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STEALING Powered By Docstoc

     In this poem, Duffy adopts the voice of a bored young man who
     tells us about his exploits stealing.

     This speaking a poem in the voice of a character is called a 'dramatic

     It is as if this is a speech from a character in a play.

     If this poem was a speech from a play how would you imagine this
     character to look, how would he act, what would he do?

     The character tells us the things he steals and his motivation for stealing.
     He tells what he does with the stolen goods and the thrill he gets from
     stealing. The theft of the snowman is pointless, mindless and cruel. The
     thief actually enjoys the thrill of ‘knowing that children would cry in
     the morning’.

     On the other hand, it is just a stupid, and fairly harmless prank, that you
     could imagine lots of people doing, or thinking of doing, given the right

     The poem is carefully balanced in its view of the speaking character.

     As well as condemning his actions, we may feel some sympathy for
     this rather lost character. Certainly Duffy seems to want us to feel a little
     uneasy about, and perhaps responsible for, this juvenile delinquent.


     The following table shows us what we can tell about this young
     man from the poem...

           What we can tell about the        Actions/ Lines from the poem:
           Character and his life:

           He’s lonely.                      ‘I wanted him, a mate.’

           He likes to think of himself as   ‘with a mind as cold as the slice of
           being heartless, unemotional.     ice/ within my own brain.’

           He’s had a hard life and has to ‘Better off dead than giving in.’
           fend for himself.

           He’s become bitter, petty and     ‘Part of the thrill was knowing/
           cruel.                            that children would cry.’

           Again he’s probably had a         ‘Life’s tough.’
           hard life. He’s become bitter
           and hardened. He thinks he’s

           He doesn’t belong anywhere.       ‘I joy-ride cars/ to nowhere.’
           He’s alone with nowhere to

           He resents other people –         ‘I’m a mucky ghost.’
           again he’s bitter.
    He glamorises his robberies.     ‘I watch my gloved hand twisting
    Like he is the star of a film.   the doorknob.’

    He’s frustrated and angry at     ‘booted him. Again. Again.’
    his life, and at what he
    doesn’t have, as symbolised
    by the snowman.

    Perhaps he feels guilt,          ‘It seems daft now.’
    certainly he sounds less

    He wants help and a better       ‘sick of the world.’

    He’s got nothing to do,          ‘mostly I’m so bored I could eat
    nowhere to go, nothing to live   myself.’

    He feels separate from           ‘You don’t understand a word I’m
    ordinary people. He’s bitter,    saying, do you.’
    resentful and aggressive, but
    needs and wants help.

Often in Dramatic Monologues the characters reveal more than they intend
to about themselves.

How do you think this character would like to come across?

Is this the same as the way he does come across?


The language in this poem is unlike what people normally expect of poetry.

There are no similes, metaphors or examples of personification. There is no
alliteration to speak of.

Why do you think this is?

In fact most of the words in the poem have only one or two syllables, and
they are all very straightforward and everyday words.

A Speaking Voice

As in ‘Valentine’ Duffy manages to convey the impression of a speaking
voice, engaged in a conversation.

Where might this boy be when he is telling someone all this?

Duffy creates this sense of speaking by...

        Starting the poem with a question, that seems to be responding to
        someone asking the question ‘what was the most unusual thing you ever

        By using non-standard sentences and incorrect punctuation to
           convey the rhythms and pauses of speech. Neither ‘A snowman’, nor
           ‘Midnight’ are proper sentences, but they reflect how we speak. Both are
           followed by full stops to indicate pauses for thought.

           Making the character dos his story with common sayings, that are not
           strictly relevant to the story, ‘Better off dead’, ‘Life’s tough’, ‘sick
           of the world’.

           The structure of the poem: The character doesn’t develop his story
           logically. He goes off on a tangent in the third stanza before returning to
           the snowman in the fourth.



            Duffy’s subject is a young boy, or is it a girl? She/he
            has been let down by society in some way. Because they
            have nothing to do and no way of improving their
            self-respect they turn to petty mindless crime.


             We will all have different attitudes to this character
             depending on our own viewpoints. A daily Mail reader
             for instance is unlikely to have much sympathy, whereas
             a Guardian reader might have too much, perhaps.

             Duffy certainly, however, gives the character
             enough complexity to suggest she has some
             sympathy. His final, aggressive question, for instance, is
             meant to make us stop and think.


             This is a dramatic monologue, and in it Duffy cleverly
             captures the rhythms of speech.

             The language is plain, ordinary, ‘unpoetic’, and so
             suits the speaker.

             The form of the poem is loosely regular (6, 5 line
             stanzas), as if it is attempting to order itself. The
             fact that there is no change or development in form
             might suggest how this character is trapped in his
             world, with his fear, his loneliness and his delusions.

