‘Syntax’ is a modern love sonnet of the former Poet Laureate of the UK Carol Ann Duffy. This piece is part of her 2005 collection of poetry “Rapture”. This collection is known for Duffy’s innovative expression of love and her beautiful thoughts about relationships. Likewise, in this poem, she uses wordplay and repetition to bring home her idea that love is more than the order of sentences. It originates directly from a lover’s heart, in this case, Duffy’s creative heart.
This poem is about the syntax of love. It is much more than the conventional idea of expressing love to one another. According to the speaker, she does not prefer to say, “I love you.” Rather she uses the archaic term “thou” and reorders the sentence as “Thou I love.” Likewise, she adores her lover in a different manner. Her syntax of love starts from her lips as well as her lover’s gaze. In the last couplet, the speaker broods over her inability to give proper expressions to her emotions. She says some of her feelings flow naturally but some clots in her heart.
You can read the full poem here.
Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Syntax’ is a modern sonnet that differs from the conventional sonnet form concerning the rhyme scheme and scheme. The poem consists of two sestets and a couplet. There is no such rhyming at all. Readers can find a few slant rhymes occasionally in the text. The couplet contains imperfect rhyme. Regarding the meter of this piece, it does not have a set metrical pattern. The syntax of the overall poem is unconventional. Duffy uses short sentences and occasionally omits the verbs. She also uses repetition for the sake of emphasis.
Duffy’s poem showcases the following literary devices that make this piece more interesting to readers.
- Enjambment: The lines of this sonnet are enjambed for creating an interconnection of thoughts. Readers can find the use of enjambment in the first three lines.
- Metaphor: The phrases “syntax of love,” and “the sound/ of the shape of the start/ of a kiss,” are metaphors.
- Simile: Duffy uses a simile in the very first stanza to compare what the speaker calls her partner and the sound of a kiss.
- Palilogy: It occurs in several instances. For example, the last three lines of the first stanza contain a repetition of the phrase “I love” four times.
- Alliteration: It occurs in “the sound/ of the shape of the start/ of a kiss – like this,” “Love’s language,” “starts, stops, starts,” etc.
I want to call you thou, the sound
I love you.
The poem ‘Syntax’ gives readers a hint regarding the central idea of the poem. The word “syntax” refers to the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language. In this poem, Duffy talks about “Love’s language” therefore the syntax is that of love. Readers have to understand why the poet uses this title. She tries to tell readers that poetry has a different syntax than the conventional language. Its language is different. The same applies to the syntax of a love poem.
Being a poem written for a speaker’s beloved, the syntax differs from the convention of love sonnets. For this reason, the speaker clarifies in the very first instance that she prefers to call her lover “thou”. The usage of this word refers to the fact that she likes the oldness of love. The word was commonly used centuries ago. Duffy has a special liking for this word as it brings in the taste of archaism.
According to her poetic persona, she likes to call her partner “thou” instead of “you” as the sound associated with the word has a special place in her heart. This specific sound can be heard at the starting of a warm kiss. The soft sound of the beginning of a kiss is compared to the sound of “thou”.
She does not say, “I love you.” The word “you” placed at the end of the sentence shifts the importance to the first word “I”. The speaker prefers to say “Thou I love” for this reason. She wants to highlight the importance of her partner. This section contains a repetition of words separated by commas that create an interesting wordplay between the lines.
Because I so do ―
and to gaze in thine eyes.
The second sestet presents a different idea. In the first line, the speaker emphasizes her preference as it is her love story, not others. She says, “Thou I love” because she prefers to do so. Readers can find rhyming in the last line of the previous stanza and the first line of this one.
People say, “I adore you” nowadays. The speaker says she does not follow the convention. She uses the term “thee” in this section and says, “I want to say…I adore thee.” In the third line, Duffy uses a repetition of the phrase “I adore” to emphasize her idea. This line also depicts how much the speaker loves her beloved.
The lips convey the untold words to one’s lover through a kiss. That’s why the speaker remarks that to know the “syntax of love” her lover has to touch her lips and feel her emotions. The phrase “syntax of love” is a metaphor for the arrangement of the feelings of love in one’s heart. Duffy refers to the verbal portrayal of such emotions by using this term. This poem also contains this syntax.
In the last line, the speaker refers to the eyes of her beloved. According to her, the syntax also resides in the calm gaze of her lover’s eyes. Like lips, eyes are the mirror of one’s mind. The speaker can read the sentences of love depicted in her lover’s eyes.
Love’s language starts, stops, starts;
the right words flowing or clotting in the heart.
The last couplet becomes more interesting as here the poet presents the most important idea. Firstly, she uses the term “Love’s language”. This language is different from all the languages humans speak. It starts from the eyes. When one blinks, it ceases. Then, the open eyes continue the story again.
Likewise, when two lovers kiss each other, there is a language in their kissing. It is related to the uncontrolled movement of lips. The way the speaker kisses her partner has a language in it that can be understood by them only.
In the last line, the speaker expresses her inability to find fit words to depict her emotions. Sometimes, the words flow inadvertently. While some words do not get reflected in words. Those words start clotting in the speaker’s heart. Here, Duffy uses “clotting” as a metaphor for the inability to express one’s love through words.
One of Carol Ann Duffy’s best-loved poems ‘Syntax’ was published in her collection of poetry “Rapture” published in 2005. It is Duffy’s 37th book of poetry. According to the British Council, Carol Ann Duffy’s poems in “Rapture” are “intensely personal, emotional and elegiac, and markedly different from Duffy’s other works”. This book received the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2005. In ‘Syntax,’ Duffy taps on the theme of the syntax of love. This sonnet expresses how a speaker prefers to use the archaic terms of “you”. It emphasizes the importance of subjective ideas of love in contrast to the convention followed by the lovers.
The poem was published in 2005 in Carol Ann Duffy’s T.S. Eliot Prize winner book of poetry “Rapture”.
The speaker of this piece is none other than the poet Carol Ann Duffy herself. She writes the poem from a subjective perspective and expresses her thoughts through her poetic persona.
The term “syntax” means the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language. In this poem, it means the arrangement of feelings and emotions for expressing the love a speaker has in her heart.
The main idea of this piece concerns the “syntax of love”. In this poem, Duffy talks about how her speaker prefers to express her love to her partner.
The poem ‘Syntax’ taps on the themes of love, individualism, and convention vs subjectivity.
The following list contains a few poems that similarly tap on the themes present in Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Syntax’.
- ‘I Love You’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox – This poem describes the passionate, warm, and youthful love that exists between a speaker and her intended listener. Explore more Ella Wheeler Wilcox poems.
- Sonnet 13: ‘O! That you were yourself; but, love, you are’ by William Shakespeare – It’s one of the best-loved Shakespearean sonnets. This piece is about life and death and how one can extend one life through love. Read more William Shakespeare poems and all 154 Shakespearean sonnets.
- ‘Here I Love You’ by Pablo Neruda – It’s one of the greatest love poems of Pablo Neruda. This poem compounds a sense of longing as the speaker is far away from his lover. Explore more Pablo Neruda poems.
- ‘Unending Love’ by Rabindranath Tagore – This poem taps on the themes of spiritual love between the speaker and his beloved and immortality of love. Read more Rabindranath Tagore poems.