Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
The bed we loved in was a spinning world
Of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas
Where he would dive for pearls […]
- Duffy gets right into here, having the speaker, Anne Hathaway, address the issue of the bed immediately. Instead of talking about "the second best bed," Anne refers to it as "the bed we loved in." This undoes our assumptions about Shakespeare's will very quickly. It may be second best, but this bed has seen a lot of love.
- So, what do we know about this bed? Well, Anne describes it as "a spinning world" that's filled with all sorts of beautiful and romantic things – "forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas."
- Wow, sounds like quite a bed. The important thing to know about this bed is that it's not literally piled high with these too-big-for-a-bed things. Anne is speaking metaphorically; her experiences in bed are so wonderful that she feels as if it's filled with these beautiful sights. The forests and clifftops may be imaginary, but they feel real emotionally.
- So, what's with the deep sea diving? Apparently Anne imagines that Shakespeare went diving for pearls in bed. Now, this could just be an extension of the previous fanciful metaphors, but it could also be a metaphor for something more sexual.
[…] My lover's words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; […]
- Anne continues being super-romantic here with a lovely double metaphor. First, her husband's words are described as shooting stars. Then, these same shooting stars (which are metaphors to begin with) fall to earth like kisses. This is some complex poetic language!
- Is it possible that Anne might be competing with her dead husband here? She's talking about Shakespeare's words (which we all know are pretty amazing), but, in the meantime, she does some pretty fancy word footwork of her own. It seems that Shakespeare isn't the only one in the family with a talent for words.
- While we're at it, let's take a second to think a little more about Shakespeare. You might remember him best for his plays, but he's also a sonnet guy. Actually, he wrote an extended sequence of sonnets (154 in all). A sonnet is a 14-line poem, often about big themes (and we really mean big themes: Shakespeare's sonnets take on issues such as love, death, immortality, and the power of writing).
- What's interesting about Duffy's poem, then, is that it's spoken by Shakespeare's wife, in sonnet form. Duffy appropriates (or borrows/steals) Shakespeare's favorite form for his wife's words. Is this a way of competing with Shakespeare? Or is his wife just honoring him by writing in his favorite form of poetry? It's up for debate.
- This poem has a lot of repeated sounds, and it's particularly striking in these lines: we get tons of s's, which makes it sound almost like a whisper. There is also noticeable assonance (repeated vowel sounds) in words like "words" and "earth." There aren't a lot of full rhymes (words that rhyme perfectly, like "eye" and "sky") in this poem, but the whole thing is held together by these other types of repeated sounds.
[…] my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance; his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.
- Here, Anne starts using poetic and linguistic terms to talk about her relationship with Shakespeare. We get some fancy terms like "assonance" (a repetition of vowel sounds in words), and also some more basic stuff, like "rhyme" (a repetition of sounds at the ends of words), "verb" (an action word), and "noun" (which names a person, place or thing).
- More specifically, she uses all of these poetic terms to describe her and her husband's bodies, and what they do with them in bed. (Things just keep heating up in this poem!)
- Their bodies rhyme with each other. They echo each other. Shakespeare's touch is like a verb dancing in a noun. Is that noun Anne's body? We certainly think so.
- By using the vocabulary of poetry and writing, Anne links writing with the body, and more specifically, with sex. In this poem, writing is like sex, and sex is like writing: both involve repetitions, forms, nouns, and verbs.
- Interestingly, Anne characterizes her body as "softer" than her husband's, embracing a kind of stereotypical femininity. Also in these lines, Shakespeare is more active (he's doing the touching) and Anne, the woman, is more passive (she's the one being touched).