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"Feminine Gospels" by Carol Ann Duffy: "A Dreaming Week" – Poetry Analysis


Day One – Stanza 1

The poem begins in a conversational style: "Not tonight", as the speaker has presumably rejected her lover for someone or something else. At this point, we are unsure of whom or what this superior connection is, but it is certainly greater than the human the explicit "Not" is directed at. The stanza continues through enjambment as the speaker is "dreaming / in the heart of the honeyed dark". The "woman" in question finds dreaming as a more fulfilling activity than her presumed romantic (or sexual) activity with the other significant other. Yet, in the second line, we notice the calm and fluent texture of the word "honeyed" – a word denoting a romantic atmosphere in the "dark".

The speaker appears to be transcending into a dream, with the smooth transition of syllables in "hon-ey-ed" taking the speaker into a deep sleep "in a boat of a bed" – denoting a journey in which we witness an ever-widening spectrum of vision (with the focus of the "heart" in contrast with the "park"). Such imagery is followed by a "big old tree", perhaps denoting the Tree of Life, symbolising the passage of time and the accumulation of knowledge. As the speaker continues her dream, she witnesses a "creak[ing]" "ark", alluding to Noah's Ark, which has supposedly berthed on the summit of Mount Ararat, bringing about the notion of instability as the ark "creaks".

Could this denote the speaker's psyche?


Day Two – Stanza 2

The second stanza reopens with a repeated rejection of the significant other, as the speaker continues to dream "till dusk turns into dawn". Looking at the second and third lines of the second stanza, we notice italicised words, starting with "dust" and followed by words of a prolonged "m-" sound, closed by "down". Perhaps, the sequential alliteration denotes the passage of the speaker's dream or the poem itself (note its seven stanzas mirroring a "Week"). Another thought could lead us to Luce Irigaray's (a Belgian psycholinguist, philosopher and feminist) idea of "word-lust", by which the prolonged and emphasised "m-" is that of sexual moans. Such interpretation opens up the idea of the speaker's desire for dreaming and poetry, which she holds a true passion for.

The proceeding line illustrates an "open book", opened so as "a bird that's never flown" - the imagery of which showcases the speaker's attitude to reading books, as she falls asleep with the book opened in her hand, or perhaps distracted by the "birdsong of [a] telephone" in the background.


Day Three – Stanza 3

The speaker appears to have a one-sided perception of life, which she witnesses through a "monocle" and the grandeur celestial body "of the moon". The aforesaid imagery alludes to the freedom the speaker experiences, as her imagination has lifted off, past the blanket of the skies - alluding to the separation of the body from the soul - a prodigious experience illustrating the power of imagination, allowing human beings to venture into the unknown.

The sibilance in "a sleeping S" denotes a continuous breathing sound through a poetic technique, the use of which in context to the leitmotif of the poem takes the art of poetry as a vitality to the speaker – without which she would cease to exist, affirmed by the dualist theorem above. Is poetry keeping the speaker's heart beating, just as the rhythmic alliteration of "must, / most, moot, moon, mown," – with the striking sound of the "dust" kickstarting the heartbeat, and the deep, cold and monotone sound of "down –" causing its conclusion – death.


Day Four – Stanza 4

The fourth stanza denotes a plateau of celestial imagery in the form of "stars" and "blue" - the latter being a colour symbolising emptiness and a lack of emotion, followed by "printing the news of their old light". The "old light" could allude to the Word of God – God is believed to be settled in the Heavens, transcending his message down through the power of scriptures and print.

The imagery of the "black silk" appears to be intimate and sensual - with silk being a symbol of luxury. However, the fine material could also allude to lust - the physical touch of the significant other, or perhaps reconnecting back to Igararay's "word-lust". Withal, the smooth and fluent sounds of the words and rhyme extend the notion of a deep-sleep, inhibited throughout the poem.


Day Five – Stanza 5

"Like a lover held by another" in the fifth stanza shifts away from the celestial imagery of outer space, into an intimate environment with the reader. Perhaps, Duffy's poems in Feminine Gospels aim to establish a level of intimacy with the reader – most likely a woman who is able to gather a sense of unity with the poet, knowing she is not alone in the struggles of life. The idea of the "child stilled by a mother" acts as a sanctuary for the reader who feels that she (or he) is safe, surrounded by the "midnight's arm" of their mother.

The "golden bells" may allude to the Biblical imagery of Exodus 28:33: A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about. (King James Bible). By which the "bells" symbolise the constant communication that we have with God (or, in this case, our mother) through prayer, to avoid "spiritual death" – denoted in Exodus 28:33 (King James Bible):

33 And beneath upon the hem of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof; and bells of gold between them round about:

34 A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about.

35 And it shall be upon Aaron to minister: and his sound shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the Lord, and when he cometh out, that he die not.


Day Six – Stanza 6

The sixth stanza continues as if a berceuse, with the "sighing over the frowning sound, / the whale's lonely song" lines' sibilance providing a gentle lullaby for the reader, as the sound of the stanza's lines insinuate the infinite movement of sea waves along the sea shore (note the "s" sound). There are no abrupt pauses in the poem, which acts as a fairytale - a never-ending story luring the reader into a deep sleep.

Duffy provides a sanctuary for its readers, who are able to line-by-line submerge themselves into an unknown world, isolated from the harsh reality of everyday life - with such imagery, the reader can feel safe. Cherished.


Day Seven – Stanza 7

The final stanza of the poem in which the speaker is "dreaming / under the stuttering clock". Note the use of the definitive article "the", signifying this isn't any "stuttering clock", and therefore, could symbolise the speaker approaching her death. The repetition of the word "under" three times could connote the lowering of a coffin, lower and further - "under[neath]" the ground, as "Time's winged chariot [is] hurrying near" (Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress") – purporting how time will always catch up to you, no matter if you dream and live your life with complete devotion to God. Just as the alliteration in the second stanza of the poem of the "m-" sound, the conclusive and ultimate sound is a deep "d-" sound, as the now cold (not "soft and warm") body of the speaker is being lowered into the ground.

Now the speaker can dream forever, surrounded by the "glamourous dark" and be interrupted by no other human being. Her soul has transcended from her body, and can keep on writing "with the ink of space".



In conclusion, Duffy's poem "A Dreaming Week" embodies her "word-lust" for words, her motherly love and her ability to cherish life to its very last moment. However, not even the emotion of love cannot escape the essence of "living life to its fullest" – as each individual's life is finite, and as each individual chases her or his dream, they must strive for what they seek most in life.

What do you think is the essence of life, and what do you think is the true message of this benign and benevolent poem?

© 2016 Oliwier Brzezinski