The poem ‘Over‘ is from Duffy’s ‘Rapture‘ collection and actually has a lot in common with the title poem from that collection. Although the form here is very different, the actual format of the content is similar. By that, I mean that both poems begin as a bit of a lament to how the narrator is feeling and begin on a bit of a dour note. But by the end of ‘Over’, there is almost a resolution. I think this poem is essentially about a person waiting for their wedding day and feeling scared but those emotions subside as they make their vows to one another.
Form and Tone
As with all the poems in Duffy’s Rapture collection ‘Over‘ is about love and romance. It is separated into three stanzas. These are 5, 6, and 7 lines long which makes the poem feel like it is building to a crescendo. Rhyme isn’t employed in this poem apart from in the third and sixth lines, but I’m not sure that this is much more than a coincidence. ‘Over‘ begins with a sombre tone but the last stanza provides a lighter note.
I wake to a dark hour out of time, go to the window.
No stars in this black sky, no moon to speak of, no name
or number to the hour, no skelf of light. I let in air.
The garden’s sudden scent’s an open grave.
What do I have
‘Over‘ starts almost in a story-like fashion describing the actions of the narrator. It describes a person waking in the middle of the night, or “waking at a dark hour”. Creating tension like this in a poem from the get-go is a calling card of Duffy. She engages the reader by getting them to ask questions she is stimulating their imagination. The tone of ‘Over‘, or at least the first half of the poem is established early on. It is a sombre affair and we can see this from the narrator’s description of what they see when they look out of the window. The description uses the word “black” and describes a lack of any of the things that give the night sky its magical charm, as in the stars and the moon. This I think is to help emphasize the narrator’s feelings rather than being an accurate description.
When the narrator says that there is “no name or number to the hour” what they are saying seems a little ambiguous. I think the point they are trying to make is that the time of the night is irrelevant. That they don’t really care about it because there is an emotion that is prevailing and making something that might seem important on an ordinary night seem unimportant. In the third line, Duffy uses Scottish colloquialism in the form of the word “skelf” this word describes a splinter and she is using it here to suggest that there isn’t even a hint of light. This darkness that is being described is a metaphor for the dark place that the narrator feels they are in.
In the fourth line, Duffy expands on her description so it isn’t just visual but draws on the sense of smell as well. This gives the emotions of the narrator a very visceral feel. She takes something that you would expect to smell sweet and ascribes it a negative scent which says a lot about the mindset of the narrator. The final line is enjambment. This is uncommon at the end of a stanza and creates a sense of awkwardness.
to help me, without spell or prayer,
on the night,
The narrator is clearly feeling at a loss as to what to do to better their situation. Although that situation has yet to be revealed. Once again just a classic example of how Duffy manages to get her readers to invest in her poems. The second line sees the narrator implore the subject of the poem. They call for them to “endure this hour” is the suggestion here that what they are going through is temporary. I don’t think they are talking literally about an hour but rather a difficult time period that this hour of darkness represents.
The emotions that the narrator is feeling are further fed to the reader and shockingly in the third line of the stanza, the narrator suggests that they could be experiencing the death of love. This does seem a little melodramatic but is in keeping with the tone of ‘Over‘ up until this point. Midway through this stanza the tone perceivably switches to a more positive one. In the fifth line, in particular, gone is the talk of darkness and an absence of light, replaced instead with the image of a hotel being flushed with light. Perhaps there is an event which has caused the mood to change so obviously. Duffy doesn’t let us know what that is just yet though!
the hour it took for you
a gift, the blush of memory.
In the first line of this stanza, once again, the narrator makes reference to an hour. Again it isn’t clear if this is an actual hour or is just meant to represent a small amount of time. I think in the first two lines of this stanza that the suggestion is that the dark feelings the narrator had been having were a result of waiting for their wedding. The image of making a ring from grass is quite nice as it invokes nature, as we have seen a few times in this poem. But on this occasion, it is done in a less trite way. Perhaps this is to emphasize the fact that sometimes love isn’t about passion and drama, sometimes it’s about nuanced gestures and subtle sweetness.
It would seem then that the act of receiving this ring makes the darkness disappear. That stops the feeling that the narrator might die in their tracks. Once the ring is on the darkness subsides and the narrator hears birdsong. Bird song is also used by Duffy in her poem “rapture” to help denote a change of mood. The bird song is described as piercing the hour, presumably, this is in reference to the hour that has been so difficult for the narrator. The last two lines do sort of bring into question what the poem is actually about. It would appear that the morning heralds Christmas day and the narrator sites that their memory is a gift. So perhaps the entire poem was in fact just the narrator reflecting on how they felt before their wedding rather than being written on the actual eve of their wedding.
About Carol Ann Duffy
Carol Ann Duffy is a famous Scottish poet who was born in an impoverished area of Glasgow, Scotland. She moved to England when she was still young where she grew up. From a very early age, Duffy appeared to have a natural aptitude for poetry. She developed this skill to go on to be one of Britain’s finest poets. As a result of this was appointed the poet laureate. She is a versatile poet who is comfortable writing in strict forms such as a sonnet and has done so with aplomb. But a lot of her best pieces are written in free verse and use strong a strong narrative voice, many of these touch on contemporary issues.