Beloved sweetheart bastard. Not a day since then I haven't wished him dead, […]
We can guess from the title that this poem is spoken by Miss Havisham, a lonely and kind-of-nuts spinster character from Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Because the poem is being spoken by a character, we can think of it as a dramatic monologue, in which the poet will delve into this character's mind and speak in her voice.
Familiarity with the book helps us understand that Miss Havisham is referring to her former fiancé in these lines. He dumped her on the morning of their wedding day and swindled her out of all her money. The poem, however, doesn't give us these details. So Duffy is taking a bit of a leap here in assuming that her readers will know enough about Great Expectations to be familiar with Miss Havisham and her sad circumstances.
First, our woman scorned grabs our attention with a violent sentence fragment, which sets up a choppy, stilted feel in the poem. In the fragment, she calls her former fiancé her "beloved sweetheart bastard."
This phrase is an oxymoron – a figure of speech that combines opposite terms. (Think jumbo shrimp, or open secret.) Oxymorons are often used to express ambivalent, contradictory, and conflicting ideas and feelings. It's pretty clear that Miss Havisham has these kinds of feelings about this man, who is both a sweetheart and a bastard.
Miss Havisham then says that she's wished for her fiancé's death every day since he dumped her. Don't hold back Miss H. – tell us how you really feel!
[…] Prayed for it so hard I've dark green pebbles for eyes, ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with.
As it turns out, Miss Havisham has not only wished for her fiancé's death; she's prayed for it. And she's prayed for it hard.
She says her eyes are green pebbles, which is a metaphor, because her eyes aren't actually green pebbles. So why the comparison? Well, we often think of green as the color of jealousy and greed, and sometimes even the color of sickness. And pebbles are hard and small. Her fiancé's betrayal has left her jealous and hardened. She's probably not seeing too straight, either.
She also imagines that she has ropes on the back of her hands. You know how when people get old you can sometimes see the veins on their hands bulging out of their skin? This is what Miss Havisham is talking about. But she doesn't just notice that her veins look like ropes; she says she could use them to strangle someone. These metaphorical ropes are very, very real to her. Watch out, world – Miss Havisham is not a happy lady. She's already prayed for her former fiancé's death; now she's talking about murder weapons. Yikes!
You'll notice that by now, the poem has taken on a distinctly sinister tone. Miss Havisham is not a happy camper, and her imagery and metaphors are tools she can use to express this discontent.
Finally, check out these sounds in line 3: "hard" and "dark." A repetition of similar vowel sounds like this is called assonance, and it's just about everywhere in this poem. In fact, we'll just come right out and tell you that sound (and repeated sounds – like assonance – in particular) is really important in this poem. Keep your ears open, and be sure to check out our "Sound Check" section to get the most out of the music.