Before you were mine

     This poem is a kind of love poem addressed to Duffy’s mother. Duffy
     appears to be looking at an old photograph of her mother and is re-
     creating how she imagines her mother’s life must have been when she was
     a young woman.

     The mother appears to have been glamorous, energetic and happy: In line
     5 Duffy compares her to the famous 1950’s actress Marilyn Monroe. Her
     future was a full of potential and excitement, ‘the fizzy, movie

     Clearly, though the baby changed her life completely and there is a feeling
     of regret on behalf of the poet that her mother lost some of her carefree
     energy, stopped being ‘the bold girl winking’.

     But throughout the poem there is also a sense of possessiveness the child
     has for the mother. This seems to be Duff’s way of expressing just what a
     hold a child has over a parent, perhaps, in particular a mother.

     There is even something a little threatening in the tone to a poem called
     ‘Before you were Mine’.

     The poet, and the reader, share the benefit of hindsight. We know what is
     going to happen to the ‘laughing, sparkling girl.’


     The poem divides into the descriptions of the mother and the voice of the
     poet talking to her. In the first two stanzas they are separate. In the last
     two they come together.

                                                         The Mother: The

                                                         ‘You laugh      ‘I’m ten
                                                         with on your    years
                                                         pals.’          away.’

                                                         ‘Your polka-    ‘I’m not
                                                         dot dress       here
                                                         blows round     yet.’
                                                         your legs.

                                                         ‘In the         ‘I knew
                                                         ballroom,       you
                                                         with the        would
                                                         thousand        dance
                                                         eyes.’          like

                                                         ‘High-heeled    ‘The
                                                         shoes.’         thought
                                                                         of me

                                                         ‘The decade     ‘Before
                                                         ahead. . Was    you were
                                                         the best.’      mine.’
                                     ‘Under the       ‘I
                                     tree, . . .      wanted
                                     small bites      the bold
                                     on you neck.’    girl.’

                                     ‘The bold girl   ‘Before I
                                     winking in       was
                                     Portobello.’     born.’

                                     ‘You sparkle     ‘Before
                                     and waltz        you were
                                     and laugh.’      mine.’

As in ‘Stealing’ the language of
this poem is mostly fairly
straightforward, and Duffy
creates a sense of a

There aren’t any obvious poetic
devices to write about. There are
no metaphors, or similes, for

There is however a lot of visual
imagery. If you look at all the
descriptions in the box above
you’ll find they all appeal to our
sense of sight. We don’t hear
(until the end) or smell the
mother, because this is a poem
inspired by an image, by a
photograph. The poet cannot
fully connect with, cannot fully
experience, the world of the
‘young’ mother because of
this. There is a distance between

The effect is like a film with the
sound down, Duffy, and the
reader picking things up through
gestures and expressions.

The language the child uses is
very simple; short sentences
beginning with ‘I’, ‘me’ or
‘mine’ in them. So we get the
sense of the demands a small
child puts on a mother.

A Speaking Voice

Like in ‘Stealing’ Duffy creates a
sense of someone speaking to
    She creates this impression by:

    Referring to the mother as ‘you’

    Using relaxed, informal language,

    Addressing her directly, asking
    her questions: ‘The decade
    ahead of my loud, possessive
    yell was the best one, eh?’

    Using non-standard sentences
    and punctuation to convey the
    rhythm and pauses in speech.



      The poem appears to be one
      about Duffy’s mother and how
      the poet would like to have
      known her when she was a
      glamorous young woman.

      There seems to be some
      regret about how the baby
      changed its mother.

      The possessive tone of the
      baby and its self-
      centredness also suggests
      the poem is about how children
      change and come to rule their
      parents’ lives.


      The tone of the poem is at
      times tender and warm.

      But there is also something
      slightly ominous. For instance
      in the repetitions of ‘Before
      you were mine.’

      Duffy seems to be able to see
      the relationships from both
      sides, aware of what the
      mother by having her child.

      The reference to ‘your ma’ also
      suggests how these
      relationships are circular,
      passing from one generation to
  the next.


  The vocabulary of the poem
  suits the fact that it is meant
  to be spoken: It is simple and

  However there is a lot of
  visual imagery, appropriate
  for a poem inspired by a photo.

  The self-centredness of the
  child its impact of its mother’s
  life is suggested by the poem
  starting with ‘I’ and ending
  with ‘mine’.

  The form of the poem doesn’t
  change. Perhaps this is
  because that there is an
  inevitability to the loss of
  glamour and youth. It is a
  process we all go through and
  cannot change.

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