Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"Words, Wide Night"

Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us. I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.

This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say

it is sad? In one of the tenses I singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.

La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine

the dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you and this


is what it is like or what it is like in words.


by Carol Ann Duffy (The Other Country)

_______________________________________________________________

This is a popular poem on the net – it comes up a lot when you google it and people post it on their blogs from missing other people in the dark of night, lying awake thinking of them. Needless to say I’ve probably done this a lot too!

I am a big fan of this poet – I like it that she is frank and truthful and pursues truth actively. I like it that her poetry is strong and unsentimental, clear but complex, and has a bite to it. I like it that her writing is about the journey, the process. I haven’t yet read her latest collection, Rapture, which won the TS Eliot prize recently.

The first line has a few inside rhymes, these are my favourite. First the “o” sounds, then the “ai” sounds:
Somewhere on the other side of this wide night

Then the alliteration: Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
Nice, huh? The ‘s’ consonent and ‘o’ sounds remind me of words of desire and longing. The ‘w’ consonant and ‘ai’ sound stretch out the spaces making everything feel unattainable.

The “ah” sounds in the second line sound like sleepy yawning and the “ih” sound like the REM of eyelids and thought spikes, then a half rhyme of ‘you’ and ‘moon’ making their connection “you are as available to me as the moon”:
and the distance between us. I am thinking of you.

The room is turning slowly away from the moon.
The last line of the first stanza has that inside rhyme again ‘room/moon’ maybe there’s a more technical term for it but I simply can’t remember anymore. Despite myself this line makes me imagine the room, a square white box in space slowly rotating away in a lonely manner towards empty black space, away from the grey, glowing, pitted surface of the moon. But I also know it means, these lovers anchored in their rooms in different locations, spinning away day after day, never getting any closer to the other. And I also think it is a play on the cliché that people who miss each other imagine the other looking at the moon too and missing them.

Phew, I think I’ll only do that for the first stanza. Let’s get on with the meaning of the next stanzas.
This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
it is sad? In one of the tenses I singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.
I think this is an elegant way to say bitter sweet, it is pleasurable – a sensual word and it is sad, a true and simple word – nice juxtaposition. The next bit is the hardest for me to get a hold of: there’s a deliberate (I think – hope it is not a typo! Did check several versions online.) strange blip in the tense – like a word missing…in one of the tenses (past, present, future). The reader wants to substitute it – I am singing, I was singing, I will be singing…it is questioning where the lover fits into her life, like a daydream of possibilities we all have of our lovers.

By this time I am beginning to think it is not just physical distance but emotional distance which separates the lovers. (yes I am a bit slowww) – it is:
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.

La lala la.
Two people who should be together but aren’t create a (haha pun) ‘tense’ situation, an impossible song that not only is impossible physically to reach the ears of the lover – but also sounds like gibberish. She is almost saying, words are not enough and yet proving herself wrong:
See? I close my eyes and imagine
the dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you and this
is what it is like or what it is like in words.

I really identify with this, I used to try and imagine the journey between my lover and I, from one city round the world to another. Though ‘dark hills’ makes me think sex and intimacy, the secret psyche of another person we all want to know and connect with, in a lover.

I just love that last line in its simple statement which offers itself up with such vulnerability, somehow so irrevocable. The poem is an offering in itself. It is aware that it is a poem if you want to speak deconstructively! The lovely ‘w’ sounds are like spread hands offering up this person’s trust. If I were to offer someone words, it would be a very high compliment – so I take what she has said this way. She’s so unselfconscious. In her love poetry, I see the influence of Adrienne Rich, who is also gay, a pioneer in simple, beautiful (also physical and radical) expression of her love for her lovers.

Part of the reason why this poem is so well known, is that it was on the Circle Line on the Tube in London. That is where I saw it for the first time – and it led me to seek out and continue reading Carol Ann Duffy’s work. I met her at a Cheltenham Litfest reading and she signed this poem in my copy of the book.

(Guest blogged by Msiagirl)

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11 Comments:

Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Thanks, Msia girl for this sharing this piece. You write like Leon, haha. with all the analysis of the sounds in the poem. but what marks you out differently is how you read the poem personally, while Leon leans more towards the technical... which again brings to mind what Sharon once commented on how differently most men and women generally take pleasure in the literary. A worthy question to think about.

Wow, poetry found in the Tube, how cool is that! I wished poems were easily and readily available in M'sia, not to mention, readings, but I think we're coming along pm the reading side, thanks to Sharon, thwe British Council and many other people. I would like to think this blog does some 'promoting' too in its own way.

Anyway, back to the poem... I like how playful this poem is, and how it teases and perhaps, debunk some of the cliched ideas about love, yet again, these cliche are also important, and part of our larger culture. Carol Ann Duffy makes this poem special and personal through the freshness of her playful approach; and as you have pointed out, the clear, plain last line, without anything fanciful, but deeply sincere is all it needs for love to be beautiful.

Cheers, Msia girl.

