Analysis: Form and Meter
Miss Havisham, Drama Queen
"Havisham" is a dramatic monologue, which means that it's spoken by a fictional character – Miss Havisham – who is very much not the poet Carol Ann Duffy. Dramatic monologues like this one focus on the unique perspective of the speaker, as if she were a character in a play. So when you read "Havisham," you might imagine the speaker standing onstage, with the set dressed as her creepy bedroom, spilling her guts out to the audience.
The Meter that Wasn't
When you first look at the poem, you'd be forgiven for assuming it has a strict form and meter. The poem is organized into four stanzas, each with four lines that are pretty much equal in length, so it looks quite regular. Plus, the first line is in what we call iambic hexameter, which is a scary way of saying that it has twelve syllables, each alternating between unstressed and stressed:
Beloved sweetheart bastard. Not a day since then
If we group these syllables into groups of two – an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one – we get six groups, or feet. A foot that has an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one is called an iamb. Because there are six feet, or iambs, we call it hexameter. Boom: iambic hexameter.
But here's the thing. That's the only line in the poem that has such a strict meter. For the rest of the poem, despite the similar lengths of lines, it's essentially a free-for-all. Duffy gets us all set in a rhythm and jerks us out of it – kind of like how Miss Havisham was all set to get married and the suddenly, she's all alone.
Rhymes that Slant
Because it has no consistent meter, it's not much of a surprise that there's no consistent rhyme scheme, either. But there are a lot of slant rhymes, or near rhymes. The words sound similar, but the rhymes aren't quite perfect – the vowels are just a little bit off. Some slant rhymes in the poem are "dress" (end of line 6) and "this" (end of line 8) or "Puce" and "curses" (in line 9). Take a closer look and you'll find slant rhymes all over this poem, and not just at the line breaks.
Jamming with Enjambments
And what of those line breaks? They're crazy, right? When a line breaks off abruptly in the middle of a sentence, only to be continued in the next line or stanza, we call this enjambment. And this poem is plumb full of enjambments. While many poets end their lines with a natural pause – signaled by the end of a sentence or phrase, or by some kind of punctuation mark – Duffy's line endings in "Havisham" are all over the place.
They seem unnatural, maybe even forced, often occurring right in the middle of a phrase. Sometimes enjambment can make a poem seem like it's flowing along smoothly, but here the enjambments feel choppy and artificial. Miss Havisham keeps stopping and starting her speech, making her sound as if she's not quite in control of her words.
It's also important to note that sometimes enjambments enhance the meaning of the poem, in addition to its sound. Check out our entry for lines 6-9 in our summary of the poem to see an example of this.