A Dreaming Week by Carol Ann Duffy

A Dreaming Week by Carol Ann Duffy explores Duffy’s escape into fantasy, linked closely with her love of writing poetry. Duffy suggests that ‘book[s]’ and ‘dreaming’ are a form of escapism that she loves to engage with. There is also a hint of melancholia within the poem. Many have suggested that Duffy is also tracing a dying relationship, one ‘Week’ over the course of their life. At one, the poem emphasizes the beauty of poetry while also pointing to the melancholy that relationships can bring.

A Dreaming Week by Carol Ann Duffy

 

Summary

A Dreaming Week by Carol Ann Duffy uses a deeply melancholic tone to discuss poetry and relationships.

For Duffy, her art is a form of escapism. Indeed, in moments such as these, when a relationship isn’t working out, Duffy can turn to ‘Books’ and poetry. Duffy creates the idea that ‘Dreaming’ is a form of escaping from the dark of the present. She finds this also with literature, able to engage with ‘a bird that’s never flown’. Duffy moves across one week in her life, exploring the relationship deteriorating as she does so. The final stanza focuses on ‘the last evening’, their relationship finally coming to an end.

You can read the poem, A Dreaming Week here.

 

Form and Structure

Carol Ann Duffy splits A Dreaming Week into 7 stanzas. Each one of these stanzas represents one day of the week. Seven stanzas for seven days. Each of the seven stanzas has 6 lines. The first line of each stanza begins with a temporal location, ‘tonight’, ‘tomorrow’, ‘night after that’ and on. There is no consistent rhyme scheme throughout the poem. Yet, in the first, fourth, and sixth stanzas, there is a rhyme across the second, fourth and six lines. Duffy also uses moments of internal rhyme within the poem. Both these forms of rhyme push the poem gently onward, helping to construct a soothing rhythm.

 

Themes

Duffy explores two main themes within A Dreaming Week. The first is writing and poetry. Duffy uses writing as a form of escapism, allowing herself to drift off into a state of ‘dreaming’. She is most happy when practicing her craft. Indeed, Duffy attaches beautiful images to describe poetry and literature, emphasizing their importance to her.

Another theme Duffy explores in A Dreaming Week is love. Perhaps better said as the death of love, Duffy follows a relationship through its final week. There is a lack of sexual chemistry between Duffy and her lover. The first line of each stanza could be interpreted as rejecting sexual advances, sleeping alone instead. The final stanza focuses on the ‘last evening’, the relationship coming to an end. This also explains the melancholic tone to the poem, Duffy mourning her dying relationship.

 

Literary Devices

Duffy employs caesura after each of her temporal phrases to create a moment of pause. After ‘tonight’ or ‘tomorrow’, the comma caesura creates a slight metrical break. This break could be interpreted as a moment of disappointment from Duffy’s lover. On the other hand, the caesura could be understood as placing emphasis on temporality, Duffy covering essentially every possible time period in her poem. This emphasis builds as the poem progresses, Duffy suggesting that love has faded completely from their relationship.

Another literary technique that Duffy employs is using the semantics of support. Considering that Duffy is tracing the end of a relationship, she paints writing as something that comforts her. Due to this, the semantics of comfort, ‘crook of midnight’s arm’, are abundant in the poem. Not having her lover to turn to, Duffy instead uses poetry as a way of ensuring that she is okay.

 

A Dreaming Week Analysis

Stanza One

Not tonight, I’m dreaming

(…)

creaks like an ark.

The first line of the poem uses enjambement to flow quickly on to the next. In doing this, Duffy creates a dreamlike flow early in the poem, using this technique to influence the reception of the poem. The carefree flowing from line to line allows for words to blur together, emulating a dreamy state.

The location of ‘a bed in the attic’ could be interpreted as bearing reference to the trope of the Mad Woman in the Attic. This trope, seen across texts like Yellow Wallpaper and Jane Eyre, pushes women into small and unseen places. Duffy could be using this reference to discuss the treatment of women within society, a theme prominent in her work. If you are interested in reading more about this trope, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s ‘The Mad Woman in The Attic’ is a great place to start.

The semantics of methods of transport permeates the poem, ‘boat’, and ‘ark’ being prominent in the first stanza. Duffy is focusing on escapism, using these words to reference a type of journey. By referencing the ‘ark’, Duffy could be drawing upon the biblical story. This could symbolize the beginning of a new relationship or chapter in Duffy’s life. She leaves behind her old relationship, withdrawing into the safety of the ‘ark’.

