‘Words, Wide Night’ by Carol Ann Duffy is a four stanza poem that is divided into uneven sets of lines. The first three stanzas contain three lines each, known as tercets, and the fourth is only one line long. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme, but they do make use of half, or slant rhyme. For example, the endings of lines two and three connect with one another due to a similarity in assonance, or vowel sound. The “o” sound is repeated in both “you” and “moon.”
There are also moments of rhyme and repetition within the lines themselves. One clear instance is in line three, with “room” and “moon.” Duffy chose to make use of these scattered instances of rhyme in order to provide the text with some rhythmic unity, but not get bogged down by a particular structure. This technique also ensures that the focus remains on the images and their meanings.
This piece was published in Duffy’s 1990 collection The Other Country. It is one of a number of poems in the collection which focuses on Duffy’s own life.
Summary of Words, Wide Night
The poem begins with the speaker stating that she is on one side of the world. From her place there she is speaking to her lover, who is by the necessity of the scenario, on the other side. In this first stanza, she appears sure of herself, she knows where she is and where her lover is, and is willing to speak across the distance. But, by the second stanza, the situation is less stable. The speaker is unsure of how she is supposed to feel, or at least how to put her feelings into words. She tries feeling both happy and sad, but neither seems to fit.
This is where the poem’s brilliance shines through. Duffy’s speaker is thinking about her current state of being and how one thing stays the same, but nothing else does. Rather than saying “I am singing” or “will be” or “was,” she says “I singing.” This way she doesn’t have to think about the tense, as it’s always going to change. There is another element of her present which is hard for her to get at: the words of the song. She knows that there is no real way for her to put them out into the world as they are so tied down to her emotions.
In the last lines, the speaker describes drawing closer to her lover only through using her emotions to imagine the journey she’d take to get to them. She would have to traverse the great distance and the “dark hills.” There would be dangers involved. The poem concludes with the speaker making the statement, “this is what it is like or what it is like in words.” She knows that anything she has said about love does not even come close to representing how she actually feels, but the words are the only option she really has.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of Words, Wide Night
Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by stating that she is “Somewhere” on the “other side of this wide night.” This immediately creates an image of space, distance, and separation. There is by default someone on the other side about whom she is thinking. There is a great deal of “distance between” the two, as the speaker states. Additionally, because they are on opposite sides of the world, the moon is always either coming or going. It is never the same for both of them at the same time. She describes this as her room “turning slowly away from the moon.”
The spin of the earth is written as an element that seems to contribute to their separation. If it stopped, and the room didn’t move away from the moon, then the two would eventually meet up again.
This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.
In the second stanza of ‘Words, Wide Night’ the speaker has trouble deciding what exactly her emotions are. She is very sure about their situation in the first stanza but in the second she is split between feeling that it is a “pleasure” to be thinking about her lover, or, that it is “sad.” She questions these two states, turning from pleasure to sadness and then doubting that choice.
The next lines are very clever. She recognizes the fact that nothing ever stays the same. Her emotions are flickering back and forth, as is her state of being. She could say “I am singing” or “will be” or “was.” In the moment she says it that tense might be correct, but not forever. This is why she chose the ungrammatical “I singing” in the second line.
From where she is, on the other side of the world, she is reaching out with this changing song. Whether in the past, present or further, she is singing an “impossible song of desire.”
La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills I would have to cross
and this is what it is like or what it is like in words.
As she stated in the second stanza, her song is “impossible.” There is no way to pin it down, aside from saying it is constant. So, she represents it with “La lala la.” Her listener, aka her lover, should recognize what she’s doing here. She says “See?” as if trying to make sure they are listening and understanding.
When she tries to send out her words to the other side of the world, they are not enough. The only way she is able to feel closer to her lover is if she imagines a journey that would take her there. This consists of “dark hills,” a feature that lends danger to the image.
The final line of ‘Words, Wide Night’ comes back to the idea that words are incapable of depicting the emotions the speaker is feeling. She is unable to express them and makes that very clear. She ends by saying that “this is what it is like or what it is like in words.”