STEALING 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 monologue'. 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 circumstances. 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. Revision 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 tough. He doesn’t belong anywhere. ‘I joy-ride cars/ to nowhere.’ He’s alone with nowhere to go. 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 cocky. He wants help and a better ‘sick of the world.’ life. He’s got nothing to do, ‘mostly I’m so bored I could eat nowhere to go, nothing to live myself.’ for. 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? Language 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 stole.’ 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. Summary Subject 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. Attitude 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. Style 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 Overview 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 tomorrows’. 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.’ Revision 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 Poet: ‘You laugh ‘I’m ten with on your years pals.’ away.’ ‘Your polka- ‘I’m not dot dress here blows round yet.’ your legs. Marilyn.’ ‘In the ‘I knew ballroom, you with the would thousand dance eyes.’ like that.’ ‘High-heeled ‘The shoes.’ thought of me doesn’t occur.’ ‘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.’ Language As in ‘Stealing’ the language of this poem is mostly fairly straightforward, and Duffy creates a sense of a conversation. There aren’t any obvious poetic devices to write about. There are no metaphors, or similes, for instance. 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 them. 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 another. She creates this impression by: Referring to the mother as ‘you’ Using relaxed, informal language, ‘pals’ Addressing her directly, asking her questions: ‘The decade ahead of my loud, possessive yell was the best one, eh?’ ‘Sweetheart?’ Using non-standard sentences and punctuation to convey the rhythm and pauses in speech. Summary Subject 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. Attitude 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. Style The vocabulary of the poem suits the fact that it is meant to be spoken: It is simple and straightforward. 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.