Carol Ann Duffy

Carol Ann Duffy Poems

Carol Ann Duffy, who was born in Scotland in December of 1955, has become one of the best-loved poets alive today. Many themes come to mind when one envisions Duffy’s body of work, but the most prevalent is love— familial and romantic. Her love poems are generally written in the form of a monologue and deal with situations and people that poetry does not normally touch on. Her writing can be both playful and serious as she explores topics such as queer identity, the power of language, and feminism. She is admired for the way she plays with words and enhances or alters their meanings. 

Some of Duffy’s best-known poetry collections are Standing Female Nude (1985), The World’s Wife (1999), and Rapture (2005). More recently, she has taken to writing verse for children as well as adults. Collections published in the 2010s include Love Poems in 2010 and Sincerity in 2018. In 2009 she was named Britain’s first female Poet Laureate. She famously only agreed to take on the role because no other woman had previously held it before her.

Anne Hathaway

by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Anne Hathaway’ by Carol Ann Duffy is told from the perceptive of Shakespeare’s wife who discusses their enduring love through the symbol of a bed. 

This poem is another in which Duffy makes use of the lives and works of other writers. In this case, she is investigating the life of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway. Anne is the speaker of the text. It is through her the reader gets an intimate look into the Bard’s life. Her words are filled with metaphors and similes comparing his writing to beautiful things, like shooting stars. In what is perhaps the most interesting part of the text, the beauty of Shakespeare’s works extends out into their life together.

The bed we loved in was a spinning world

of forests, castles, torchlight, cliff-tops, seas

where he would dive for pearls. My lover’s words

were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses

Mrs. Midas

by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Mrs. Midas’ by Carol Ann Duffy uses a contemporary feminist perspective to depict the shocking transformation of the mythological character, King Midas.

Like Anne Hathaway, this piece provides the reader with a new viewpoint from which to consider history. This time it is the wife of the mythological King Midas from Ovid’s Metamorphoses speaking. Rather than being amazed by her husband’s ability to turn everything into gold, Mrs. Midas easily sees through the ridiculous nature of his actions.

It was late September. I’d just poured a glass of wine, begun

to unwind, while the vegetables cooked. The kitchen

filled with the smell of itself, relaxed, its steamy breath

gently blanching the windows. So I opened one,

then with my fingers wiped the other’s glass like a brow.

He was standing under the pear tree snapping a twig.


by Carol Ann Duffy

Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Havisham’ is a response to Charles Dickens’s portrayal of the character Miss Havisham in his famous novel Great Expectations. This poem refers to the character as “Havisham” rather than “Miss Havisham.”

This piece is a brilliant remodelling of Charles Dickens’ character, Miss. Havisham. She appeared in what is perhaps his most famous novel, Great Expectations. Duffy chose to recreate the character. So, rather than casting her as the wasted, depressed spinster of the book, Havisham (as she is known in the poem) is an angry, powerful woman who is unwilling to spend any more time worrying about her “Beloved sweetheart bastard.”

Beloved sweetheart bastard. Not a day since then

I haven’t wished him dead. Prayed for it

so hard I’ve dark green pebbles for eyes,

ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with.

The Way My Mother Speaks

by Carol Ann Duffy

‘The Way My Mother Speaks’ by Carol Ann Duffy describes a speaker’s developing connection to her mother’s way of speaking. 

This ingenious piece reimagines the way that phrases, in particular those most familiar to us, enter into our vocabulary. The speaker in ‘The Way My Mother Speaks’ is haunted by the words of her mother. These disconnected, ephemeral lines repeat themselves within the text of the poem. This effect creates a distinct emotional connection to that particular arrangement of words.

I say her phrases to myself

in my head

or under the shallows of my breath,

restful shapes moving.

The day and ever. The day and ever.


by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Valentine’ by Carol Ann Duffy is a memorable poem that talks about an onion that the poet gives her partner as a valentine-gift.

This poem is one of Duffy’s most famous. It is a love poem of sorts, with a great deal of subversion thrown in. Throughout the text, a reader is presented with a comparison between love and an onion. By giving the onion as a gift, rather than a rose, the speaker is showing the painful emotions that come with love. It is not an easy state to exist in.

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.

It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.

The Love Poem

by Carol Ann Duffy

Duffy’s ‘The Love Poem’ is a collection of verses from other love poems, composed by poets like Shakespeare, Sidney, Donne, Shelley, Barrett and Browning.

