The poem Wintering by Carol Ann Dufy talks about a relationship that the narrator has experienced and that relationship is still going on. The poem shows that love isn’t always sweeter, it does have bitterness. And this is well depicted by lines like: ‘that trick we have of turning love to pain.’ This means that being in love generally ends in being hurt, broken-hearted, and with regrets that are; love is both sweeter and bitter. Even the very title of the poem, Wintering indicates negative connotations such as being cold.
Moreover, when you read through Wintering, you will find that it has been written in the present continuous tense, which itself implies that the relationship is continuing. The choice of lexis all through the poem leaves a very much negative impact and reiterates that the relationship in question isn’t entirely positive by any stretch of the imagination.
The poem, Wintering makes use of the seasons, which are cyclical by nature. The poet uses them as a metaphor for a relationship that is also cyclical in its journey from ‘love to pain’ and ‘pain to love’. Let’s face it; the relationship has a nature of undergoing through good times and bad times, but perhaps it’s a special type of relationship that follows the rigid and repetitive route like the season of Wintering describes. This is in fact a type of dysfunctional relationship where the pain is cyclical, but then love is cyclical as well, so to label it as a good or bad one may lead us to ignore much of the poem.
Themes in Wintering
There are three themes in the poem, Wintering by Carol Ann Duffy. They are Love, Depression, and Seasons. The theme of ‘love’ can be seen all throughout the poem. For example; during the quote like: ‘You come and go, your footprints like a love below’, which means that the narrator’s love is getting faded but their memories are even now with them and will appear, always be. This specific instance, so too, contributes to the above-said theme of depression.
As discussed above, the poem talks about the winter season, and this is well depicted by its title, Wintering itself, which explicitly indicates a cold, bitter atmosphere. The readers are introduced with another instance of this in the form of pathetic fallacy, which can be seen in, ‘I walk on ice, it grimaces, then breaks’. However, the season of ‘spring’ is afterward used to echo the ‘good patches’ of this everlasting whirlwind relationship.
The poem begins with the pain of what appears to be a break-up. The funeral is a metaphorical death of love and the relationship and the verse, such as; ‘We’ve done again that trick we have of turning love to pain’ brings to light that this is not the first time this love-relationship has taken its direction, earlier also such kinds of breakups have taken place in their relationship. But all is sorted out with the help of the trick that helps us turn our bitter lover into sweeter again.
In the fourth line when the poet says: ‘Grey fades to black’: the poet brings to light the gloomy image of love, and this has been well-depicted by the use of the word ‘grey’ which is not considered the most cheerful of colors, to begin with fading to a somber black. It is to be noted that this whole poem has consisted of a variety of imageries.
Moreover, the use of the word ‘Ploughed’ in the very first line brings the images of farming into the readers’ mind, whereas the themes of ‘death’ and ‘depression’ lead the readers to imagine dry fields of dead weeds, which collectively contribute to the ominous atmosphere of the poem.
Caesura connotes dragging and a slow pace for the start of the poem is emphasized by the use of the actual word ‘slow’ straight after the caesura. The word ‘trick’ is also very carefully chosen. This means that the relationship isn’t going too well and may even be on the brink of collapsing.
This is a really miserable fallacy, which is where the weather is used to reflect the mood of the poem. In this case, the rain reminds the readers of cold, shivering and someone who is lonely or lost. This could be the case in this relationship.
Dawn mocks me with the gibberish of birds.
I hear your words,
They play inside my head like broken chords.
The misery of their relationship remains continued all through the poem when the poet says: “Dawn mocks me with a gibberish of birds’- the dawn chorus would stereotypically be a joyous and happy sound, but Duffy emasculates it as the miserable lonely abandonee who finds the twittering of birds an irritant because the morning reminds them that there is no one near them in bed.
This continues, as the asterisk suggests, as we get to the nineteenth line and though the mood is even now quite miserable, the tone does take a slight shift to one of longing. Initially, there is a recognition of mistakes: ‘All my mistakes and then a line of desperation comes when the poet says: “Bare trees hold out their arms, beseech, entreat’ – the personified trees represents the desire of the narrator as they stretch out towards their ex expecting to get reunited with them.
The final stanza of the poem, Wintering sheds light over the longed-for-renewal of love as spring arrives, and this is best represented by the line like: “The soil grows hesitant, it blurts in green’. Nature is again used as personification, but this time it is being used to symbolize a new beginning, a fresh start, and ‘pain turns back to love again’, which means the love has returned and pain has gone.
The poem ends with a romantic cliché: ‘winter thaws and melts’ and the negative cold hard thoughts have vanished now and the relationship has returned on the track. However, the cyclical nature of this relationship leads the readers to expect that pain, which is still here and will return like the season of ‘Winter’.
About Carol Ann Duffy
One of the most important voices in contemporary British poetry, Carol Ann Duffy belongs to the generation of women poets who carved a niche in the world of poetry. In spite of their disparate social, political, and cultural characteristics they all exhibit the recognizable lineaments of their foremothers – the women of the feminist movement of the late 1960s and 1970s.
Considerably concerned with the questioning of accepted gender norms, Duffy’s work also had to face several types of racial intolerance, religious bigotry, the nuclear nightmare, the political indifference exuded by the Thatcher administration towards the unemployed and the underprivileged.
Born in Glasgow, brought up in Staffordshire, and educated in Liverpool, Duffy now lives in London and holds a clear identification with the impoverished regions of Britain wherein she grew up. While she has been a feminist she hardly shows the self-congratulatory essentialism usually associated with such a stance. Her work is analytical, deeply disturbing, and committed to posing far more questions than it answers. It is also at times deeply humorous.
Carol Ann Duffy is a ‘Scottish playwright, and it is a well-known fact that through her poems she has always tried to highlight issues like gender, oppression, and violence. But in the poem, Wintering, there is just a hint of these themes. Instead in this poem, she is talking about cyclical love, which keeps changing like the season of ‘Winter’. Here the poet juxtaposes love, which is sometimes bitter and sometimes cold.
And it seems to me that this poem is the best example of Duffy providing her readers with a ‘truth’. According to me, Carol Ann Duffy herself is the speaker and voice of the poem, Wintering, as she usually writes in the first person pronoun. Hence, she appears to be speaking her own experience but the poem also works as the voice of many other people. And this is well-said and perfectly presented by the line when she says: ‘I hear your words; they play inside my head like broken chords’. This indicates that she is talking about herself but the assumption is that several other people are also able to easily relate to it.