Carol Ann Duffy never reveals the gender of either the narrator of the poem, nor their partner. Could this ambiguity mirror her own sexual orientation, or does she leave it this way so it is relatable to more people? She falls back on the comparisons between emotional and physical wealth throughout the poem. The suggestion being that you cannot be more rich then when you are spending time with the person you love. Time is a key factor in this poem, perhaps unsurprisingly given the title. The key message is that time is the enemy of love. This is a theme that has been covered by many poets, including Shakespeare himself. In the modern world I think this idea of time with loved ones is even more preveleant than ever. How many hours do we spend looking at our mobile phones or tablets when we could be basking in the riches of time with the people we love? That is the point Duffy drives home with this poem, which can be read in full here.
Hour Form and Tone
Whilst Duffy often writes in free-verse, Hour is very structured. It takes the form of a Shakespearean sonnet. It has the rhyming scheme (a-b-a-b-c-d-c-d-e-f-e-f-g-g). Being as it is a sonnet it only contains one stanza, although sometimes sonnets are broken down into 3 or 4 stanzas. Sonnets are often associated with love (as was the case with many of Shakespeare’s sonnets) and this poem is no exception as it explores the relationship of love and how it pertains to time. Time being the enemy of love is not an uncommon theme in stories and poetry alike and perhaps that is why Duffy chose this very traditional poetic form for this poem. The poem has a sweet romantic tone with many allusions to nature a throwback to the Romantic era in many ways.
Line by line Breakdown
This first line suggests, right from the start, that time is the enemy of love. Implying that love is always trying to “steal time” it then continues with an enjambment line (this is a sentence that runs on to the next line.)
This infers that any time spent on love is time well spent. Throughout the poem you will see allusions to wealth. These words are used purposefully to emphasise the value of love.
Here Duffy addresses the reader (her partner) directly. She talks of spending time with them. She uses the word “spend” quite deliberately, another reference to wealth.
I think here, rather than describing a specific event, she is describing a typical moment with her partner in order to make a point about values. She is intimating that rolling around in a ditch is worth more than flowers and wine.
It is interesting that Duffy breaks down time into such a small denominator to make it sound more grandiose. Thousands of seconds somehow sounds longer than hundreds of minutes. Another enjambment line is used here giving a soothing flow to the poem.
The narrator’s partner’s hair is compared to treasure, yet again a simile using wealth. Duffy then uses the phrase “Midas light”. Midas was a king in Greek mythology who was renowned for the stories of how everything he touched turned to gold. This is not Duffy’s only nod to Greek mythology. She also wrote a poem called Medusa and is well-known for writing poems based on literature and mythology.
The narrator is saying that the sunlight makes their lover’s limbs look “golden” they describe how time, which to remind you is the enemy of love, slows when they are with their partner.
The narrator uses millionaires to once again explain the wealth in love. Backhanding the night is an interesting phrase here. One associates the night with darkness and negative emotions and the light with positives. Backhanding the night gives an image of defiantly slapping negativity, ostensibly through the power of love (and light).
The narrator doesn’t want anything to end their experience with their partner.
cuckoo spit is not something that you would usually consider to be nice. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s basically a foamy substance used to protect certain insect larvae and it looks like somebody spat on some foliage! So to say that this no jewel could hold a candle to it seems absurd. That is until we move to the next line.
Here we understand the previous line. The cuckoo spit is held so highly as it is close to the narrators loved one. Once again highlighting how time with them is the most valuable thing they could have.
Once again the natural, unspoiled, version of the partner is heralded over the wealthy alternative. This time the light is used to make the point.
The word now is a sentence on its own and this is the only example of a short sentence in the entire poem. This is used to highlight the importance of it. It is quite jarring and it’s use mid-line makes a reader stop. It gives it a profundity. All of these comparisons the narrator has been making are how they are feeling right now, in the moment. They do not concern themselves with dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future they are solely focused on the present, the now. What follows cements the entire point of the poem that time is the enemy of love: “Time hates love, wants love poor”.
but love spins gold, gold, gold from straw.
Here the narrator is suggesting that love has a transformative power. That it can take the mundane and make it worth more than precious materials, note the tricolon being used for emphasis. Spinning gold from straw is a reference to the fairytale character Rumpelstiltskin and is a further example of drawing a comparison between what a person would perceive to be wealth and what is actually valuable. Being the final line of the sonnet gives it credence as the final two lines of a stanza are supposed to offer a “turn” or a “resolution” the resolution here is partial though due to proceeding line, but the hint is that love will conquer the obstacle that is time.
About Carol Ann Duffy
Carol Ann Duffy is a Scottish poet and the poet laureate. She is the first female and openly gay person to hold this distinction in the four hundred years that it has existed. She tends to write poems in the form of monologues that address the reader directly, giving her poetry an intimate and engaging feel. She usually writes poems that are dark in nature and deal with people with complex characters that feel disenfranchised from society, outsiders if you will, however this poem is an exception to that rule. Her poetry is very popular and frequency studied in British schools and colleges. Hour is from her collection Rapture which chronicles the highs and lows of relationships.