The New Bride is told from the perspective of a woman who overdoses. The majority of the poem is the wife observing her husbands behaviour once she passes away. This poem could almost be labelled as black comedy. The narrative voice is very cutting and sarcastic and this is what gives it its humour.
The New Bride Analysis
The opening three lines to this poem set the stage for the rest of the poem beautifully. As a reader you instantly get a feel for what this narrator is all about. The fact that they appear so blasé about death is completely in keeping with the character that Smith creates. The use of the word “darling” in the first line gives the impression of someone who is at least middle class, the fact that they then drink shots of a whisky lends credence to that idea.
I love the description of the pills being “bride white” this description works on several levels. Firstly it’s an obvious reference to the title of the poem, ‘The New Bride’, secondly it acts like almost a foreshadowing of what’s to come as her husband does end up re-marrying and lastly it gives the pills an innocent quality as if referring to them in this way disavows them from their actions. (taking her life). The way the actual death is described suggests that it was quite a peaceful passing. This idea is created by using words like drowsing, slow and whisper. Note the use of sibilance, this just adds to feeling of serenity and creates a sound like somebody snoring. This sleepiness provides a striking contrast with the poems opening lines and indeed the rest of the poem!
Note how this stanza starts with two words begging with D. This is to mirror the start of the first stanza. In that way it helps cleverly tie the two together. The start of this stanza is almost the narrator finishing off the point they were making. Once the narrator has made their point about how easy dying was they turn their attention to talking about their husband.
Now one has to assume that for a person to commit suicide things may have not been the best between the narrator and their husband, well as it happens that assumption is unnecessary as it is made abundantly clear with the first two words used to describe him! “You bastard”! Not exactly begging for forgiveness is she? I love the description of her views on his actions. She clearly is unhappy with his looking for sympathy and her take on his decision to have her cremated is hilarious! Referring to the fact that he had her “burnt, like a dinner gone wrong”.
She continues her tirade clearly upset with her husband’s ineptitude! What is interesting is she is lambasting her partner and gives the impression that she doesn’t like this guy but clearly feels somewhat possessive as she turns her nose up at the women who she believes are interested in him. She alludes to the women being depraved. I don’t think she actually believes that they are looking for pieces of her remains. I think the reason they are described this way is because he sees them almost like vultures.
What I find interesting here is the last line. The line about not leaving any hair. I mean this could just be a reference to the fact that she was cremated, but perhaps there is something more to this. Maybe she was a cancer victim and therefore had no hair. Maybe that is the reason she chose to take her own life. It would also explain why she describes death as being so easy, maybe in many ways it was a release for her.
The phrase “shrug off the yoke of life” once again adds to the idea that the narrator is really nonplussed about death, which does suggest that they had been preparing for it. She then goes on to describe the new woman that her husband has met. Judging by the description given of this woman it sounds like she is very different from the narrator herself. The narrator comes across as very strong and self-assured. Somewhat odd thing to say about a suicide victim! But I believe the reason for the suicide was to end her physical pain. Emotionally she seems pretty strong. This produces a stark contrast with the woman her husband has gone for that seems a bit of a mess. There are a slew of nasty comments aimed in her direction.
She doesn’t seem to like the effect that the new wife has on her husband either. She is annoyed that he compromises with her. Is the suggestion here that she never got that whilst he was with her? It sounds once again like she is very different and that the new wife keeps him in check by “waiting on him”, bringing up Delia Smith creates a visual image of someone who is very motherly. Once again this all helps to paint a picture of someone who is very different to the narrator themselves. Perhaps the most interesting line in this stanza is the last line “I want her cells to go berserk.” If I’m right in my assertion that the narrator had cancer (and this adds further evidence to that notion) then the suggestion here is that she is wishing that same fate on the new wife.
This last passage seems to describe the narrator haunting her husband. The narrator gets one last dig in at the eponymous new bride referring to her amusingly as “slug-smug” this fits quite nicely as earlier she had referred to her tears as slimy. She refers to her husband as being faithless. The meaning of this is wrapped in ambiguity. Does this mean that he cheated on her? Or did the narrator expect him to not move on? Is his remarriage considered to be an act of infidelity? Whatever the case, the actions of the narrator are to try and get between them and to try and unsettle her former partner. The tone here is less sarcastic and more frightful this feeling is created by using words associated with the cold such as “Ice cold” and “freeze”.
Form and Tone
The New Bride is written in free verse. It is separated into six stanzas each one consisting of five lines. There is no discernible rhyming pattern and the metre is uneven. The tone is fantastically dark. The New Bride is delivered in first person and the narrative voice is strong and spiteful. It gives the poem a wonderfully unsettling feel.
About Catherine Smith
Catherine Smith is a contemporary British poet and writer. She teaches creative writing in East sussex. She has a Masters in language which she studied at Sussex University. As well as her poetry, which has drawn much praise, she also writes prose and scripts for radio dramas. One of these scripts, Jelly Belly was broadcast in 2005.