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Carol Anne Duffys Adultery

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
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
“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,
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
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
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.

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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
“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 opinion, than her own,
especially when she has focused on what the characters are thinking in the rest of the
poem. Altogether, Duffy is revealing some of the emotions involved with adultery.

There is also the matter of whether the adulterer is male or female. “Bastard”
is traditionally an insult towards men, and it is unlikely that Duffy would purposely
confuse the reader in regard to the gender of the main character, especially when their
actions and thoughts are so vital to the poem. This does not necessarily mean that the
adulterer is male. The references earlier to oral sex implied that the adulterer was
female, but I could be wrong about those, or maybe Duffy is saying that person the
adulterer is having an affair with is a bastard – hence a female adulterer. With the oral
sex references in mind, presuming they are correct, it suggests that the affair is
homosexual, but if this were the case then Duffy would almost certainly say it in more
explicit terms, as on first read this is not apparent, and Duffy cannot want her poem to
“Do it do it do it. Sweet darkness”
Duffy is using poetic devices to convey the mood and atmosphere she wants to
create. The caesura again breaks the line in two giving a big impact and significance to
both halves as the readers pauses for effect. The repetition shows that the phrase “do
it” is important and needs to be emphasized again and again, or perhaps it is describing
how they “do it” again and again – a possible sexual reference.The lack of
punctuation conveys the speed and urgency. “Sweet darkness” is almost an
oxymoron; we are used to thinking of darkness as spooky, scary and hiding dangers,
and to think of it as sweet seems to be a contradiction in terms, it isn’t really, but
Duffy knows that this impression will be given. She could be talking about the lovers
meeting in the darkness, or darkness hiding their sins, but either way, the fact that it
appears to be an oxymoron draws the readers attention to it, as does the caesura.

Duffy then returns to sexually ambiguous phrases like “how you are wanted,
which way, now”, and “pay for it in cash” this must be referring to desire in the former
quotation and probably prostitution in the latter. However, Duffy never explicitly
writes about prostitution, just hints at it in order to increase the sexual tension and
condense the atmosphere of seediness.

Duffy goes on to describe how the affair is taking it’s toll on the marriage and
conscience of the adulterer. “…The life which crumbles like a wedding cake.” – Duffy
uses a simile to describe how the life is being eroded, by comparing it to a crumbling
wedding cake, reminding that the adulterer is married, and that the marriage must also
tilts the restaurant. You know all about love,
don’t you. Turn on your beautiful eyes”
The annotations show all the poetic devices that Duffy uses, mostly in order to
increase the mood of the poem and convey the theme. In the next verse Duffy uses an
interesting image: “the slicing of innocent onions scalds you to tears”. I do not know
what Duffy is trying to say to the reader here, but there are several possibilities. The
adulterer has returned to the household chores for the family, and is crying because
he/she feels bad about how he/she has betrayed the family, and is reminded of this by
the return to the old routine; or possibly the “innocent onions” represent the innocent
members of the family that the adulterer has hurt – this would be the “slicing” – and the
realisation of this has made the adulterer cry, just like cutting onions would. Duffy is
telling the reader that the adulterer feels remorse that the family has suffered for her
affair, and this changes the atmosphere.

It appears that in these verses the poet is describing what happens when the
adulterer returns to the family home, he/she sleeps in a “marital bed”, Duffy is pointing
this out so deliberately to highlight the fact that he/she has recently been sharing
another bed, an extra-marital one. “The tarnished spoon of your body stirring
betrayal” – Duffy uses a metaphor to explain that the adulterer feels dirty due to his/her
actions, and is acutely aware of how he/she has let down the family and betrayed the
spouse. The reader feels that the adulterer regrets their actions, and is now dealing
with the consequences, which could be severe as he/she has to send “dumb and explicit
flowers on nobody’s birthday” to try to win over the partner again and apologise. If
the partner hasn’t found out then the adulterer is probably sending the flowers just out
However, the last verse implies that the partner does know what’s been going
on, as they appear to have an argument about it:
What. Didn’t you. Fuck. Fuck. No…”
Duffy does not explicitly show that it is dialogue by using inverted commas,
but the language suggests it is. The partner has just discovered what is going on and is
confronting the adulterer. The colloquialism is again used to give the line power,
impact, and the ability to shock, as “*censored*” is generally considered to be the most taboo
word in the English language. It is shows that the this is very emotional. The
characters are using “strong language” because they have very strong feelings and are
very upset. They both want to get across the power of what they are feeling, and the
lack of question marks-?- show that they are not calmly asking each other questions,
but are speaking in statements – “You did it, didn’t you.”, rather than “You did it,
didn’t you?”. This also implies that they are shouting at each other. This is usually
shown in either capital letters, italics, or bold type, but Duffy again does not want to be
so explicit. She wants the reader to have to read the verse a few time through to
understand it, as this will make them concentrate more and focus on what is being said.

Throughout this poem Duffy is building up atmosphere. She uses language and
poetic devices to create a mood, and then changes the mood, thereby moving the story
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