Words to the heart – Carol Ann Duffy on the language of love & longing

Occasionally I like to post on my blog a poem that has really touched me. Although I will always be most fond of the poetry of John Keats, I usually find those that I share on here are contemporary poems, or have been written within the last one hundred years. For me the language used distils the essence of a feeling, pares it right down so that it clutches at your heart and resonates with meaning.

I have recently returned to the work of Carol Ann Duffy, who since May 2009 has faced the challenge of being Poet Laureate. Born in Glasgow in 1955, Duffy was raised a Catholic and despite having lapsed she often uses the language of ritual and prayer in her work. She also writes wonderful love poetry. In 2005, she published a collection of love poems entitled Rapture, which won the T S Eliot prize. It contained sonnets which, as is traditional with the form, celebrate the joys and agonies of love.

However, I always find it interesting to return to work read and admired over the years to see if it still moves in the same way. In this instance, the poem is a love poem she published in 1990 and is my favourite in any of Carol Ann Duffy’s collections. For me it is about love, loneliness and yearning and about finding the language, the words, even the grammar to best express that feeling of being far away from someone you love, whilst knowing they are somewhere under the same sky.


Words, Wide Night by Carol Ann Duffy

Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.

This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say 
it is sad? In one of the tenses I singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.

La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you

and this is what it is like or what it is like in words.

I was disappointed recently when my daughter’s English teacher told me at a parent’s evening that she would be ‘sick to death’ of poetry by the time the class had read the anthology on the GCSE syllabus. I felt that was no way to inspire a teenager to read more and perhaps it was the teaching rather than the poetry my daughter would be disillusioned with. I hope Duffy, as Poet Laureate, succeeds in attracting more and more youngsters to the joys of all forms of poetry.

If, unlike my daughter’s teacher, you would like to know more rather than less about contemporary poetry, Carol Ann Duffy, and many other poets of the 20th and 21st centuries are featured on The Poetry Archive, a wonderful resource full of the written word and readings of poetry by the poets themselves.

One Reply to “Words to the heart – Carol Ann Duffy on the language of love & longing”

  1. What a lovely post! I am a fan of Duffy myself and I agree about that method of teaching likely to kill any love for poetry. *sigh*

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