The Long Queen by Carol Ann Duffy

The Long Queen by Carol Ann Duffy explores the reign of Elizabeth I, who was on the throne from 1558-1603. Alongside her expansive reign, she is also known for never marrying, focusing her life on ruling England, rather than romance. Duffy uses the figure as a symbol of women’s success, the huge expanse, both in time and global scope, of her reign being illustrated by supporting other women. Duffy writes that Elizabeth I is a queen for all women, no matter who or in what position.

The Long Queen by Carol Ann Duffy

 

Summary

The Long Queen by Carol Ann Duffy elevates the status of women by focusing on one of the most influential rulers in history. Duffy begins by focusing on the principle of marrying ‘Time’ instead of an actual husband, Elizabeth focusing on ruling successfully instead of marriage and romance. Duffy then moves through the type of people that Queen Elizabeth rules over, focusing on the blinding quality of being a woman, everyone encompassed within her reign. Duffy explores how the Queen’s ‘laws’: supporting all women, dispelling the fear and shame around periods, ensuring that emotions are shown, and safe childbirth. The final stanza suggests that Queen Elizabeth would have given up everything to extend the voice of women, championing females across her ‘time’ and long into the future.

You can read the full poem here.

 

Form and Structure

The Long Queen is split by Duffy into 7 stanzas, each measuring 6 lines. The consistency of structure throughout the poem could reflect the stability of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the queen ruling for a total of 45 years.

Placed as the first poem within Duffy’s ‘Feminine Gospels’ collection, this poem comes to represent a gold standard of remembering women’s experience, both on an individual and collective level. It is prioritized due to being first, the impactful first line, ‘The Long Queen couldn’t die’ symbolizing the extend of women’s influence and power, extending onwards throughout time.

 

Poetic Techniques

One technique that Duffy uses many times throughout the poem is asyndeton. Most obviously within the first and second stanza, asyndeton is used to create an extended image – almost like an endless list. In this first stanza, Duffy does this to create the idea that Queen Elizabeth had a huge list of suitors, all of which she rejected. In the second stanza, asyndeton is used to encompass all types of women, the endless list attempting to capture every representation of women.

Another literary technique that Duffy uses in The Long Queen is contrasting long and short sentences in order to add further emphasis. An example of this is following the asyndetic list of the first stanza, ‘Long Live the Queen’ contrasting in length and being grammatically isolated by a caesura and endstop. In doing this, Duffy emphasizes the statement, focusing on the importance of the ‘Queen’ and her lengthy reign.

 

Context

Duffy’s The Long Queen explores the historical figure of Queen Elizabeth I. Daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, she was the monarch that headed the Elizabethan age, in which England become a major European power in both political and artistic spheres. She was a popular queen, having a cordial relationship with Parliament and her subjects looking up to her rule. The first English Epic poem, ‘The Faerie Queene’ by Edmund Spenser revolves around Elizabeth I immortalized in the figure of ‘Gloriana’. Duffy draws upon the reputation of Elizabeth I, using the figure to begin her collection, Feminine Gospels, with an image of a strong, powerful, and well-respected woman in history. More in-depth references come with The Long Queen refusing to marry, something Queen Elizabeth, also known as The Virgin Queen, cleverly avoided in her lifetime.

 

Themes

The Long Queen begins Duffy’s anthology, ‘Feminine Gospels’, and touches on several key themes of the anthology: the position of women in society, feminine power, female voices all being referenced within the poem. Yet, the most important theme of all when discussing The Long Queen would be history, with Duffy using this figure to begin the tradition of historic women. Good poems to analyze in discussion with The Long Queen in regards to history would be the poems History, Sub, and Beautiful.

 

The Long Queen Analysis

Stanza One

The Long Queen couldn’t die.

(…)

then taken Time for a husband. Long live the Queen.

The opening line of the poem instantly outlines what it going to be important within The Long Queen, focus being on the Queen herself, and the length of her reign, ‘couldn’t die’. The harsh end stop following this line compounds a sense of certainty, the statement emphasized through this grammatical structure.

The use of asyndeton, the continual use of commas instead of connective words, across ‘prince, the heir to the duke, the lord, the baronet, the count’ further suggests that there are endless suitors for the queen. Yet, she decides to take ‘Time for a husband’, the capitalization of ‘Time’ revealing personification, Duffy stating that Elizabeth decides to focus on extending her reign and power instead of marrying.

