Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Spinster. I stink and remember. Whole days
in bed cawing Nooooo at the wall;[…]
- Miss Havisham boldly calls herself a "spinster" here, which is a mean-spirited word for an unmarried older woman. Is this how Miss Havisham sees herself? Is this how others see her? Is this how she expects others to see her? Probably yes to all three.
- Then she says that she stinks. Well, she hasn't taken off her wedding dress for a few decades, so yeah – we can imagine.
- She also says that she remembers. Remembers what? Probably everything. She's been stewing for decades, recalling every bit of unhappiness that she has had to endure because of her fiancé's actions.
- Miss Havisham then says that she has spent days "cawing" the word "no" at the wall. A "caw" is a harsh cry that a bird might make, like a crow. So she's metaphorically comparing herself to a lowly animal here. And what is she saying "no" to? Might she be reliving the moment when she discovered her fiancé's betrayal? Or is she bemoaning her current state of affairs? Sadly, no one is listening; she's just shouting at the wall.
- There are a few other things to notice here. First, there's the repeated "er" sounds of "Spinster. I stink and remember," and the repeated "aw" sounds of caw and wall. Because these sounds are a kind of rhyme that appears in the middle of the line, we call them internal rhymes. Combined with her short sentences and sinister tone, they make the poem feel a bit claustrophobic, don't you think? As if we're trapped in Miss Havisham's terrifying mind, where the same sounds and thoughts are repeated over and over again.
- And finally, this second stanza starts with yet another sentence fragment: "Spinster." This monologue seems more and more like a stream of consciousness, in which we, the readers, get a glimpse into Miss Havisham's deepest thoughts, no matter how disorganized or dark.
[…] the dress
yellowing, trembling if I open the wardrobe;
the slewed mirror, full-length, her, myself, who did this
- Miss Havisham references her wedding dress here, which has yellowed over the many years that she's been wearing it. That sounds simple enough, but then everything goes a bit wonky, and the sentence becomes harder to understand.
- Who's doing the trembling, here? Is it the dress, which is yellowing, too? Or is she trembling, as she opens the wardrobe? Or perhaps the reflection of the dress as Miss Havisham looks at herself in the mirror on the wardrobe door is trembling, because the door itself is wobbly. It's a little tough to figure out, huh? Why do you think Duffy has made this line so tricky? Could it be meant to reflect the turmoil going on inside Miss Havisham's messy mind?
- She then imagines herself looking in the mirror. She sees herself first as a "her," as if she doesn't recognize herself and what she's become. The mirror is "slewed," or turned and warped, like a funhouse mirror. But it's also full-length, giving Miss Havisham a clear view of her entire body – old, yellowing, and wasting away.
- Then, suddenly, the "her" changes to "myself." Miss Havisham faces facts – she's the one in the mirror.
- Then comes one of our favorite parts of the poem. At the end of the line, we get "who did this." Did what, exactly, we can't be sure, but it sure seems like Miss Havisham is blaming someone for her lot in life. But check this out – she's staring at herself. And because these words follow "myself," and there's no question mark after them, we might take it to mean she's blaming herself, as if she's saying "I am who did this." It's an awesome stanza break that leaves us hanging for a moment in the blank space on the page.
- Sound-wise, we'd like to call your attention to line 8, with its repeated "l" sounds. When a poet repeats consonant sounds in the middle of words like this, we call it consonance. See if you can spot other examples in the poem.