Carol Anne Duffy's Adultery
FORM AND STRUCTURE
Carol Anne Duffy’s poem “Adultery” is structured in a traditional and
straightforward way. It is comprised of eleven verses - each with the common four
lines, which consist of between four and nine words. This makes the poem not
particularly striking at the first look, before it is read. The typography does not attract
the readers attention, this is probably because Duffy wants the reader to concentrate
on the language, and is not concerned with the shape that the lines form, or how they
relate to the themes of the poem.
RHYME AND RHYTHM
Duffy does not seem particularly interested in rhyme in this poem, and probably
decided before writing it that she did not want any. Therefore rhyme has been
avoided, as has a regular, repetitive rhythm. I think that Duffy wants to allow the
language to speak for itself, without getting tangled up in rhyme and rhythm schemes,
and having to change what she wants to say in order to make it fit these limitations.
She also wants to avoid losing the impact of the poem. This has much to do
with the language used, poetic devices, and very often, the lack of rhythm, seen clearly
in the first verse when she writes:
“Guilt. A sick, green tint”
The caesura breaks up the line, splitting it into two. If she were writing within
the barriers of a specific rhythm, she would probably be tempted, and perhaps
compelled to, split this line exactly in half, in order to balance it and keep the structure.
This would not have the same effect. The caesura is used as dramatic device, implying
that the poem is intended to be read out loud. The break makes the reader pause,
giving the first word a larger impact as it is isolated from the rest of the text. It also
does the same for the following sentence, and as it is on the end of the verse, there is a
natural pause here as well, giving this line impact and power. Seeing as it also
highlights a key theme in the poem, guilt, it is also an important line as it tells the
reader a little about what to expect, and also raises their interest and expectations,
Guilt? Why? Who?
Duffy uses language very effectively in this poem. She wants to create a
specific atmosphere and then build on it, creating characters, situations and emotions
as she does so. She wants an atmosphere of sleaziness and seediness, but wants it to
sound exciting, dangerous and seductive. She also examines the harm that the
The first verse (or stanza) is packed with intrigue, mystery, excitement and
questions. “Wear dark glasses in the rain”, demands the first line, and the reader gets
ideas of disguise. It goes on to mention “unhurt” and “bruise” - dark glasses to hide a
black eye? Maybe not, another glance at the title, “Adultery”, suggests something else
- sado-masochism? Then comes the “guilt”, as mentioned above, and reader knows
she is talking about a sexual affair - but who? What? Where? We want to know
The second verse builds on the sexual intrigue with mentions of “hands can do
many things”, and “money tucked in the palms” suggests prostitution, as well as “wash
themselves” maybe implying that they feel dirty? Duffy is building an atmosphere
which is sexually charged and filled with riddles and ambiguous comments, daring the
reader to assume a sexually link. The next verse features the line:
“You are naked under your clothes all day...”, another sexual connotation, perhaps
implying that the clothes are a disguise, and all day the character does something which
is not really them, and underneath they are different, “naked” suggests vulnerability.
There is also “...brings you alone to your knees...” and “...more, more...”, which could
suggest oral sex, while the repetition shows that Duffy considers this the most
important word of the line, demanding it stands out, and it could suggest an unsatisfied
sexual appetite, or description of the frequency of the couple’s meetings.
Dishonesty is mentioned with “deceit” and “Suck a lie with a hole in it”. This
could be a more explicit reference to oral sex, or more obscurely, Polo mints, the mint
you suck with a hole in it. Duffy could be saying that the lies are sweet, addictive and
refreshing compared with a mundane life, like Polo mints; she could mean that the lies
come as easily as sweets from a packet, although probably not.