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Carol Ann Duffy - Words Wife A/s Notes

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    Hey thought it would be a good idea to set up a thread where we can all share ideas on the selection of poems from The Worlds Wife - in relation to the AQA exam in the summer 2007.

    I have struggled to find some ideas and notes on the internet and thought this would be a good option for all of us...how about you just copy and paste any notes you personally have into here if you find yourself copying and pasting notes from here

    Little Red Cap


    The poem “Little red cap” is among others where Duffy has based this poem on a fairytale story, in this case, little red riding hood. The story is based on a young girl who is tricked by a wolf and ends up being eaten but later saved by a woodcutter.

    Duffy’s poem has a few differences to the original version of the story. For example, this poem uses imagery to create a very sexual feeling, where as the original fairytale was not in any way sexual, but had a more simplistic idea of good v. bad.

    The wolf in this poem is portrayed to the reader as a ‘good’ character, and Little Red Cap as the ‘sly’ one who appears to know what she is doing in order to get what she wants.

    Language and Features Key Points


    The title of the poem grabs your attention and reminds you of ‘Red Riding Hood’, a children’s story. This is clever, as it sets the readers mind to thinking about the story, which means that the reader can connect all of the similarities in the poem to the children’s story, for example; “What big eyes he had! What teeth!”

    In the first stanza of the poem, Duffy starts off with the metaphor “At childhood’s end”. This portrays that childhood is so powerful it has been described as a physical place.

    A good example of the imagery Duffy has used in this poem is, “Away from home, to a dark tangled thorny place”. The way she has used these words makes the image very clear for the reader to imagine exactly what the Wolf’s lair must be like, a nasty place, away from the protection and safety of her home.

    There is a lot of imagery throughout the poem to portray to the reader that little red cap has lost her innocence. Left it behind at the end of her childhood. “My stockings ripped to shreds, scraps of red from my blazer snagged on twig and branch”. This powerful use of the colour red may symbolise the passion in this very sexual part of the poem, or perhaps even blood.

    Duffy uses more colour later in the poem “where a wall was crimson, gold, aglow with books”, this imagery arguably does not mean that she has a passion for the colour or the wall in a physical sense, but reinforces the point that she has a passion for learning.


    The stanzas throughout the poem are irregular. Stanza 5 is the longest one in the poem and the rushed enjambment of the words gives the reader a sense of excitement.

    Character Interpretations - WOLF

    The wolf is initially portrayed as a ‘bad’ character, perhaps because that is the role in which is usual, however we learn that the wolf isn’t as ‘bad’ as we first predicted, which differs to the original tale. “It was there that I first clapped eyes on the wolf”. By writing it in this way, the emphasis is drawn to the word ‘I’ meaning little red cap. If she has changed the syntax and written ‘it was there where I first saw the wolf”, the emphasis would have been more on the wolf, and at this stage Duffy isn’t ready to completely introduce the wolf, only to let the reader hear what Little red cap thinks of him.

    In this poem, the wolf appears to be educated and not ‘sly’ in order to con little red riding hood, which is the first difference between Duffy’s poem and the original fairytale. We can see this in the second stanza “you might ask why. Here’s why. Poetry.” Of course, the reader knows that the wolf cannot literally read or talk, but this personification is used to create a stronger connection between the reader and the character of the wolf in the poem. For this reason we can see that little red cap also has a passion for learning, for it was the poetry that bought her to the wolf. The word poetry, was separated from the rest of this line in a sentence on it’s own which is another way Duffy has used her words to draw attention to the more important things. For this reason, it is more unexpected for the reader to hear in the change of personality for the wolf’s character.

    After the stanza, which portrays a very sexual nature, Duffy uses her use of words, and again uses colour to show purity. “And went in search of a living bird – white dove”. The white colour is a very pure, natural colour and the dove is a very gentle bird. So it almost appears a shock when in the next line the wolf eats the dove “which flew, straight, from my hands to his open mouth.” Before this, the wolf appeared the educated one, but now the role is reversed as little red cap appears very intellectual and appreciates beauty (in this instance, the dove,) where as the wolf does not. The sentence continues “one bite, dead”. This is a very short sentence and emphasises the quick snap of his jaw and demonstrates the destruction that the wolf could cause.

    In the last stanza of the poem, we also found out that the wolf was in fact a ‘bad’ character after all and the poem refers back to the original fairytale in which the wolf had been ‘sly’ enough to trick the grandmother into letting him eat her “saw the glistening, virgin white of my grandmother’s bones”.

