Carol Ann Duffy


Mean Time (1998)


Beloved sweetheart bastard. Not a day since then
I haven’t wished him dead. Prayed for it
so hard I’ve dark green pebbles for eyes,
ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with.

Spinster. I stink and remember. Whole days
in bed cawing Nooooo at the wall; the dress
yellowing, trembling if I open the wardrobe;
the slewed mirror, full-length, her, myself, who did this

to me? Puce curses that are sounds not words.
Some nights better, the lost body over me,
my fluent tongue in its mouth in its ear
then down till I suddenly bite awake.

hate behind a white veil; a red balloon bursting
in my face. Bang. I stabbed at a wedding-cake.
Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon.
Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.



Carol Ann Duffy was born on December 23 1955, in Glasgow, Scotland's largest city. Carol Ann was the eldest child, and had four brothers. She was brought up in Stafford, in the north midlands, where her father was a local councillor, a parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party in 1983 and manager of Stafford FC, an amateur football team. Carol Ann Duffy was educated at St. Austin Roman Catholic Primary School, St. Joseph's Convent School and Stafford Girls' High School. In 1974 she went Liverpool University, where she read philosophy.

She has worked as a freelance writer in London, after which she moved to live in Manchester, where she currently (2002) teaches creative writing at the Metropolitan University. Her first collection of poetry was Standing Female Nude (1985), followed by Selling Manhattan (1987), The Other Country (1990), Mean Time (1993), The World's Wife (1999) and The Feminine Gospels (2002). She has also written two English versions of Grimm's folk tales, and a pamphlet, A Woman's Guide to Gambling, which reflects her interest in betting.



This poem is a monologue spoken by Miss Havisham, a character in Dickens' Great Expectations. Jilted by her scheming fiancé, she continues to wear her wedding dress and sit amid the remains of her wedding breakfast for the rest of her life, while she plots revenge on all men. She hates her spinster state - of which her unmarried family name constantly reminds her (which may explain the choice of title for the poem).

She begins by telling the reader the cause of her troubles - her phrase “beloved sweetheart bastard” is a contradiction in terms (called an oxymoron). She tells us that she has prayed so hard (with eyes closed and hands pressed together) that her eyes have shrunk hard and her hands have sinews strong enough to strangle with - which fits her murderous wish for revenge. (Readers who know Dickens' novel well might think at this point about Miss Havisham's ward, Estella - her natural mother, Molly, has strangled a rival, and has unusually strong hands.)


Miss Havisham is aware of her own stink - because she does not ever change her clothes nor wash. She stays in bed and screams in denial. At other times she looks and asks herself “who did this” to her? She sometimes dreams almost tenderly or erotically of her lost lover, but when she wakes the hatred and anger return. Thinking of how she “stabbed at the wedding cake” she now wants to work out her revenge on a “male corpse” - presumably that of her lover.

The poem is written in four stanzas which are unrhymed. Many of the lines run on, and the effect is like normal speech. The poet

Sometimes the meaning is clear, but other lines are more open - and there are hints of violence in “strangle”, “bite”, “bang” and “stabbed”. It is not clear what exactly Miss Havisham would like to do on her “long slow honeymoon”, but we can be sure that it is not pleasant.

In 'Havisham' her feminsit attitudes are clearly shown by the characters confusion about her own identity. She attacks how marriage can define a woman. The characters she takes on range from famous people, for example Anne Hathaway (shakespeare's wife) and the already mentioned Havisham (a character in 'Great Expectations') to normal people that could be anyone in today's society. Both give a more personal feel to the poem and also make a reader more involved. I guess Duffy uses the characters and the empathy we feel with them to change our views, to give us an insight into her opinions.

The poem is written in the first person, so we are presented with Miss Havisham’s own thoughts. We do not know exactly who she is addressing. In the novel we only see her with other people, so it is interesting to see her here alone. The violence in the poem shows the depth of Miss Havisham’s hatred. She wishes her former lover ‘dead’ (l.2). The mirror is ‘slewed’ (l. 8),

presumably by Miss Havisahm herself in a fit of rage, and she has ‘stabbed’

(l. 14) the cake.However, there is also love in the poem: the opening word is ‘Beloved’. Shehas arousing dreams of him, decades on, ‘my fluent tongue in [his] mouth’ (l. 11).





The extent of Miss Havisham’s love helps us to understand the betrayal she

felt and the extent of her hatred. There is tension between the love and hate,

shown through the oxymoron ‘Beloved sweetheart bastard’ (l. 1) and other

contradictions in the poem like ‘Love’s/hate’ (ll.12–13). Here the enjambement

mirrors how Miss Havisham feels her life has been split apart.


We hear Miss Havisham’s tone too, such as her desperation when she cries

‘Nooooo’ (l. 6) and her sobs when she claims ‘it’s [not] only the heart that b-b-b-

breaks’ (l. 16). This dramatic touch makes her more real for us.

The jumbled syntax illustrates her bitterness and confusion. For instance, the

sentence, ‘Spinster’ (l. 5), seems spat out: she is disgusted by the fact she has never

married. The muddled ‘her, myself, who did this/to me?’ (ll. 8–9) echoes her

muddled thoughts.

Miss Havisham is clearly deranged. Duffy has given us details which reveal

her fragile mental state: she does not wash (‘I stink and remember’, l. 5), spends days in bed, talks to her reflection in a mirror, even thinks about having ‘a male corpse for a long, slow honeymoon’ (l. 15).

Duffy uses metaphor to illustrate the bitterness felt by her protagonist. For

example, the ‘red balloon’ of love bursts in her face when she is jilted

 (ll. 13–14); the image of the balloon illustrates how fragile and vulnerable love and happiness can be. Colour is used in a dramatic way. Curses are ‘Puce’

(l. 9), a colour associated with dried blood or disease. ‘Green’ (l. 3) is

linked to jealousy, ‘yellowing’ (l. 7) to autumn, ‘white’ (l. 13) with purity, and ‘red’ (l. 13) with love and passion.


The final line of the poem is like a challenge. We are given the image of a heart that breaks, but it is implied that other parts of the body ‘break’ as well. Perhaps Miss Havisham is thinking about her mind — her sense of reason has ‘broken’ too.