The Dark by Carol Ann Duffy

‘The Dark’ by Carol Ann Duffy speaks on darkness, immediate or primal fears and the limits of one’s knowledge about the world. 

When speaking about ‘The Dark’ Duffy describes how her childhood convent school served as the inspiration. It was transformed from a “girls’ school to a care home”. She goes on to describe how her father died in her “old classroom”. 

Summary of ‘The Dark’ 

In the first lines of ‘The Dark,’ the speaker tells the reader that there is nothing for “you” to be afraid of if “you” reassess and transform the way “you” consider the dark and the moon. She suggests that one should look at these two features as a “black park” and a “bounced ball”. These images connote games, joy, pleasure taken in time outdoors and simple human interactions. But, the poem concludes with another suggestion. There is the unknown to consider as well. There is nothing to be afraid of, except, she adds, for aliens. 

 

Poetic Techniques in The Dark School

‘The Dark’ by Carol Ann Duffy is a very short, six-line poem contained within one stanza of text. The lines follow a specific rhyme scheme, uncommon for Duffy’s work, conforming to the pattern of AABCBD. In regards to the length of the lines, there is a lot of variation. The longest, line four, is seven words long, and the shortest, line five, is only two. 

Duffy makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Dark,’ despite is brevity. These include half-rhyme, alliteration and enjambment. The former, half-rhyme, is also known as slant or partial rhyme. It is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, the series of words in the first two lines that end with “k”. These include “think,” “dark,” “black” and “park”. By utilizing this technique so consistently for this short section of the poem Duffy enhances the rhythm of the verse. Additionally, the power the words have is increased as they build off one another. 

There is an element of humour to this work, especially considering the lighthearted similes employed in lines two and three and the reference to aliens at the end of the poem. The use of rhyme plays into that, especially when the rhyming or half-rhyming words end with the letter “k”. In the Vaudevillian tradition, and in modern comedy, words that utilized the letter “k” are thought to be funnier, or at least more pleasing.

 

Other Poetic Techniques

Alliteration is another prominent technique. It occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “bounced” and “ball” in the third line and “then” and “there’s” in the fourth. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. This occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point.  It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are several lines in ‘The Dark School’ that utilize enjambment. But a prominent example is the transition between lines four and five. 

You can read the full poem here.

 

Analysis of The Dark

Lines 1-3 

In the first lines of ‘The Dark’ the speaker suggests one way that someone afraid of the dark might rid themselves of that fear. “You” might, she offers, change your manner of thinking and consider the “dark / as a black park” and “the moon as a bounced ball”. 

By utilizing the second-person perspective Duffy includes the reader in the lines and implies that they, or any reader, or for that matter, anyone in the world, might feel that these lines apply to them. 

The larger themes of this text, which tap into universal fears and the unknown are referenced through the vagaries of a generalized fear of the dark, something with which every human and non-human animal must contend. It’s a state completely beyond one’s control. Even with contemporary solutions to the dark, it always returns and is impossible to fight off in its entirety. 

Duffy’s speaker refers to the moon as “a bounced ball”. This is a light-hearted and simple way to think of the celestial body. It was bounced, in the “black park” and never came back down again. Or, perhaps, it is ready to come back to earth, only to rocket back up into space, at any moment. There is a childishness to this proffered understanding of the world that is meant to improve one’s mood and movements through the dark. 

 

Lines 4-6 

In the next three lines of ‘The Dark’, the speaker concludes her thought. She adds to the previous statements, telling the reader that if they consider the dark a “black park” and the moon a “bounced ball” then there is no reason to be “frightened”. These two things hold no mysteries or dangers. The fourth line is enjambed, and through its relatively long length, contrasted with line five. A reader has to move down to the fifth line in order to conclude the phrase. The brevity of the fifth line pushes a reader immediately into the sixth. 

The sixth and last line of ‘The Dark’ is at first humorous, but when one looks beneath the surface there is a lot to unpack. In parenthesis, Duffy suggests that there is still something to be afraid of, “aliens”. These creatures, which are unknowable to humanity at our contemporary moment, and throughout history, are separate from the “black park”. They are unaccounted for in Duffy’s simplistic re-understanding of the world. 

On a larger scale, the aliens represent the unknown; that which humanity can not predict or prepare for. They are the mystery element that might be introduced into one’s life that changes everything. It is not exactly aliens Duffy is introducing into the poem, but that which humanity, or one single human being, did not account for. 

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  • Avatar Anonymous says:

    I thought this six-line poem was just called ‘The Dark’. There is another poem called ‘Dark School’ which is a 22 line poem. I’m very confused about which poem is which…

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      ohhh…That is a cracking error spot. You are correct and we have edited accordingly.

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