Nature is a comforting force within the poem, both here in the first stanza and onwards throughout the rest. The reference to the ‘big old trees’ gives a sense of familiarity, Duffy looking for support in these dark times.

 

Stanzas Two and Three

Not tomorrow, I’m dreaming

(…)

like the typed words of a poem.

The internal rhyme across ‘dust, must’ surges the poem onwards. Similar to the enjambment within the first stanza, this structural technique helps to build the tone of the poem. The ringing repetition of assonance across ‘dust, must’ creates a cohesion, floating the poem forward.

Duffy presents literature as a form of freedom. The association of ‘book’ and ‘a bird’ is metaphorical for the freedom that literature gives to someone. Duffy uses this as escapism, suggesting that an unread book is simply ‘a bird that’s never flown’. The use of ‘flown’ stems from the semantics of flying, Duffy suggesting that literature can transport you out of your situations.

A similar melancholic tone permeates within images of ‘the moon’ and ’sleeping’. The drowsy state Duffy experiences could be interpreted as simply tired due to the lateness. Yet, Duffy could also be referencing a melancholic numbing, the approaching end of her relationship upsetting the poet. The feminine ‘moon’ is all-seeing, the use of ‘monocle’ giving the feminine symbol vision to watch the scene. This is again a comforting image, Duffy connecting with the symbol to provide support. The drowsy consonance of ‘m’ across ‘monocle’ and ‘moon’ further this idea, the words flowing comfortable into one another. This is repeated with sibilance on the following line, ‘sleeping S’ conjuring a drowsy aural quality.

 

Stanza Four and Five

Not the night after that, I’m dreaming

(…)

twelve golden faraway bells for a charm.

Duffy’s use of rhyme across ‘face’ and ‘space’ furthers the dreamlike tone created earlier in the poem. The reference to the ‘stars’ that are ‘printing the news of their old light’ again provides comfort. Alike the ‘big old tree’ of the first stanza, nature is presented as a constant force of comfort. The stars, light years away, still provide a beautiful quality of light to bathe the scene, comforting the poet.

Even ‘midnight’ is personified by Duffy, using nature as a form of comfort. Duffy, now rejecting her love, turns to the night for support. Duffy personifies night in ‘crook of midnight’s arm’, resting metaphorically within the arms of the night. It is ‘soft and warm’, Duffy thankful to be able to interact with nature.

 

Stanza Six and Seven

Not that night either, I’m dreaming

(…)

for a date with the glamorous dark.

The anaphoric ‘I’m dreaming’ chimes again through these stanzas, Duffy always focusing on this state of slight absence. The rhyme across ‘gone’, ‘song’ and ‘long’ creates an extended /o/ sound. This further elaborates on the dreamlike melancholy of the tone, Duffy again touching upon ‘water’ and ‘whale’s’ to reference the comfort of nature. Duffy uses ‘whale’ as a homophone, perhaps signaling to wail. The end of her relationship is near, Duffy using this homophone to indicate her own distress. Yet, it is subtle, hidden, or disguised under layers of poetic meaning.

The addition of ‘last’ in the first line of the final stanza indicates that the relationship has come to an end. This strange week of ‘Dreaming’ has abruptly cut off, the relationship falling apart.

The fading of color, ‘colours fading to black’ indicate the loss of passion in their relationship. Duffy simultaneously presents the death of their relationship alongside the action of falling asleep. The whole world begins to fade, the ‘last of daylight’ leaving the world. Duffy finishes the poem by focusing on the ‘glamorous dark’. This is perhaps discussing the romanticization of sadness within the modern-day. Although sad, Duffy finds comfort in this state, being alone with her thoughts for the first time.

 

Historical Context

Although it is never completely referenced within the poem, A Dreaming Week can be understood as a breakup poem. Duffy ended a 15-year relationship with Jackie Kay a few years before this poem was written. One could perhaps extrapolate that this poem was written about the last week of their relationship. Yet, considering there is no direct reference to Kay within this poem, this cannot be proved.

 

Similar Poetry

Duffy explores different forms of relationships within the ‘Feminine Gospels’. One notable relationship would be that with her daughter. Both The Light Gatherer and The Cord explore this relationship. While A Dreaming Week has a melancholic tone, White Writing discusses love in an opposing manner. White Writing also discusses the art of writing, so these two poems compare nicely together.

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