Carol Anne Duffy’s Adultery FORM AND STRUCTURE Carol Anne Duffy’s poem “Adultery” is structured in a traditional and straightforward way. It is comprised of eleven verses – each with the common four lines, which consist of between four and nine words. This makes the poem not particularly striking at the first look, before it is read. The typography does not attract the readers attention, this is probably because Duffy wants the reader to concentrate on the language, and is not concerned with the shape that the lines form, or how they relate to the themes of the poem. RHYME AND RHYTHM Duffy does not seem particularly interested in rhyme in this poem, and probably decided before writing it that she did not want any.
Therefore rhyme has been avoided, as has a regular, repetitive rhythm. I think that Duffy wants to allow the language to speak for itself, without getting tangled up in rhyme and rhythm schemes, and having to change what she wants to say in order to make it fit these limitations. She also wants to avoid losing the impact of the poem. This has much to do with the language used, poetic devices, and very often, the lack of rhythm, seen clearly in the first verse when she writes: “Guilt. A sick, green tint” The caesura breaks up the line, splitting it into two.
If she were writing within the barriers of a specific rhythm, she would probably be tempted, and perhaps compelled to, split this line exactly in half, in order to balance it and keep the structure. This would not have the same effect. The caesura is used as dramatic device, implying that the poem is intended to be read out loud. The break makes the reader pause, giving the first word a larger impact as it is isolated from the rest of the text. It also does the same for the following sentence, and as it is on the end of the verse, there is a natural pause here as well, giving this line impact and power.
Seeing as it also highlights a key theme in the poem, guilt, it is also an important line as it tells the reader a little about what to expect, and also raises their interest and expectations, Guilt? Why? Who? LANGUAGE Duffy uses language very effectively in this poem. She wants to create a specific atmosphere and then build on it, creating characters, situations and emotions as she does so. She wants an atmosphere of sleaziness and seediness, but wants it to sound exciting, dangerous and seductive. She also examines the harm that the situations cause. The first verse (or stanza) is packed with intrigue, mystery, excitement and questions.
“Wear dark glasses in the rain”, demands the first line, and the reader gets ideas of disguise. It goes on to mention “unhurt” and “bruise” – dark glasses to hide a black eye? Maybe not, another glance at the title, “Adultery”, suggests something else – sado-masochism? Then comes the “guilt”, as mentioned above, and reader knows she is talking about a sexual affair – but who? What? Where? We want to know more. The second verse builds on the sexual intrigue with mentions of “hands can do many things”, and “money tucked in the palms” suggests prostitution, as well as “wash themselves” maybe implying that they feel dirty? Duffy is building an atmosphere which is sexually charged and filled with riddles and ambiguous comments, daring the reader to assume a sexually link. The next verse features the line: “You are naked under your clothes all day..”, another sexual connotation, perhaps implying that the clothes are a disguise, and all day the character does something which is not really them, and underneath they are different, “naked” suggests vulnerability. There is also “..brings you alone to your knees..” and “..more, more..”, which could suggest oral sex, while the repetition shows that Duffy considers this the most important word of the line, demanding it stands out, and it could suggest an unsatisfied sexual appetite, or description of the frequency of the couple’s meetings.
Dishonesty is mentioned with “deceit” and “Suck a lie with a hole in it”. This could be a more explicit reference to oral sex, or more obscurely, Polo mints, the mint you suck with a hole in it. Duffy could be saying that the lies are sweet, addictive and refreshing compared with a mundane life, like Polo mints; she could mean that the lies come as easily as sweets from a packet, although probably not. Or perhaps the key is in the next line: “On the way home from a lethal thrilling night.” Maybe the character is mulling over what the excuse will be to the spouse, how he/she will lie their way out of where they have been, but the lie will always be flawed as it is not true – hence the hole. The “lethal” also brings a touch of danger to the atmosphere. Duffy does not want the reader to be comfortable with this deceit or the situation as a whole.
We know it is sordid, and now we know it could be a bit hazardous. Duffy continues with “up against a wall, faster”, an obvious reference to the e night they’ve just had, with fast exciting sex – quick gratification. The last line of this verse: “unpeels to a lost cry. You’re a bastard.” The caesura breaks up the line, balancing it, and giving greater impact and significance to the second half. The colloquialism “bastard” is used for several reasons.
It has a big impact, surprising the reader, and shocking a minority, who aren’t used to taboo words in poetry. This gives it more power – it is swear word, and is offensive. Duffy could have said “You’re a bad person”, but this is dead, lame, and ineffective. It is also more emotional, as “bastard” is more dramatic than “bad person” and so has more feeling in it. It is likely that Duffy is revealing what the spouse’s reaction would be to the news that his/her wife/husband is having an affair. If not then the adulterer is imagining what their spouse would say, and is calling him/herself a bastard. It is unlikely that Duffy herself is calling the adulterer a bastard.
Firstly Duffy does not appear to pass judgment on the characters in the rest of the poem, she lets their actions and feelings speak for themselves. Secondly, Duffy would probably realise that it is more interesting to hear another character’s opinio …