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An Analysis of the Poem "In Your Mind" by Carol Ann Duffy

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Carol Ann Duffy, author of "In Your Mind"

Carol Ann Duffy, author of "In Your Mind"

The Poem and Its Author

"In Your Mind" is a free-verse poem that explores someone's daydream or attempt to escape from the reality of the present and travel mentally to another country. There is a strong hint that this someone is a worker who is very bored with their work and might also be confused and self-questioning.

Carol Ann Duffy creates a tone that is both surreal and slightly disturbing. The poem depicts a person who wishes to leave everything behind and fly off to a foreign place where seagulls, bells and a flute sound in a timeless environment.

You could say that this is a universal wish for all those who, for one reason or another, are caught up in the rat race, stuck in a dead-end job or simply dreaming of a better life.

The poem, then, is idealistic—the speaker no longer has a commitment to their everyday routine and reality, and they seek an alternative existence in sunnier climes in a world they have perhaps dreamed up. Interestingly, this "new" world still involves working but this time at a job they love.

Or could it be that the speaker and "you" are one and the poem is an informal study of escapism based on the real-time experiences of a holiday when this person was younger and living and working with that youthful freedom we often lose when we get older?

Because the poem is set in the mind, anything can happen. There are switches in time and tone, for example. Surreal moments occur. The moon metaphorically becomes an orange; faces are photographs.

As the poem progresses, there is a kind of climax at the end. The speaker's certainty brings more light and sound, but back comes reality and real things: newspaper, desk and rain—that English rain that perhaps inspired this surreal poetic exercise.

Prominent Themes

  • Time—past, present and future
  • Memory
  • Escapism
  • Idealism
  • Daydreaming
  • Having dreams
  • Wishing away life
  • Questioning current life choices
  • Imagination

"In Your Mind"

The other country, is it anticipated or half-remembered?
Its language is muffled by the rain which falls all afternoon
one autumn in England, and in your mind
you put aside your work and head for the airport
with a credit card and a warm coat you will leave
on the plane. The past fades like newsprint in the sun.

You know people there. Their faces are photographs
on the wrong side of your eyes. A beautiful boy
in the bar on the harbour serves you a drink—what?—
asks you if men could possibly land on the moon.
A moon like an orange drawn by a child. No.
Never. You watch it peel itself into the sea.

Sleep. The rasp of carpentry wakes you. On the wall,
a painting lost for thirty years renders the room yours.
Of course. You go to your job, right at the old hotel, left,
then left again. You love this job. Apt sounds
mark the passing of the hours. Seagulls. Bells. A flute
practising scales. You swap a coin for a fish on the way home.

Then suddenly you are lost but not lost, dawdling
on the blue bridge, watching six swans vanish
under your feet. The certainty of place turns on the lights
all over town, turns up the scent on the air. For a moment
you are there, in the other country, knowing its name.
And then a desk. A newspaper. A window. English rain.

Stanza-by-Stanza Discussion and Analysis

"In Your Mind" is a formal-looking poem on the page. It comprises four neatly spaced quatrains of six lines in each totaling 24 lines. It's a free verse poem, so it contains no end rhymes.

First Stanza

The first line is a question which sparks off the whole poem. Rhetorical and open-ended, this question also helps the reader focus on time. Is the other country anticipated? That is, is it going to be visited in the future? Or is it half-remembered from a visit in the past?

The next five lines flow together and are enjambed (there is no punctuation at the end of lines, so the reader does not really have to pause), which reflects the mind of a person who dreams of flying off, away from the persistent rain, to a foreign, warm land.

The last line of the stanza echoes the first as the past fades with the sun on newspaper print. A classic daydreaming scenario has this individual skipping work and responsibility and leaving the cold rain—and the past—behind.

Second Stanza

This individual knows people there, according to the speaker, which suggests a previous visit—perhaps a holiday or working holiday? Does the line, "Their faces are photographs/on the wrong side of your eyes . . ." mean the inside of the eyes or the mind's eye? What could wrong mean in this context? Does the speaker not relish seeing them again?

There's something surreal going on when the beautiful boy asks if men could land on the moon, which is an orange in the process of peeling (so there is not a chance of a lunar visitation). The imagery is strong, and the language figurative.

Third Stanza

The syntax is a little odd in parts—a single word here, two words there. It's all quite informal as the faux dialogue continues. We could be going way back in time when a painting that has been lost for 30 years is mentioned. Perhaps this occurred when the person was young?

They had a job, too—one they loved, the specifics of which aren't mentioned. Life was ideal and relaxed. It was close to the sea as seagulls can be heard, and a meal of fish easily paid for.

Fourth Stanza

On the way home—home—they get lost but not truly lost as they wander over a blue bridge. They must have been here before in their mind. This last stanza has the feel of a fairy tale. Six swans fly under the bridge and the feet.

This is all reassuring. Lights come on (a metaphor for clarity of thought?), and a scent fills the air. Momentarily, the individual is there—in the other country which they know. But at the last, reality snaps them back into the every day, where desk, newspaper and English rain dominate.

Sources

  • Edexcel Poetry Anthology For English Literature
  • www.poetryfoundation.org
  • Carol Ann Duffy | Poet | Scottish Poetry Library
  • Carol Ann Duffy: Literature (britishcouncil.org)

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Andrew Spacey

Comments

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on January 13, 2021:

Thank you Chitrangada. Glad you enjoyed.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 13, 2021:

Wonderful analysis of the poem.

I am happy to find this on my feed, and comment.

Thank you for sharing this.

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on January 13, 2021:

Appreciate the visit Ivana, thank you.

Ivana Divac from Serbia on January 12, 2021:

A wonderful poem, and a great analysis! Thank you for sharing, I really enjoyed reading this.