she continues to say “I stink and remember”. She uses the word “stink” because she has been in her wedding dress since the day she was supposed to get married and hasn’t washed since then. Duffy puts an image into the readers’ head of how old Havisham is; she does this by explaining that her dress is “yellowing”. Also in this stanza she briefly mentions about how Havisham has gone insane while she has been staying in the same room for so long. She does this by using the phrase “slewed mirror” giving the impression that the mirror is broken or damaged making the reader think she is violent. This links back to the first stanza when she was threatening to “strangle” him. She also gives the impression of Havisham going insane by having her say “her” instead of me or myself which she does afterwards. This shows that she is detached from herself as if she is in disbelief about her life.
Stanza three is a very simple but effective stanza in the poem. I think this is key to the structure of the poem and with all of the poetic devices used in the first, second and forth stanza it was important to have a stanza where it is all calmed ready for the forth stanza to be very over dramatic and revenge driven. The last line prepares the reader for the stanza to come as she uses the theme of violence again. Ending the stanza with an enjambment and an oxymoron to start the next stanza is a very common way of making the reader want to continue reading.
Starting stanza four with the word “hate” confirms that the whole poem is a contrasting love hate poem. The whole of the closing stanza is full of poetic devices especially metaphors and alliteration such as “red balloon bursting”. When she says this it makes the reader think literally of a red balloon bursting. I think that Duffy was trying to present this idea as her heart has broken. This fits in with the end stanza as the whole of the ending is about her wedding day and honeymoon. You can tell this by how Duffy used literal phrases like “white veil”, “wedding cake” and “honeymoon”. I assume Duffy did this because she wanted to make it clear to the reader that Havisham was not happy about being left on the day of her wedding day. You can tell this because she uses these phrases or words with others such as “stabbed”, “behind” and “long slow”. By saying “hate behind a white veil” it once again shows the reader that she has been in her wedding dress since the wedding was called off and that she was ready to take revenge on her fiancé for this. Also by saying she “stabbed at a wedding cake” makes the reader think that she has a passion for violence and revenge. This emotion is once again backed up by how she uses the idea of “a male corpse”. This also suggests that she would rather see him dead than have him reject her, once again showing how much a bitter character she is.
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