Study Guide

Havisham Stanza 3

By Carol Ann Duffy

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Stanza 3

Line 9

to me? Puce curses that are sounds not words.

  • Ah, but if you thought Miss Havisham was going to take some responsibility for her current state of affairs, you were sorely mistaken.
  • Just after the pause of the stanza break, where we briefly toyed with this idea, she asks, "to me?" Suddenly we're sure Miss Havisham believes she's not at fault. Someone has done something to her. She doesn't take the blame for the shape of her life.
  • Breaks like this in poetry are called enjambments. Enjambments occur when a poet breaks up a sentence or phrase in a strange place rather than at the end of a sentence or a punctuation mark.
  • Often, those enjambments give the poem new, unexpected layers of meaning. In case you haven't noticed, this poem is heavily enjambed. Duffy breaks her lines at strange places, often right in the middle of a phrase. While sometimes enjambments can make a poem more fluid, in "Havisham" they make the poem sound choppy. It's like nothing connects together properly – everything is a bit out of joint.
  • And just to prove that point, Miss Havisham next makes a very strange statement: "Puce curses that are sounds not words." Huh? Part of the reason this line is so confusing that it's yet another pesky fragment. What's puce, and who's doing the cursing, and why are those curses sounds not words?
  • We can definitely answer that first question: puce is a color, a brownish red. But that only brings up more questions like, why are these curses a brownish red color? Is she cursing her fiancé? Does she feel as if she's been cursed? And it's interesting that the curses aren't words – just sounds, like her extended "Nooooo," and her cawing noises. So really, we're asking: what's going on here?
  • Plus, check out the awesome sounds Duffy uses here. First, there are the repeated "u" sounds: "to" and "puce." These are closely related to the sounds in "curses" and "words." Duffy is using both internal rhyme (which refers to repeating the same sounds within a single line of a poem) and slant rhyme (which refers to using similar, related sounds that are just short of rhyming), all in one line. She's really cramming a lot of stuff in this compact little poem. It's enough to make Shmoop wish we had Duffy around to pack our suitcase for our next trip.

Lines 10-12

Some nights better, the lost body over me,
my fluent tongue in its mouth in its ear
then down till I suddenly bite awake. Love's

  • Here things in the poem start to change a bit. Before, Miss Havisham was incredibly bitter and angry. Now things seem to change; she tells us that some of her nights are better.
  • What we love about the first half of line 10 is how sparse it is. She could have said, "There are some nights that are better." But she doesn't. She says something much shorter, as if she can't quite find the energy to form a complete thought.
  • And why, exactly, are her nights better? Well, let's be blunt: it sounds like she's having some erotic dreams about the fiancé. She imagines his body on top of her, and we know it's the fiancé's because she refers to it as "lost." She just can't get this dude out of her mind.
  • It's interesting that she refers to her former fiancé as a "body," not a person. She mentions sticking her tongue in "its mouth" and "its ear," as opposed to "his mouth" and "his ear." She depersonalizes him; in this moment, he's just a body to her. And then, after the ear and mouth, she heads downward, and, well, you get the idea. Too much information, Miss H!
  • But this fantasy ends quickly, and Miss Havisham bites herself awake. Does she bite the imaginary body? Does she bite her own tongue as she awakens? Or has something bitten her? It's ambiguous, and though it's a sensual gesture, it's not exactly a happy follow up to the kissing, that's for sure.
  • Finally, we get a lingering word on the last line of the stanza: "Love's." We'll just have to stay tuned for Stanza 4, where we'll find out just what she's talking about. Miss H, must you always leave us hanging?

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