A Close Critical Commentary on Thetis by Carol Ann Duffy

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A Close Commentary on Thetis By Carol Ann Duffy

Thetis is a poem written by the British poet Carol Ann Duffy in her collection The World’s Wife. Unlike most of the other poems in this collection, Duffy has not titled the poem as “Mrs…” (such as Mrs Lazarus and Mrs Tiresias) but as just “Thetis”. This may be making the point that in this case, it is Thetis herself who was famous, not her lover, and this shows female independence. The poem shows the transformations of Thetis, a Greek goddess and sea nymph, as she attempts to escape her mortal lover, with whom she is destined to have a child. Duffy uses the poem to celebrate the adaptation and flexibility of women, just as she does with Mrs Lazarus- who moves on after her husband dies- and Mrs Midas, who moves her husband out and remodels her life without him.

The poem is written in free verse, which helps keep the pace of the poem fast, and reminds us of the freeness of Thetis’ form. She is a slippery, darting creature, being a sea-nymph, and often changes her form rapidly. Despite this, the poem is in eight sestets, a regular shape, and this is to remind us of Thetis’ bonds, and her inescapable fate. The poem is written as a dramatic monologue, as are the other poems in the collection, and this means that we are seeing the world from the imagined view of one person- in this collection, always a woman. The sporadic rhyme- such as in stanza four where the majority of words rhyme, and the last stanza, where there are only two rhymes, one of which is internal- is again reminding us of freedom, and also speeding up the pace to match Thetis’ frantic changes of shape. Duffy uses enjambment freely here, running lines on to create pace and free movement. She only once uses a caesura in the poem, and this again creates fluidity, which is a reflection of not only her freedom of form, but her connections to water and the sea.

        Duffy varies her language throughout the poem to express thoughts and highlight her key ideas. By using religious metaphors such as “shouldered the cross” and “[carried the cross] up the hill” she brings in the idea of Christian suffering, and ties it to the suffering of Thetis. Similarly, the albatross and the “squint of a crossbow’s eye” are also images of suffering- that of the mariner in ‘The Rhyme Of An Ancient Mariner’- and could also signify the suffering felt by her suitor as he tries to capture her, only to be cursed by her hatred.

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The suitor is described in varying ways throughout the poem. He goes from being a “charmer” (the snake charmer image gives us the idea that she is under his power) to a “strangler” (a powerful image) in stanza three, and this shows his two personalities- the powerful man and the lover. The sudden change in description also gives the premonition of a sudden change in her feelings. In stanza four he is coldly described as “the guy”- an impersonal reference. This lets the reader see the development and progression of her feelings for him. Throughout the poem we perceive the ...

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