‘Elegy’ by Carol Ann Duffy is a sixteen line poem that is separated into two sets of eight lines, or octaves. It appears in Duffy’s 2005 anthology, Rapture. Duffy has not chosen to give this poem a specific pattern of rhyme but that does not mean that it lacks unity. The entire piece is centred around the future death of the speaker’s lover, and how this person’s bodily remains would reference the time they spent together. To everyone else though, the bones and remnants of flesh would be meaningless.
Throughout the poem there are a number of words that reference the physical body. These include “flesh,” “bones” “fingers,” “skull” and “blood.” While Duffy’s speaker might be romanticizing the physical parts of her relationship, she accepts what death will bring. She understands fully that every physical piece of her lover’s body, and her own body, will eventually be reduced to “brittle things.”
Another technique used to unify the lines of the text is anaphora, or the repetition of words at the beginning lines. The repetition is clearest between lines four and six of the first stanza, all of which begin with “which.” There is also a great deal of repetition within the lines of the poem itself. The word, “you,” is used fifteen times in the sixteen lines of the poem, making it very clear that the speaker has a specific listener in mind.
The word ‘elegy’ refers to a poem, which can be read in full here, of serious reflection, or more importantly a lament for the dead. In this case, the elegy is for Duffy’s lover that was lost to death, and her reactions and reflections on this. To begin, the bones are described as ‘brittle’, as though her lover was fragile, even precious to her, although fragile things are easily broken. Duffy then describes how beautiful the fingers are in their ‘little rings’, which could be a reference to a couple of things.
Firstly rings could mean wedding rings, suggesting either they were engaged or married before the tragedy, which is a tragedy in itself that this union was broken by such circumstances.
Secondly, it could be a reference to how the rings of a tree can tell its age, suggesting that the rings of their finger shows the years of their relationship within them. Aside from this, in the second, Duffy also uses much positive, yet physical imagery to describe the traits of her lover. The metaphor ‘blessed in your flesh, blood and hair, as though they were lovely garments’ seems to show her gratefulness for the closeness the two experienced, to the point as though they were connected as one being. Also, the very presence of her lover seemed to ‘pleasure the air’, which also seems to lift the melancholy air the poem holds. All this physical imagery could be linked to how Duffy feels they have such a close connection in their relationship.
‘Till I mirrored your pose’ links back to the earlier quote ‘perfectly fits the scoop of my palm’, suggesting how perfect of a match Duffy and her lover were in life, and in the former’s context showing her desire to match that again. Among all this, Duffy also feels her lover was ‘singled out’ by ‘that love, which wanders history’, as though they were a miracle or a random, rare chance, so that their love was unique and nothing can compare. However, the poem begins to slip back into its melancholy tone, as Duffy begins to contemplate on how their love may never be known by others.
For example, though their passion is lit with a ‘flame, like talent’ however this passion is ‘under your skin,’ which implies that their love between them was hidden. The tombstone becomes significant to this point as well as it mentions ‘who’ll guess’ the meaning behind the ‘scars of your dates’, never knowing the love they were a part of.
Lastly, Duffy finishes with ‘your infinite grace’, offering us that even in death, her lover will still remain the beautiful wonder that they were in life.