This piece is truly beautiful and remarkably clever. It is quite simply a poem about writing love poetry. The text speaks on why finding the right words to describe an emotion as complex and powerful as love is nearly impossible. In order to circumvent this trouble, Duffy chose to collect and appropriate lines from some of the most famous love poems ever written.

Till love exhausts itself, longs

for the sleep of words -

my mistress' eyes -

to lie on a white sheet, at rest


by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Nostalgia’ by Carol Ann Duffy explores the moment in which the term ‘Nostalgia’ was coined following the crusades of 17th-century Swiss mercenaries.

Duffy has always been interested in language, and the ways words are used. This piece is clearly related to that interest as she explores the moment that the word ‘Nostalgia’ came into being. The details are in the poem, but the most important thing to consider about this piece is the heartache associate with the emotion and its universal application. Through the penning of ‘Nostalgia’ Duffy is asking the reader to consider how nostalgia is present in their own life.

Those early mercenaries, it made them ill –

leaving the mountains, leaving the high, fine air

to go down, down. What they got

was money, dull, crude coins clenched

Words, Wide Night

by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Words, Wide Night’ by Carol Ann Duffy is a short ten line poem that speaks on the impossibility of putting love into words. 

This piece is one of a number in her collection ‘The Other Country’ which depicts the poet’s own childhood. It is common in Duffy’s works for her speakers to take on elements of her own life, or for Duffy to cast herself as the speaker. In this piece, in particular, she examines what it meant to leave her home and enter into the unknown.

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.


by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Beautiful’ by Carol Ann Duffy explores the physical and mental damage that can come from beauty by tracing the lives of four women.

This fairly well-known Carol Ann Duffy poem explores the objectification of women, beauty standards, and historically significant people and places. These themes are common to her verse, which readers will likely recognize. THis piece should be regarded as one of Duffy's best on the subject, especially considering how long and involved the various sections are.

She was born from an egg,

a daughter of the gods,

divinely fair, a pearl, drop-dead

gorgeous, beautiful, a peach,

In Your Mind

by Carol Ann Duffy

‘In Your Mind’ by Carol Ann Duffy describes a detailed daydream in which the reader of the poem embarks on a strangely familiar trip.

This poem depicts another of Duffy’s famous dream landscapes. The speaker, through second-person narration, asks the reader to imagine a world filled with the best of things. If you travel there, which the poem certainly makes tempting, you will find that your past struggles and griefs are gone. Unfortunately for the reader, it doesn’t last. They are thrust back into reality and made to confront the dreary real world.

The other country, is it anticipated or half-remembered?

Its language is muffled by the rain which falls all afternoon

one autumn in England, and in your mind

you put aside your work and head for the airport

with a credit card and a warm coat you will leave

on the plane. The past fades like newsprint in the sun.

Explore more poems from Carol Ann Duffy


by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Prayer’ by Carol Ann Duffy describes the different forms a prayer can take in the modern world, and how those forms provide comfort.

Above all else, this emotional piece is about how one confronts the world in times of need. A prayer is a common tool used by the countless faithful to get through the day. But in this text, Duffy seeks to extend what prayer is and give examples of the other, even more, vibrant forms it can take. Prayers come to the people in the text, they emerge from the chanting of trains and the “minims sung by a tree”.

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer

utters itself. So, a woman will lift

her head from the sieve of her hands and stare

at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Death of a Teacher

by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Death of a Teacher’ by Carol Ann Duffy is a moving poem. In it, the poet discusses a personal loss she suffered and how it affected her.

The big trees outside are into their poker game again,

shuffling and dealing, turning, folding, their leaves


drifting down to the lawn, floating away, ace high,

on a breeze. You died yesterday.

The Good Teachers

by Carol Ann Duffy

‘The Good Teachers’ by Carol Ann Duffy describes the school life of a young girl who has strong opinions about which teachers are good and which are not.

You run round the back to be in it again

No bigger than your thumbs, those virtuous women

size you up from the front row. Soon now,

Miss Ross will take you for double History.

A Child’s Sleep

by Carol Ann Duffy

‘A Child’s Sleep’ by Carol Ann Duffy describes the ideal, peaceful sleep of a child, who is watched over by her mother as she dreams.

