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Carol Ann Duffy’s The Long Queen. Poem Critique

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The collection of poems, named ‘Feminine Gospels’ is a biblical reference, however it is roughly translated as the teachings of feminism portrayed through Carol Ann Duffy’s beliefs to give readers a wider perspective of the female identity. In ‘The Long Queen’, Duffy makes reference to issues later discussed in the Gospels such as childbirth, patriarchy, love and loss which give readers an instant view into the later poems featured in the collection.

In ‘The Long Queen’, Duffy describes how the ‘Long Queen’ (Queen Elizabeth) suffers but is celebrated for her role in looking after her ‘children’ and being mother to all women; for example when she writes “What was she Queen of? Women, girls… No girl born who wasn’t the Long Queen’s always child.” From this, Duffy is saying how Queen Elizabeth as a monarch took on the role of a mother to women as her duty to protect and guide her people. As she chose not to marry a man and therefore lose her position as Queen, her figurehead role as a strong, independent woman is further emphasised as women being independent was unthinkable of the time. This starts of a theme of women’s independence which is carried out throughout Duffy’s Gospels. For example in Tall, the woman presented in the poem’s height becomes exaggerated, being “taller than Jupiter, Saturn… the Milky Way”. This woman becomes so tall that men are intimidated by her height as she is therefore in a stronger position than them – “he turned and fled like a boy”, showing that Duffy thinks in this society, once given/being in a position of power, only then are women respected or seen as fearful.

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Certain words in some of the stanzas have been written in italics; such as “Childhood”, “Blood”, “Tears” and “Childbirth” to represent key events in a woman’s life cycle. As in italics, the words are immediately gripping to the reader who (if female especially) can resonate with experiences and emotions attached to these words. Such issues being discussed in the first poem shows how suitable it is to begin the collection as they are extremely relevant in later poems such as ‘Tall’, ‘Work’, ‘The Diet’ and ‘Beautiful’. For instance, the main character in Work nurtures a continuously growing amount of children who consume the world’s resources, which Duffy does not see as a positive thing as it contradicts how nature is trying to prevent this by not allowing some women to have children. This is important as Duffy is trying to present a message that childbirth; although essential for society to function, is not needed for all, and perhaps it is not a bad thing if some women cannot reproduce naturally. Also, relating back to the childbirth references in The Long Queen, Duffy uses graphic and dynamic words/phrases in the poem such as “screamed” “bawled” and “slithered into their arms” to show how heavy a topic childbirth is, therefore dedicating ‘Work’ to it.

Although Duffy includes several topics in the first poem of the collection that reappear as main topics in her other Feminine Gospels’ poems, not all Duffy writes about is included. Modern dilemmas for women, such as the pressure to conform to modern society’s ideals aren’t all included; i.e. in ‘The Woman Who Shopped’, the main message Duffy conveys is that consumerism has reduced women to products of a capitalist society, whereby society has become unnatural in that women are being force-fed messages of the need to have the latest products, so unnatural in Duffy’s opinion that she writes “Birds shrieked and voided themselves in her stone hair”, showing nature’s reaction to the character’s shopping addiction. However, such an issue is not referenced in the Long Queen showing how as an introduction, it does not account for all of the main themes spoken of in the Gospels and therefore can be argued isn’t a suitable introduction to represent the Duffy’s collection.

The Long Queen was chosen by Carol Ann Duffy due to its general summing up of her beliefs of the female identity, to which she clearly explains throughout the collection in detail – giving views on issues from the past and present. These ‘summing ups’ prove The Long Queen is indeed a suitable introduction to the collection as it shows the different ways women suffer in a patriarchal society and how feminine idols from history such as Queen Elizabeth still don’t lead a life without pain due to the fact that they are women.

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