2:39 PM, May 18, 2007  
Blogger Sharanya Manivannan said...

Thanks, Msiagirl. It's a beautiful poem, one that doesn't require too much effort to slide into.

I love the "La la lala".. it's so simple and innocent, it conveys much by saying little. It's the part of the poem that lends it its heart, I think. Especially because it ties in with the last line, "... is what it is like or what it is like in words" -- i.e. "La lala la" isn't really words at all, but it says it all, because this is what it is like with or without words.

I was thinking of putting up a Duffy persona piece (the one on Mrs. Rip Van Winkle is a fave) on Puisi-Poesy some time back. But I kept missing my deadlines. This is the second time someone has posted something by a poet I had my eye/mind on, because of my own tardiness! :)

I have to confess when I saw Duffy's name I laughed inside (and again when you mentioned her sexuality, since it directly relates to what I was reminded of), thinking of a certain local someone who made it clear they had never heard of Sappho, Rich, Duffy, Anzaldua, Lorde, etc -- but still calls themself a poet. Thanks for enlightening said someone. I was too offended by that kind of arrogant ignorance to do so myself.

9:49 PM, May 18, 2007  
Blogger msiagirl said...

Such an interesting conversation, that's why I am glad to be able to join in a bit on this blog. I am in Penang now with a slow-ish connection, so can't go on long - but I hope to meet a few of you at Readings this Saturday. Cheerio!

11:33 AM, May 23, 2007  
Anonymous Yang-May said...

Great deconstruction, coz!

And because I'm really a pleb and philistine these days, my contribution to this conversation will lower the tone, I'm afraid. The line "la la la" brings to mind a humourous poem / song by one of the great lyricists of the 20th century (was it Cole Porter, Rogers, Hammerstein or one of their peers?) whose love song went something like this:

Blah blah blah moon
Blah blah blah June
Blah blah blah you
Blah blah blah too.

8:01 PM, May 25, 2007  
Blogger Spot said...

Very late to the party (been away too long from this blog)...but never too late to comment, I say. :)

I enjoyed the poem very much. But when I got to the first 3rd paragraph of the analysis I felt like a balloon deflating. Skimmed down to verify the name of the contributor and was dismayed to see "posted by bibliobibuli" (I missed the guest contributor bit). "Oh no, not Sharon too?"

Soldiering on, I got to the analysis of the second stanza and found reward for persistence. Can you tell which species of poetry consumer I am? ;)

Funny, as I was reading the poem, I felt the same sense of listening to someone making light of his/her own desperate sadness as I often get listening to songs written by Emily Saliers (one half of the Indigo Girls).

Then I find out that the poet is gay (or bisexual?). :)

"Lalala. See?"

That's the saddest bit.

Thanks msiagirl, for putting this up.

10:17 AM, June 25, 2007  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Hi Spot,

Nice to see you back visiting here. It's been pretty quiet lately, but that's expected, since we're in our second year.

Msia girl isn't really too technical a person... she thought that was the standard requirement to guest blog here. She was down in KL last month (from UK), and read beautiful pieces of her poems. :)

AH yes... isn't the podm beautifully sad in the last two lines? Anyway, I do think that poems transcend some of the interpretive limits we set for them... and the most important thing is to imbibe them for oneself... draw the words to one's own mind and heart - that would be both faithful and precious to the poem and the poet.

Cheers. :)

11:15 AM, June 25, 2007  
Blogger DeePly said...

This woman is a beast. Great!

11:04 PM, June 08, 2009  
Blogger Leserling said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:48 PM, April 10, 2010  
Blogger Kristoffer said...

I am not a huge overall fan of poetry so I am hardly qualified to be making this analysis. I feel though that everyone who has commented so far on this poem has possibly missed the underlying reality of her words. From the moment I began to read this poem I knew she was speaking of unrequited love. Coming to the end only solidified it in my mind. The person cannot hear her song of desire because of a physical distance between them, it is because this person cannot understand her desire. Because she is explaining what it is like to be in love with this person directly to them at the end is possibly a confession or maybe her last words to someone who has never taken her love seriously. Duffy is grieving in this poem the love that will never be realized between her and the person she is/was/will be in love with. "impossible song of desire that you cannot hear" is the key.

8:40 AM, August 11, 2010  
Anonymous LitGirl said...

I agree, Kristoffer, I think this is a poem about unrequited love. The hills create a visual ebb and flow of feeling. Carol Ann Duffy's poems are greatly influenced by the lryical poems of Sappho, 'Words Wide Night' is another example of this. The disjointed aspect of the form is synonymous with her tenacity and hesitancy when voicing her love to the person it is directed. Definitely on of Duffy's best.

10:30 PM, December 08, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi ! Nice and interesting comments about this really amazing poem of Carol Ann Duffy. Many Thanks specially to bibliobibuli for her/his comments. Neio Boéchat (Rio de Janeiro,Brazil)

10:45 AM, June 01, 2011  

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