I stood at the edge of my child's sleep

hearing her breathe;

although I could not enter there,

I could not leave.

A Dreaming Week

by Carol Ann Duffy

Not tonight, I’m dreaming

in the heart of the honeyed dark

in a boat of a bed in the attic room

in a house on the edge of the park

where the wind in the big old trees

creaks like an ark.


by Carol Ann Duffy

If she were here

she'd forget who she was,

it's been so long,

maybe nurse, a nanny,

maybe a nun—



by Carol Ann Duffy

If you were made of stone,

your kiss a fossil sealed up in your lips,

your eyes a sightless marble to my touch,

your grey hands pooling raindrops for the birds,

your long legs cold as rivers locked in ice,

if you were stone, if you were made of stone, yes, yes.


by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Bees’ by Carol Ann Duffy is a thoughtful poem that explores writing. The poet uses bee imagery to describe the process of creation. 

Here are my bees,

brazen, blurs on paper,

besotted; buzzwords, dancing

their flawless, airy maps.

Before You Were Mine

by Carol Ann Duffy

I'm ten years away from the corner you laugh on

with your pals, Maggie McGeeney and Jean Duff.

The three of you bend from the waist, holding

each other, or your knees, and shriek at the pavement.


by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Betrothal’ appears in Carol Ann Duffy’s T.S. Eliot Prize-winning collection of poetry Rapture (2005). It offers readers a speaker’s desperate attempts to submit herself through the institution of marriage.

I will be yours, be yours.

I'll walk on the moors,

with my spade.

Make me your bride.


by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Circe’ by Carol Ann Duffy is a poem about Circe’s reassertion of control over her life and how she now considers men. 

I'm fond, nereids and nymphs, unlike some, of the pig,

of the tusker, the snout, the boar and the swine.

One way or another, all pigs have been mine -

under my thumb, the bristling, salty skin of their backs,

in my nostrils here, their yobby, porky colognes.

Death and the Moon

by Carol Ann Duffy

The moon is nearer than where death took you

at the end of the old year. Cold as cash

in the sky's dark pocket, its hard old face

is gold as a mask tonight. I break the ice

over the fish in my frozen pond, look up

as the ghosts of my wordless breath reach

for the stars. If I stood on the tip of my toes

and stretched, I could touch the edge of the moon.


by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Delilah’ by Carol Ann Duffy focuses on the story of Delilah. It illuminates her individuality and how she felt about Samson. 

Teach me, he said—

we were lying in bed—

how to care.

I nibbled the purse of his ear.

What do you mean?

Tell me more.

He sat up and reached for his beer


by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Demeter’ by Carol Ann Duffy is about a mother’s love for her daughter and how it transcends time. It focuses on the mythological story of Demeter and Persephone. 

Where I lived – winter and hard earth.

I sat in my cold stone room

choosing tough words, granite, flint,


by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Deportation’ appears in Carol Ann Duffy’s Somerset Maugham Award winner book of poetry “Selling Manhattan” (1987). This piece speaks on themes of exile, linguistic supremacy, and cultural dominance.

They have not been kind here. Now I must leave,

the words I've learned for supplication,

gratitude, will go unused. Love is a look

in the eyes in any language, but not here,

not this year. They have not been welcoming.


by Carol Ann Duffy

World is what you swim in, or dance, it is simple.

We are in our element but we are not free.

Outside this world you cannot breathe for long.

The other has my shape. The other's movement

Education for Leisure

by Carol Ann Duffy

Today I am going to kill something. Anything.

I have had enough of being ignored and today

I am going to play God. It is an ordinary day,

a sort of grey with boredom stirring in the streets.


by Carol Ann Duffy

Who’ll know then, when they walk by the grave

where your bones will be brittle things – this bone here

that swoops away from your throat, and this,

which perfectly fits the scoop of my palm, and these


by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Epiphany’ by Carol Ann Duffy is a short poem that describes the drastic and emotional ways in which one person’s life has changed due to a relationship. 

Not close my eyes to the light 

when the light 

is in my head,


by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Foreign’ by Carol Ann Duffy is a poem which casts the reader as an alienated foreigner in the city they’ve live in for twenty years. 

Imagine living in a strange, dark city for twenty years.

There are some dismal dwellings on the east side

and one of them is yours. On the landing, you hear

your foreign accent echo down the stairs. You think

in a language of your own and talk in theirs.

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