The short, almost completely monosyllabic, final sentence of this stanza, ‘Long live the Queen’ further emphasizes the importance of her role in this story. The syntax of this final line places ‘Queen’ as the last word of the stanza, with Duffy using this technique in order to further emphasize the character. The ‘Queen’ is seen as a symbol of power, her reign extending over ‘Time’ as she expands her royal powers.

 

Stanza Two

What was she queen of? Women, girls,

(…)

No girl born who wasn’t the Long Queen’s always child.

This stanza focuses on the ‘women’ that ‘The Long Queen’ reigned over. Duffy again uses an asyndetic list to display the extent of reach, ruling over everyone from ‘girls, spinsters and hags’ all the way to ‘witches, widows, wives, mothers of all these’. Duffy suggests that Queen Elizabeth is a symbol of power and hope for all womenkind, her rule providing support and visibility to all women, equally.

The use of consonance in /w/ across ‘witches, widows, wives’ creates an extended ‘w’ sound. This extended sound could reflect the unity of women, the harmonic consonance echoing through the images of women. The united sound becomes a reflection of the united women, everyone coming together under the figure of Elizabeth I.

 

Stanza Three

Unseen, she ruled and reigned; some said

(…)

when they lived if they did so female. All hail to the Queen.

Although not visibly seen, her influence is felt across society as she ‘ruled and reigned.’ There is a sense of mythically to this style of ruling, with Queen Elizabeth being idolized through Duffy’s mythic semantics, ‘some said’ playing into the narrative of a legendary figure.

As long as ‘they did so female’ if anyone was a woman they would be safe under the rule of Queen Elizabeth, the monarch ‘sent her explorers away’ in order to expand her rule across the world. Duffy creates the sense that Queen Elizabeth governs for all women, the communal ‘all hail’ suggesting that everyone supports this historic figure.

 

Stanzas Four and Five

What were the laws? Childhood: whether a girl

(…)

the Long Queen’s fingers to weight as she counter their sorrow.

It is within the fourth stanza in which Duffy introduces the first ‘law’ of Elizabeth’s, ‘Childhood’. Duffy states that Queen Elizabeth created a society in which ‘a girl’ would feel safe wherever she was, ‘no girl growing’ without being protected. The consonance of /g/ across ‘girl growing’ reflects the sense of aging, with the extended sound being emblematic of growing and changing.

The second and third ‘laws’ that Queen Elizabeth comes to represent are ‘Blood’ and ‘Tears’, dispelling the shame and fear of periods and allowing all women to own their emotions. ‘Tears’ are not something to be feared or ignored, but rather used as ‘salt pearls’ to adorn the ‘Long Queen’s fingers’, the Queen engendering an image of women supporting women.

Fertility and periods are presented as beautiful, linked to ‘the moon’ and portrayed as natural, rather than a ’cause for complaint’. Queen Elizabeth reverses the demonization of women, championing the idea that periods are natural and a healthy part of being a woman.

 

Stanzas Six and Seven

Childbirth: most to lie on the birthing beds,

(…)

of the old. Long Queen. All her possessions for a moment of time.

The final law that Elizabeth comes to represent is ‘Childbirth’, safety, and support to all those the ‘lie on the birthing beds’. Duffy presents the pain of childbirth, ‘screamed scarlet’ using the symbolism of deep red to reflect pain, and also the symbol of blood, inherent in childbirth.

‘Flowers’ are often used as a stereotypical symbol of fertility and the delicate nature of women. Yet, by connecting with ‘sore’, placing this adjective before ‘flowers’, Duffy removes this archetypical notion of how women should portray themselves, tainting ‘flowers’ with an aching pain ‘sore’. This speaks to the female experience, childbirth is incredibly painful, the delicate ‘flower’ symbol of women is ridiculous, Duffy transforming the image into something more realistic through the use of this oxymoron.

The final line of the poem, ‘Long Queen. All her possessions for a moment of time’ illustrates the power of Elizabeth I and her devotion to women. Duffy isolates ‘Long Queen’ between two caesuras, demonstrating that the Queen can stand powerfully on her own, she needs no help from others. Following this, Duffy suggests that she would give up everything, all her ‘possessions’ for ‘a moment of time’, putting her rule, a symbol of woman power, before her own happiness.

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