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Feminine Gospels

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Duffy notes Helen to have an unobtainable beauty, ‘daughter of the gods’ and ‘divinely fair’. The reference to beauty continues in ‘pearl’, Duffy using this to suggest the value which beauty holds in society. Duffy then uses asyndeton, connecting many adjectives to describe how beautiful Helen was. The final image of this section focuses on ‘little bird inside a cage’, representing the trap that beauty is. Helen’s whole life was marred by the prosecution of men, trapped due to her physical features. The final image of a ‘cage’ symbolizes this oppression, Helen’s life is destroyed due to her beauty. The end of this section points to Cleopatra’s downfall, yet is much more subtle than the other sections. This is perhaps relating to how successful Cleopatra was in her life, her demise only a tiny part of her story. The historic romance of ‘armies changing sides, of cities lost forever in the sea’ creates a tone of reverence. Cleopatra is fantastically powerful, her demise coming from a self-inflicted ‘snake’ bite. This section ends with a powerful demonstration of Cleopatra’s success. The clever grammatical division, using caesura, or everything in this section coming before ‘of snakes’ represents her final moment. Death to a snake bite is her final act, ‘snakes’ bluntly finishing her section.

Either about the rebirth of a friend, or the woman being reborn could be seen as the voice of feminism Duffy’s brand of magical realism is glorious and memorable. ‘The Map-Woman’ is a powerful and thoughtful poem, about the experiences and places mapped upon a body; ‘Beautiful’ holds a few echoes of ‘The Lady of Shallot’; ‘The Diet’ is about a woman who starves herself so much that she ends up shrinking. Duffy describes her as ‘Anorexia’s true daughter, a slip / of a girl, a shadow, dwindling away’. Allow me to share a passage from ‘The Woman Who Shopped’, in which a materialistic lady effectively turns into a department store:The ‘fuzz of woodland… under each arm’ represents armpit hair. This image could be interpreted polysemously within the text. Although some argue that it means she has stopped caring about her body, I would argue that this is an overly British analysis. Considering she has travelled all over the world trying to escape her identity, she would be familiar with the customs of many countries. Indeed, in other parts of the world, it is not traditional for women to shave, Duffy’s Map-Woman embracing this custom. Moreover, the rejection of shaving ties in with the 21st Century feminist movement, many women not following the stereotypes built on patriarchal assumptions. This is further suggested by ‘she rolled’, Cleopatra being the active participant in lines. Cleopatra ‘reached and pulled him down’, controlling Caesar with her intelligence and beauty.

Another technique that Duffy uses throughout Beautiful is a caesura. Following or preceding important phrases within the poem, Duffy uses caesura. This caesura creates a slight metrical pause within the line. This pause then places emphasis on what comes before or after the caesura. In doing this, Duffy can focus the poem on key ideas without disrupting the rhythm of reading. In many places, this caesura appears incredibly blunt, such as ‘Beauty is fame.’, emphasizing the harshness of this statement. The short, stunted ‘Beauty is fame’ is followed by a caesura. Duffy emphasizes the brutality of this line. Helen did not ask for beauty, yet she is made into an icon that must be pursued due to the male gaze. They look upon her and whisper her name, spreading her name across the globe. The perusers kill her husband, ‘sliced a last grin in his throat’, male rage and jealousy destroying Helen’s life. Key features: monosyllabic and harsh consonant sounds, asyndetic listing, declarative sentences, cross-line rhyme, caesure The Long Queen‘ begins Duffy’s anthology, ‘Feminine Gospels’, and touches on several key themes of the anthology: the position of women in society, feminine power, and female voices all being referenced within the poem. Yet, the most important theme of all when discussing ‘ The Long Queen‘ would be history, with Duffy using this figure to begin the tradition of historic women. Good poems to analyze in discussion with ‘ The Long Queen‘ in regards to history would be the poems History, Sub, and Beautiful.

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The second section, depicting Cleopatra, is built from lengthy stanzas. Each of these long-form stanzas reflects major parts of the ruler’s life. The length of this section could be emblematic of her long reign, Duffy remembering the success of Cleopatra. Even when discussing Cleopatra’s death, it is contained within two words, only a slight mark on the incredible reign she had. Duffy emulates her success through the extended stanzas, containing an element of Cleopatra’s longevity through this style. Finally, Duffy discusses the Princess of Wales, Diana. Lady Di was known as the “People’s Princess”, is a much-loved figure in the U.K. In 1981 she engaged Prince Charles and married later that year. After the couple’s separation in 1992, the media sought details of their marital difficulties. Diana was viciously hunted by the media, eventually dying in a car crash while fleeing the paparazzi in 1997. Her funeral was televised and brought in 32.10 million viewers in the U.K., with millions more watching around the world.

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