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The Difficulty that is Marriage

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Ms. Mc Caffrey

on 22 August 2015

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Transcript of The Difficulty that is Marriage

The poet lies in bed beside his wife. She's 'curled up' fast asleep but he lies awake beside her. The poet describes how she seems 'faraway', capturing the sense of distance we sometimes feel when we lie beside a sleeping loved one.
As he lies there the poet thinks about his marriage and his life.
The Difficulty that is Marriage
Paul Durcan

At first glance...
What common theme can you identify?
What other poems of Durcan's do you think it connects to and why?
Poetic Techniques
Why do you think marriage is seen as difficult?
Compare and contrast Durcan's treatment of sleep here and in 'Parents'.
It seems that he and his wife have had more than their fair share of arguments. They 'differ' or disagree a lot.
They are split or divided on a great many issues: 'We divide, we differ'. Sometimes the parties to an argument 'agree to disagree'.
They accept that neither side can be convinced of the other's point of view so they agree to stop arguing and put the issue to one side. However, the poet and his wife cannot even manage this. They 'disagree to disagree'. They argue even about the possibility of taking a break from arguing.
Despite their many differences, the poet loves his wife deeply. He cannot believe his luck that this woman came into his life and fell in love with him:'How was it I was so lucky to have ever met you?'
The closeness they share is evident when he describes her as 'my sleeping friend'. He knows that his wife must have flaws and denies idolising or worshipping her.
I do not put you on a pedestal or throne'.
Yet he simply cannot see any faults that she might possess: 'You must have your faults but I do not see them'. To him she seems almost perfect.
The poet believes in life after death, in some afterlife. The contrast between heaven and earth is clear. Heaven is a 'changeless kingdom', an eternal constant state of being where nothing ever alters. This world, on the other hand, is a 'changeling earth', a site of flux and motion where nothing ever stays the same.
In heaven our existence would be free of cares and worries. During our earthly existence however, we will always be face by troubles: 'I have my troubles and I shall always have them'.

The poet, however, would gladly sacrifice heaven if he could live here on earth forever with his wife; 'Yet gladly on this changeling earth I should live for ever/ If it were for you my sleeping friend'.
He would swap an eternity of unchanging bliss for an eternity in this troubled and changing world, provided he could spend it with his wife: 'But I should rather live with you for ever/Than exchange my troubles for a changeless kingdom'.
This poem provides an honest and deeply moving portrayal of marriage. The complexity of married life is suggested not only by the poem's title but also by the fact that the poet lies awake at night pondering questions that arise from his relationship. The poet's marriage, like any other, has both positive and negative aspects.

As we've seen, the poet's relationship with his wife is fairly intense and tempestuous. They argue a lot, disagreeing and differing about many things. Yet, their relationship is ultimately a positive one.
The poet cannot believe his luck that this woman is in his life. If he could he would sacrifice heaven to spend eternity on earth with her. The poem then is realistic and unflinching; it highlights the ups and downs of any long term relationship.

Perhaps the poet loves her too much. His love for his wife makes heaven seem downright unappealing! Love makes the thought of leaving earth unbearable and perhaps this is the difficulty mentioned in the title.
Durcan's poetry can sometimes be critical of organised religion.
Yet, as this poem makes clear the poet nefully abandoned his faith.
He has clung to the idea of heaven.
This is one of the few poems on the course that follows a formal structure. The poem is in the form of a sonnet, although does not use a formal rhyming scheme.
How many lines are there in a sonnet?
Metaphor and Simile
The poet describes the thoughts that crowd his mind when he lies awake at night as a 'mosaic' of qestion marks upon the ceiling.
The poet is quick to use self-deprecating humour when describing his own life, especially when it concerns some problem or difficulty that he is facing. He decribes himself as 'no brave pagan' to show that he would not find it easy to live with the thought of no afterlife.
Sound effects
The opening lines feature repeated 'd' sounds that creating a jarring effect, mirroring the disputes.
Where is there alliteration?
Full transcript