by Carol Ann Duffy
Stanza 4 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
hate behind a white veil; a red balloon bursting
in my face. Bang. I stabbed at a wedding-cake.
- We've got another intense enjambment here. The word "Love's" is left lingering in our minds from the stanza before. And after another pause, we arrive at line 13, which completes the statement.
- Miss Havisham tells us that love is the same thing as hate – it's just hate veiled. Or is she? If we read "Love's" as a contraction of "Love is," then the line makes sense this way. But what if we read "Love's" as a possessive? Then the sentence would mean that the hate that belongs to love is behind a white veil.
- The first way to read this makes sense for what we know about Miss Havisham so far – that she's scorned, spiteful, and very very bitter. So when you pull back that metaphorical veil of her wedding dress, you're going to find nothing but hate underneath that image of love.
- But reading it the other way makes sense, too. Our Miss H is still having dreams of her lost fiancé, so there's still some feeling there, underneath all that bitterness (or perhaps it's causing the bitterness). So even though we might assume love cannot possess hate, in her case, it does, because she both loves and hates her lost fiancé, all from beneath her white veil.
- This is what we might call a paradox, or a contradictory statement that, when you look a little closer, turns out to be true. Phew! That's a lot of analysis on one little word, but it just goes to show: Duffy is a master packer.
- Then she makes another metaphor: love is a red balloon that bursts in her face. It's like all her lovely dreams were floating in a shiny red balloon, and then: POP. (Or, according to the poem: Bang.) The balloon bursts, and the truth about her fiancé comes out. So does the truth about love itself: love is no different from hate. In a way, this moment can represent a loss of innocence. We associate balloons with childhood fun. And when they pop, the fun is gone and all that's left is reality. Ugh.
- Next, Miss Havisham tells us that she stabbed at a wedding cake. Is she still being metaphorical? Not necessarily – we know from the novel that her wedding cake has been sitting out on the table, slowly decaying for decades (ew!). Maybe she has taken out some of her anger on it with an occasional stab of the knife. Anything's possible in this creepy world.
- Oh, and if she's got a sharp knife in her hand, is it possible she's the one who popped the balloon? We can't be sure, but the possibility, again, is undeniable.
- Any way you read it, we can all take away the idea that Miss Havisham's dreams are deflated and decayed. She no longer believes in love.
- And finally, before we move on to the last lines of this awesome poem, check out the alliteration she's using here: "balloon bursting" and "Bang." Those repeated "b" sounds pack a big punch – you have to close your mouth entirely, and then let out a big burst of air to say them. They slow the lines down, and give them a violent feeling.
Lines 15-16Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon.
Don't think it's only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.
- Just when we thought things couldn't get any bleaker or more morbid, they do. Miss Havisham says she wants a male corpse to chill with for a long and slow honeymoon. Okay, this is straight up gross. Given her fantasies from the third stanza, what is she planning to do with this corpse? And why does it have to be a corpse? Maybe we don't actually want to know.
- We think she might be being hyperbolic here, i.e. exaggerating. Or maybe she's being ironic – saying one thing but meaning another. Is she just trying to gross us out? Or does she really want a corpse for some perverted honeymoon? All of the possibilities are plausible, and her tone is difficult to pin down.
- In the last line, we finally get some good old-fashioned pathos. Pathos is a fancy Greek term for an emotional appeal to an audience. It's that moment where a character in a poem or play looks at the audience and practically screams: pity me, pretty please!
- And do we pity Miss Havisham? We've been pretty consistently horrified by her for the whole poem, but we can't help but pity her in this last line. She's old, alone, a little demented, and falling apart – not just emotionally, but physically. Her broken heart has led to a broken and decrepit body, life, and mind.
- The final word of the poem, the "b-b-b-breaks" is breaking down itself. It's like a flat tire sputtering as it loses air. Miss Havisham seems to sputter and sob out this final pathos-inspiring word of the poem. She's utterly devastated, and despite the fact that we've been somewhat repelled by her throughout the poem, even our hearts break a little at this final line. Poor ol' Miss H.
- In these last lines, see if you can spot any of the sounds we've been talking about previously – assonance, consonance, slant rhyme, and internal rhyme. Did you catch any?
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