‘You‘ is taken from a poetry collection called “Rapture”. This collection consists mainly of love poems which are far from surprising given the title of the collection. The poem is filled with passionate metaphors and uses very provocative language. It is highly sexualized and may well be more about lust rather than love. The narrator addresses the reader as if they are the object of the narrator’s affection. The title of the Poem: “You” gives the poem an intimate feel, as if the poem is dedicated to just one person.
Form and Tone
This poem appears in a similar form to a sonnet but is not a sonnet. It is separated into three quatrains and a couplet, but the line length is inconsistent and there is no discernible rhyming pattern. It may be that Duffy deliberately chose this form in order to symbolize the chaotic nature of love. A sonnet is a poetry form readily associated with love and perhaps this subversion is to represent the tempestuous nature of love itself. The poem is highly charged and quite erotic in its tone.
Uninvited, the thought of you stayed too late in my head,
like a charm, like a spell.
The narrator uses interesting language in the first line of this stanza of the poem. They personify their thoughts and in doing so create a powerful piece of imagery. The fact that it refers to their thoughts as “uninvited” suggests that they are powerless to control how they feel and wouldn’t want to feel that way. This line definitely suggests that the narrator can’t get the object of their affection out of their head.
The second line is full of innuendo. The narrator goes to “bed” which you could associate with sex and then says that they dreamed of the other person “hard” which may not be an innuendo but the fact that it is used twice for emphasis suggests that it is indeed an innuendo! The third line refers to the way that the narrator’s love interest’s name sounds. The description is very melodramatic and over the top, this emphasizes the passion they feel. In closing the stanza they claim that the way they are feeling is like a spell. This once again suggests that it is beyond their control and that it is something that is being done unto them rather than an experience they are necessarily enjoying.
Falling in love
Into my life, larger than life, beautiful, you strolled in.
The opening line is very short and this serves to highlight its importance. It acts almost like a prompt to a speaker who is giving a speech it announces what the following stanza will be about effectively. The second line and the narrator open up with a stunning oxymoron. This gives the reader a view of the narrator’s “torn-vision” of love. They describe the heart as being parched, this portrays the idea that the heart is thirsty, that it is longing for something that it just can’t have. This is a very dramatic way of describing the euphoric up-and-down feeling that a person gets when they are in love.
They further go on to explain the strong emotions that love makes them feel. The image of a tiger, ready to kill is particularly striking. The narrator uses powerful words to convey a dark undertone to the poem. In this third line you can see the words “kill”, “flame” and “fierce” none of these would be readily associated with love, but have a stronger association with lust and desire. The stanza is rounded off by the narrator talking about how their loved one entered their life. How they strolled in. This, at least for me, created an image of somebody with nonchalance and arrogance.
I hid in my ordinary days, in the long grass of routine,
from the pining, еarth-struck moon which gapes at me
From the onset of this stanza, it would appear that the narrator is describing how they tried to avoid falling in love. They describe these actions concurrently and espouse the idea that their life was mundane and boring. This is a nice contrast as up until this point the poem has consisted of dramatic images and this line kind of brings the tone back down to earth. They talk about their “camouflage rooms” giving the impression that they have been hiding in their house. I don’t think this is meant to mean physically hiding. But more so just mulling along without being particularly social. I think the narrator is trying to highlight their introverted nature.
At the end of the second line, the narrator once again describes the actions of their loved one. This time they are described as “sprawling” so up until this point the adjectives to describe this nebulous character’s actions have been sprawled and strolled. This person isn’t being put across as being particularly dynamic which sort of defies why the narrator has fallen so hard for them. The narrator then describes them as staring back at them from anyone’s face. This once again helps to highlight the level of obsession. The narrator is so consumed by their emotions that they see the face of this person on whoever they are with, and their mind is clouded. They see the face of the person they are in love with everywhere, from clouds to the surface of the moon! (Incidentally, the phenomenon of seeing a face in a random object is called Pareidolia.)
The word gaped in the final line may have significance as it has subtle sexual connotations as the word is often associated with an ill-fitting blouse. Another provocative piece of language used.
as I open the bedroom door. The curtains stir. There you are
on the bed, like a gift, like a touchable dream.
The final stanza, which is commonly used to “rap up” a traditional sonnet brings the poem up to the current tense. This gives the final section immediacy. It goes from describing emotions to describing actions, so the last two lines are like a story. The narrator returns to the bedroom to find their lover on the bed (presumably sprawled!) they are described as being like a gift which is a change in stance by the narrator who had been describing their feelings like more of a curse. It is as if having their lover there in front of them reminds them that they are a blessing. They are very complimentary describing their partner as a touchable dream, this is far removed from the previous descriptions.
About Carol Ann Duffy
Carol Ann Duffy is Britain’s poet laureate, a prestigious honour bestowed on her by the queen. She is a well-studied poet whose poems are studied in England at GCSE and A-level. She is a versatile poet who adapts her style to fit the mood of the poem. Her poems often provide commentary on contemporary issues. She is openly gay and sometimes this informs her poetry.