    Towards the end of the poem, little red cap appears to be looking back and reflecting. The enjambment adds to the reflection. “Words, words, were truly alive on the tongue, in the head, warm, beating, frantic, winged; music, and blood.” This again is a very quick sentence consisting of singular words to give a fast, panicked, maybe even exciting feel. Duffy has used personification here so that the reader can relate closely to Little red cap’s passion and excitement for literature, of course words cannot really be “warm” or “winged” but these add to the sense of excitement Little red cap is feeling.

    Duffy uses repetition in the last stanza: “I took an axe to a willow to see how it wept. I took an axe to a salmon to see how it leapt. I took an axe to the wolf as he slept…” This rhyming is a change to the way Duffy has written the rest of the poem, which makes the last stanza stand out and to make the impact of the words stronger on the reader.

    Also in this last stanza, there is a change of tense from past to present. “I filled his old belly with stones. I stitched him up. Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing all alone. This draws the readers attention to the last few lines which are very important in the poem, because everything that has been said previously is contradicted in these last few lines, for example the reader finds out that the wolf isn’t as ‘good’ as he was portrayed, because he did in fact eat the grandmother. As well as this, we see that little red cap is no longer portrayed as innocent because she has had to use violence.

    The last stanza is also a reflection of her innocence “out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing all alone”, this demonstrates an almost innocent approach which mirrors what was said in the beginning of the poem. This is a clear way to show Little red cap’s growth and independence throughout the poem, although she still appears a little innocent. However, arguably once she has lost her innocence she cannot get this back. However by doing this she is showing that perhaps she no longer wants to be “at childhood’s end” but back with the protection and security that she would have had when she was still an innocent child.

    lets keep it going
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    I second that, though not in an attempt to cause any offence. The vast majority of her work is too controversial to be affecting in its context; she has the wrong approach to evaluating the concept of love in Rapture and I fail to see why The World's Wife is very poetic. And most importantly, some of her more 'suggestive' work isn't always something you want to read.

    Luckily, I have avoided having to study her poetry for AS. Ideally, they would set Alexander Pope/Robert Browning/Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
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    (Original post by the_alba)
    When will A-level students realise how simplistic and mind-numbingly dreadful Carol Ann Duffy is? I know you HAVE to study her, but that's no excuse for not seeing the light. The poems are so basic, they take the reader by the hand in every way possible, so at no point will she risk herself being removed from the GCSE and A-level syllabus. Do you really need a discussion group to work out what she's saying? Go and read some Paul Muldoon, or if it's a woman poet you want, Lavinia Greenlaw or Elizabeth Bishop or Carol Rumens or Alice Oswald.
    or some chuck norris
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    Go to www.teachit.co.uk. You don't need to login. From the menu choose Resource Libraries, then KS5, then Poetry. There is a large section of detailed notes on World's Wife. The teacher's guide is complex, but excellent. If it seems a bit outfacing, read it one poem at a time, re-writing the information in your own words.
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    OK well the key thing missing from these notes about Little Red Cap is the fact that it is the story of Carol Ann Duffy's relationship with poet Adrian Henri (I believe that's his name although I don't have my notes). You must must MUST have background knowledge of the story behind the poem in order to fully understand it.

    I disagree though! I love Duffy. Yes, her poems do seem a little patronising at times on one level but I think there is a lot to be discovered that perhaps is not apparent at face value.

    However, I could just be reading into it too much. Meh.
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    To the above post, I really don't think you can necessarily make that assumption, particularly in an essay because although there are very clear parallels to her relationship and perhaps desire to gain access to an elite male literary world, Duffy has said that the collection is not autobiographical... you can speculate but you can't say that that was definately what she is describing because she has never confirmed that... I just wouldn't write that it was about that relationship in an essay
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    (Original post by Princess_Kirstin)
    OK well the key thing missing from these notes about Little Red Cap is the fact that it is the story of Carol Ann Duffy's relationship with poet Adrian Henri (I believe that's his name although I don't have my notes). You must must MUST have background knowledge of the story behind the poem in order to fully understand it.
    This is like saying, as endless amounts of really dim students do, that Sylvia Plath's poems are sad because she stuck her head in the oven, and that all those poems full of Greek-based metaphor and complex poetic structures are all really just about sticking her head in the oven. It's the basest form of criticism. You are not 'understanding' the poem, you are reducing it. Think a bit harder please.

