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History by Carol Ann Duffy
Transcript of History by Carol Ann Duffy
Stanza 1 and 2
Stanza 3 to 7
Throughout these stanzas, there is a lot of biblical allusion and this is portrayed through the capitalisation of 'History' and 'Cross' and this roots the reader in the time of Christ. In the third stanza, the elderly woman is compared to Mary Magdalene at Christ's crucifixion. Throughout the rest of the stanza's Duffy presents various historical references, these include:
1314 Battle between Edward II of England and King Robert Bruce of Scotland. The Scottish prevailed.
1917 British Allied Forces attacked the German Empire in what is known as the Third Battle of Ypres. The loss of live was staggering, with estimates of up to 800,000 for both sides combined.
1941. Babi Yar is in the Ukraine and the site of a massacre. Nazis killed 33,771 Jews in a single operation.
1955 - 1975. War against North Vietnamese communists which claimed up to three million lives.
Through the extent of this history, we can soon infer that this doesn't belong to one woman's subconscious thoughts and experiences and instead we can deduce that she is a representation of female identity within history altogether.
In the first line of this stanza, Duffy uses apposition to join the ideas of waking up and being old. 'Old at last' This could convey as sense of the woman looking forward to death perhaps suggesting that modern society has not treated her kindly.
Duffy depicts the woman in a state of ill-repair and uses graphic imagery to characterise her. For example, 'smelling of pee', 'rag of her nightdress' and 'not a tooth in her head, half dead' could suggest she is a subject of history. A similar interpretation could be that she has been neglected by modern society however it is unclear which idea Duffy is portraying, if not both.
The fact that the woman has a lack of physical presence within this poem conveys that she has no identity, for example, 'stared at her hand--twigs, stained gloves', and from this due to the fact that she seems to be a physical personification of female history, we could deduce that female history is non existent.
Perhaps through this poem, Duffy wanted to delve into the idea of neglect within modern society and how the elderly are left alone no kindness or help from anyone around them. This woman's life seems to be filled with negativity; for example, the interior of her home is not too dissimilar from prison-like conditions and in her dreams, she seems to dream about depressing events in history where the evil side has triumphed over the good.
Because throughout the poem Duffy has decided to conceal names and give no identities, she is essentially commenting on how no one can really be identified and that we are hidden behind society's morals. ''The tragedy of this woman's end of days is that none of us are being caught."
Secondly, the majority of the biblical references concern male figures within history, apart from the exception of Mary Magdalene, however even then she is still an observer and essentially remains passive. In presenting this male dominance within History, Duffy can be attempting to further her point surrounding the lack of female identity within History. Furthermore through Duffy's description of Mary's pain, 'mother gasping for breath' we can infer that Duffy is suggesting how war and male ignorance has inadvertently affected other people throughout history.
Finally, Duffy presents this female protagonist observing these historical acts of savagery through her dreams; however even within her dreams she only observes these horrific acts instead of attempting to stop them, she remains passive. Through highlighting this passivity, it can be interpreted that Duffy is attempting to share the blame with women, perhaps trying to motivate them to make a stand and change things; like the treatment of elderly people within modern society.
Stanza 3 to 7 Continued