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by Carol Ann Duffy

Analysis: Sound Check

Rough Waters Ahead

Because of all of its enjambments, this poem sounds incredibly choppy and jerky. (For more on enjambments, check out "Form and Meter.") The poem sounds like it's being forced out of Miss Havisham in spurts – like she's a flat tire sputtering out of control. The "b-b-b-breaks" of the final line is like the tire breathing its last sad breath before it leaves you stuck in the middle of a busy road. It's a harsh and sad poem, just as Miss Havisham is a harsh and sad woman.

For Repeat's Sake

Reading this poem aloud to yourself, you might notice something: "Havisham" has loads of repeated sounds. We've discussed slant rhymes in "Form and Meter," but let's take a look at some other examples:

Alliteration, or the repetition of consonants at the beginning of words:

  • Line 1: "beloved" and "bastard"
  • Lines 13-14 "balloon bursting" and "Bang."

Consonance, or the repetition of consonants in the middle of words:

  • Line 8: "slewed mirror, full-length"
  • Line 16: "don't think it's only the heart that"

Assonance, or the repetition of vowel sounds:

  • Lines 1-2: "day" and "prayed"
  • Line 3: "hard" and "dark"
  • Line 5: "Spinster. I stink and remember."
  • Line 6: "cawing" and "wall"
  • Line 7: "open" and "wardrobe"
  • Line 8: "slewed" and "who"
  • Line 10: "lost body"
  • Lines 11-12: "mouth" and "down"
  • Lines 12-13: "awake," "hate," and "veil"
  • Line 14: "face" and "cake"

Phew. That is an awful lot of repetition. And the more you read the poem, the harder it is to ignore. But why do you think Duffy included so much of it? What's the effect of this repetition? For one thing, it makes Miss Havisham seem a bit loonier than she already seemed, as if she's repeating sounds that she can't quite get out of her addled brain. And for another, it adds to the choppiness of the poem; these sounds, like the enjambments we discussed in "Form and Meter," pop up in unexpected places. It's as if we never know what's coming. At any moment, Miss Havisham could really lose her grip on reality, but for now, we're grateful we can make sense of her ramblings.

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