    EDIT: Worringly, I think this post confirms my suspicions that I'm going to make a rubbish lecturer! Think harder or shut up, you snivelling undergrads! Oh dear...:security:
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    jus wonderin to the user who wrote all those notes to begin with on Little Red Cap where did you get them? Or is it just your own classwork?
    I'm studying The World's Wife too for AS Eng Lit and struggling with lack of notes from school and i can't find much on the web apart from the handouts we are given in class (rubbish teacher!). Therefore i don't think i have any notes worthy of sharing with you! I have no analysis or anything for Medusa,Mrs Aesop,Mrs Rip Van Winkle, Demeter, The Devil's Wife or Mrs Beast and we have apparently covered them! If you know of any websites or any study guides that you use i would be very greatful! Thanks
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    (Original post by the_alba)
    Think a bit harder please.
    Um, ok, RUDE.

    We've always been taught that if we don't look at the context the poem was written in, we will be penalised. Fine, if you think this is incorrect, but you could at least have some manners.

    I never said that that was ALL it was about, I simply implied that the story behind it was that of one of her relationships. Clearly, I wouldn't just write about this in an essay, I'm not an idiot. It's just a bit of background knowledge to the poem which the first poster may not have realised.
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    (Original post by Princess_Kirstin)
    Um, ok, RUDE.

    We've always been taught that if we don't look at the context the poem was written in, we will be penalised. Fine, if you think this is incorrect, but you could at least have some manners.
    Yeah, this is why I said I'm going to make a rubbish lecturer. I apologise, honestly. It's just that when it comes to looking at the personal context of a poem or poet, you get into murky waters, because it's so incredibly important to detach the poet from the poem and think in terms of a constructed persona, especially at this stage in your career as a literary critic. Sorry for being rude. Will work on that!
  11. Offline

    definetly a great idea with huge potential
    i will try to put all my notes up on most of the poems over easter
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    I hate looking at context before 'analysing' a poem. It distorts what the poet is trying to say. It also suggests that the poet has no way of getting away from the 'real' world, when in fact a lot of people write poetry to do just that. :mad:
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    has anyone got any ideas for the question,

    the women in 'the world's wife' move from the sidelines to centre stage. do you agree that many of these women are caricatures and not real women?

    any help is much appreciated, thanks
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    did no one consider that this poem is just a metaphor for the learning and writing of poetry. The final stanza is a metaphor for the deconstruction and exploration of language. The wolf introduces her to poetry. But then she out grows him. She exceeds his knowledge. He eats the white dove, he does not see its symbolism. In the penultimate stanza she reflects on how she learnt that words can be manipulated to different meanings. That the wolf sings the same old song at the moon, that he does not grow, does not learn. So she destroys him. The reason for "I took an axe" being part of this stanza is that it shows the reason for this action is the poetry growing inside of her and being stifled by the wolfs same old song.

    Just look at the lexical field of language and words.
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    Erm... yes I did think that's what it most reflects... I spoke about this in my class quite a lot with the "axe" being a metaphor or symbol for the 'the pen'
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    Can someone help me with Mrs Rip Van Winkle? I'm having trouble determining the mood/tone; all I can think of is that the last stanza brings humour to an otherwise, in my opinion, dull, lifeless poem. What's more, there isn't much sensitive imagery to this so i can't analyze much at all. :confused: Help?
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    i have to do an essay on mythological poems.

    How does Duffy use mythological characters in the world's wife

    i have decided to use pygmalions bride, eurydice and Mrs. sisyphus.
    does anyone have any notes on these poems or any suggestions as i am really struggling

    all help would be much appreciated
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    hey guys.

    could anyone tell me the 'deeper meaning' behind "The Devil's Wife"?
    Thanks x
  19. Offline

    (Original post by molly08)
    hey guys.

    could anyone tell me the 'deeper meaning' behind "The Devil's Wife"?
    Thanks x
    The Devils Wife - A poem about the Moors Murders with the protagonist being Myra Hindley.
    The deeper meaning behind the poem seems to be that Hindley received greater punishment/publicity due to her being a woman - 'I was the Devil's wife which made me worse'.
    Firstly the style used is very truncated, and can be described as staccato so it is a very energetic and stop start style. This is used to show the corruption of Hindley by Ian Brady, as everything seems to be happening very fast for Hindley as if she's possessed 'i know it was me who was there' this shows her acting without thinking and therefore resonates the corruption that has come about from being possessed by the devil.
    The language is very blunt, so amplifies how Hindley is drained of morality ' he held my heart in his fist and squeezed it dry', this then leads Hindley to lose all will in life and the 'medusa stare' suggests how she is soulless. The stanza is then ended on 'i didnt care' repeating the bluntness. The poem also suggests the tenuous link between life and death, as in 5. Appeal there is a list of possible deaths that could have occurred if capital punishment wasn't abolished.

    Hope it helps, its not the best but has a few points in there
  20. Offline

    I have no notes on Circe aaaah
    could anyone give me a few ideas as starters please? (no pun intended)


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