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

Copyright Carol Ann Duffy, 1993 HAVISHAM


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 • uses many adjectives of colour - “green”, “puce”, “white” and “red” and

lists parts of the body “eyes”, “hands”, “tongue”, “mouth”, “ear” and “face”.

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.

by Carol Ann Duffy

1. Why does the poet omit Miss Havisham's title and refer to her by her surname only? 2. Why does the poet write “spinster” on its own? What does Miss Havisham think about this word and its relevance to her? 3. What is the effect of “Nooooo” and “b-b-breaks”? Why are these words written in this way? 4. What is the meaning of the image of “a red balloon bursting”? 5. How far does the poet want us to sympathize with Miss Havisham? 6. Does the reader have to know Expectations to understand the poem? about Great

7. Does Miss Havisham have a fair view of men? What do you think of her view of being an unmarried woman? 8. Perhaps the most important part of the poem is the question “who did this/to me?” How far does the poem show that Miss Havisham is responsible for her own misery, and how far does it support her feelings of self-pity and her desire for revenge?