Mrs Tiresias, by Carol Ann Duffy
Tiresias, according to one legend, hit two copulating snakes with a stick
and was turned into a woman. (Why are snakes always the baddies in
Seven years later he encounters another pair of copulating snakes. He
hits them with a stick and is turned back into a man.
The Roman god and goddess Jupiter (Zeus) and Juno (Hera) are married
and have a row about love-making.
In short, Jupiter is unhappy with the quantity and Juno is unhappy with
They want to know whether a man or a woman receives the most
pleasure from sex.
Being the only one who could speak from experience, Tiresias was
brought in to answer. He said the female, and Juno, enraged, made him
He then became a soothsayer and told Oedipus that he'd killed his father
and married his mother, but that's not important to the point; nor to this
Two copulating snakes turn Tiresias
into a woman
turn her back
into a man
Carol Ann Duffy
Carol Ann Duffy is a poet whose work
is often used for coursework and in
exams at GCSE.
Carol Ann Duffy is our Poet Laureate.
That means that she is the official poet
for the nation. She writes poems for
important national events. In return
she receives a crate of sherry every
Carol Ann Duffy comes from an Irish
background and grew up in Glasgow.
She is the first woman Poet Laureate.
She is also the first lesbian Poet
The most important thing to
remember about poetry is that it
makes us see things through
somebody else’s eyes.
All I know is this:
he went out for his walk a man
and came home female.
1. Who do you think is speaking? Out the back gate with his stick,
2. What kind of picture do we get of
3. Would these be considered wearing his garden kecks,
typical male behaviours? an open-necked shirt,
4. Why do you think she lied about
hearing the cuckoo before he did?
and a jacket in Harris tweed I’d patched at the
He liked to hear
the first cuckoo of Spring
then write to the Times.
I’d usually heard it days before him
but I never let on.
I’d heard one that morning
while he was asleep;
1. What indications do we have that just as I heard
something ‘magical’ has taken
place? at about 6pm,
2. The “sneer of thunder”. What
figure of speech is this?
Why do you think the thunder
a faint sneer of thunder up in
‘sneered’? the woods
a sudden heat at the back of
He was late getting back.
I was brushing my hair in the
1. He walks the dog in tweeds and
and running a bath
she has a bath and brushes her
hair. She faints when he speaks. when a face
What stereotypes are being
played out here? swam into view
2. Why is the V of the shirt now
shocking? next to my own.
The eyes were the same.
But in the shocking V of the
shirt were breasts.
When he uttered my name in a
woman’s voice I passed out.
Life has to go on.
1. What do you think of her
response to the situation: “Life I put it about that he was a
has to go on”?
2. Why does she lie about their new
situation? What might she be
frightened of people thinking?
and this was his sister
came down to live while he
was working abroad.
And at first I tried to be kind;
Questions blow drying his hair till he
1. How does she describe their
relationship? learnt to do it himself,
2. Why do you think she still refers
to her as ‘he’ and ‘him’? lending him clothes till he
3. At the beginning the narrator said
he came back female. Do you
think the narrator believes there
started to shop for his own,
is a difference between being
female and being a woman? sisterly, holding his soft new
shape in my arms all night.
Then he started his period.
one week in bed.
Questions two doctors in.
1. How does ‘he’ react to the
period? three painkillers four times a day.
2. The female menstrual cycle is
often associated with the moon
and, in turn, the tides. How is this
3. Was this alluded to before? How a letter
did ‘he’ first appear to her as a
woman? to the powers-that-be
4. Why, do you think, he is ‘selfish’?
demanding full-paid menstrual
leave twelve weeks a year.
N.B. The narrator is mocking the
apparent inability of man to bear I see him now,
pain, but the letter to the
“powers-that-be” indicates that
his selfish pale face peering at the
she feels men have more political moon
and strategic power in our society
than women. through the bathroom window.
The curse, he said, the curse
1. What, do you think, is ‘the curse’?
2. What might ‘the wrong idea’ be? Don’t kiss me in public,
3. How might it get “worse”?
he snapped the next day,
I don’t want people getting
the wrong idea
It got worse.
After he left, I would glimpse him
out and about,
Questions entering glitzy restaurants
1. What has happened to their
relationship? on the arms of powerful men-
2. How does the narrator convey
that he is not a ‘real’ woman but
though I knew for sure
is role-playing? there’d be nothing of that
3. He/she is now going out with
men, but is celibate. Why do you going on
think that might be?
if he had his way-
or on TV
telling the women out there
how, as a woman himself,
he knew how we felt.
His flirt’s smile.
The one thing he never got
1. What does the metaphor “a cling
peach slithering out of its tin” Was the voice.
suggest about the voice?
2. Why might she ‘grit’ her ‘teeth’?
How does she feel about her
A cling-peach slithering out
of its tin
I gritted my teeth
Back to the myth
Remember the myth?
The whole point is that Tiresias has
been turned into a woman by the
gods so s/he can find out whether
men enjoy sexual intimacy more than
women, or the other way around.
There hasn’t been any intimacy yet.
Oh, wait a minute.
There’s a twist in the tale
And this is my lover, I said,
the one time we met,
at a glittering ball,
under the lights,
among tinkling glass,
and watched the way he stared
at her violet eyes
at the blaze of her skin,
at the slow caress of her hand on the back of my
It’s all rather clever
So Mrs Tiresias, whose husband is now female
and has left her, now has a woman as a lover.
Meanwhile, her husband, as a female, flirts
with men but appears to be celibate, thus
denying the gods their answer.
and saw him picture
Questions her bite,
1. How does the narrator convey
that Tiresias might be jealous? her bite at the fruit of my lips,
2. Why does she describe her lips as
‘fruit’? and hear
3. How does Tiresias greet the
What might ‘clash’ between
my red wet cry in the night
as she shook his hand
saying How do you do;
and I noticed then his hands,
the clash of their sparkling rings
and their painted nails.
Now let’s go back to this myth.
•Juno was a goddess and Jupiter was a god.
•They had a bedroom problem
•They were a ‘straight’ heterosexual couple
•Tiresias was their ‘Agony Aunt’
•When Juno didn’t get the answer she wanted from Tiresias, she blinded him in
It’s hardly fair, is it?
Can you think of 2 things Carol Duffy might be trying to tell Juno and Jupiter?