This poem, Grief, by Carol Ann Duffy reveals the author’s deep sense of understanding of grief. Sorrow, a universal feeling that somehow connects all of humankind, is explored in this poem through the author’s very personal and explicit portrayal of this intense feeling. The title prepares readers for the contents of the poem, and connects them to their own sense of grief. When readers see the title, they immediately think of their own personal experiences with grief. Thus, before the poem even begins, the author has already connected with her audience. Throughout the poem, the speaker allows the readers to see her vulnerable feelings without describing specific circumstances. Exact occurrences do not need to be described in order for the reader to feel a deep connection to the poem. In fact, the connection is perhaps deeper because of the lack of specifics. The reader, then, can connect these feelings directly to his or her own experience, allowing to poem to take root in the reader’s soul and have an emotional effect therein.
This poem is best analyzed as a whole, rather than broken up into stanzas, partly because the poem itself creates an image on the page. The image looks like a vase or jar of some sort, but a closer look at the words reveals that the image is most likely an urn, holding the remains of one whom the speaker loved and lost. The speaker’s first description of grief is that it is a “gift, unwrapped”. The use of the word “your” in the first line reveals that the speaker talks directly to another person. The identity of the subject is not immediately revealed. However, the speaker does reveal that when she opens this gift of grief, her hands are “empty” and “made heavy”. This is a very ironic description because usually when one receives a gift, he or she holds something tangible. Here, the speaker’s hands are empty, revealing that the “gift” is not physical at all. Rather, it leaves her feeling empty and heavy. Readers can easily relate to this description of grief, but the speaker leaves the reader to ponder why she has described grief not only as something that made her feel empty and heavy but as a gift.
With the third line, the speaker reveals that she has lost someone close to her indeed, someone whom she once held in her arms. Now, the memory of holding that loved one is “like an ache”. The speaker embraces her grief as her eyes “stare inward”. She is looking into her heart and soul to find the place where her loved one was. It is clear she feels an intense emptiness and ache inside, and she is looking inside of herself to find that place where her loved one once was. She calls the lost one her “star”. The repetitive use of the word “star” allows the reader to understand that this loss was deep. The speaker has clearly lost someone who was so close to her, that she referred to him or her as her “star”. This suggests that the lost one was the speaker’s light in the darkness, a glimmer of hope in a dark world. This description, along with the earlier revelation that the speaker once held the lost one in her arms, implies that perhaps this loved one was her child. Lines seven and eight also seem to support this idea, as she calls the lost one “undeserved” and “the perfect choice”. The speaker claims that the lost loved one had “humbl[ed] [her] heart”. All of these descriptions suggest that the speaker has lost a child. The experience of bringing a child into the world is often described as a “humbling” experience, and many parents have expressed the feeling that they do not deserve such a beautiful gift as a child. Thus, this interpretation of the poem contains some merit. However, the speaker intentionally leaves the specifics of her loss up for interpretation. It is still quite possible that the lost one was a lover, sibling, or some other person very close to her.
In line nine, the speaker admits that this loved one was originally “unwanted” and yet somehow stole her heart. She was so overwhelmed with love that she did not even know how to thank that person for coming into her life.
The speaker continues to describe her experiences with this lost loved one, explaining that this person filled her days and nights, her weeks and months, and continued to teach her. She describes this person as “love’s spinster twin”. This is a deliberately vague yet fascinating description. The use of the word “spinster” usually meaning “unmarried” implies that it was not a lover whom she lost. The speaker does not expound upon this thought. Rather, she continues to describe the relationship between herself and the one she lost. She describes that she learned from this person, “bowing [her] head” as she continued to learn until she finally understood. It would seem that once she finally understood this person whom she loved so dearly, she then lost him/her.
Very little is published about Carol Ann Duffy’s personal life. Published information reveals that she is a Scottish poet, with Irish parentage, and that she experienced success as a poet and poetry performer early on in her life (Carol Ann Duffy). This lack of published information regarding her personal life is typical when it comes to living poets. This makes it difficult to connect the poem to the author’s personal life. Specifics as to the losses Duffy has experienced are not published, but that does not make the poem any less effective. Although readers cannot be sure of the identity of the lost loved one in this poem, the feelings the poem evokes reveals that the author has experienced a deep sense of grief.
- “Carol Ann Duffy.” Carol Ann Duffy | Poetry | Scottish Poetry Library. Scottish Poetry Library, 2016. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.