Carol Ann Duffy: Rapture (2005) Poems

Rapture

Carol Ann Duffy’s seventh collection is a book-length love poem, and a moving act of personal testimony; but what sets these poems apart is Duffy’s refusal to simplify the contradictions and transformations of love – infatuation, longing, passion, commitment, rancour, separation and grief. Instead, Rapture is a map of real love, in all its churning complexity, showing us that a song can be made of even the most painful episodes in our lives. These are poems that will find deep rhymes in the experience of most readers and will, ultimately, prove that poetry can and should speak for us all.

I like poetry and try to read a poem here and there as often as possible but it’s relatively rare that I read a whole collection in one go.  British poet Carol Ann Duffy’s collection Rapture was an exception that’s why I decided to write about it.

I often hear people say they would love to read poetry but feel they need special guidance, an instruction, an interpretation to be able to make the most of a poem. While I certainly like some of the poets which are not so accessible, I thought it was a pleasure to find someone like Carol Ann Duffy who is so readable and whose poems almost read like short stories. Reading her would be a perfect starting point for someone less familiar with reading poetry.

Rapture is meant to be read from beginning to end as it does, to some extent, tell a love story, beginning with the early enchanted moments of falling in love and ending with the break-up and loss of the loved person.

What appealed to me in Duffy’s poems is the combination of strong imagery and ideas. The words she chooses create pictures in the mind, are very sensual but at the same time they lead to intellectual discoveries. Another element which seems typical for her and makes her so accessible, is the combination of the mundane with lyrical descriptions of nature. Love in these poems is rooted in daily life but also experienced as pure beauty and enchantment. Duffy writes a lot of almost magical poems describing exalted states but she doesn’t shy away from writing about the sudden importance of text messages.

I haven’t read any others of her collections so far but it seems every book has a theme which runs through it. The themes are different from one book to the next, but images return and weave a world of their own.

The collection I bought, is the Picador collection which you can see above. The cover is very pretty, it’s not as red as on the photo. The picture of the branch of a fig tree, with leaves and fruits, is embossed on it.

I find it very hard to review a poetry collection and think it might be better to let the poems speak for themselves. Here are three of my favourite poems of this collection:

Name

When did your name
change from a proper noun
to a charm?

Its three vowels
like jewels
on the thread of my breath.

Its consonants
brushing my mouth
like a kiss.

I love your name.
I say it again and again
in this summer rain.

I see it,
discreet in the alphabet,
like a wish.

I pray it
into the night
till its letters are light.

I hear your name
rhyming, rhyming,
rhyming with everything.

River

Down by the river, under the trees, love waits for me
to walk from the journeying years of my time and arrive.
I part the leaves and they toss me a blessing of rain.

The river stirs and turns consoling and fondling itself
with watery hands, its clear limbs parting and closing.
Grey as a secret, the heron bows its head on the bank.

I drop my past on the grass and open my arms, which ache
as though they held up this heavy sky, or had pressed
against window glass all night as my eyes sieved the stars;

open my mouth, wordless at last meeting love at last, dry
from travelling so long, shy of a prayer. You step from the shade,
and I feel love come to my arms and cover my mouth, feel

my soul swoop and ease itself into my skin, like a bird
threading a river. Then I can look love full in the face, see
who you are I have come this far to find, the love of my life.

Tea

I like pouring your tea, lifting
the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
so the fragrant liquid streams in your china cup.

Or when you’re away, or at work,
I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.

I like the questions – sugar? – milk? –
and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.

Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say
but it’s any tea for you, please, any time of day,

as the women harvest the slopes
for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,
and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea.

While browsing the internet to do a bit of research on this collection I found an interesting article by Jeanette Winterson from 2005 in which she deplores that Carol Ann Duffy is not poet laureate. I’m sure Jeanette Winterson is pleased that this has changed. Carol Ann Duffy holds the title since 2009.

Do you have a favourite poem or poet?

36 thoughts on “Carol Ann Duffy: Rapture (2005) Poems

  1. These are great lines you quoted. I like the idea that this is very accessible also. I also like the “epic” nature of this too, telling a single story. This sounds like a great introduction for someone ho has never read poetry before.

  2. great lines I ve a collection by her that a friend sent from world book night ,I listen to poetry more via a daily podcast and a radio show once a week ,I do like duffy her poems so personnel and yet easy to connect with ,all the best stu

  3. I have really liked Duffy’s poetry since reading her poem “Prayer,” which the website “First We Read, Then We Write” put up several months ago. Thank you for featuring this book. I can’t wait to read more of Duffy’s poems.

    • I have to look up “Prayer”. She has a lot of collections which sound wonderful. A lot of her poems are available online. I saw her mentioned in the back of a book and thought I’d like to read her. I really enjoyed this collection and will read it again.
      I’ll watch out for your post on her.

  4. Oh I would love this. I very much appreciated another collection by her, The World’s Wife. The thought of a collection that’s linked by almost a narrative theme is very appealling. And it also makes me think of Anne Sexton’s poetic rewrites of fairy tales, Transformations, which is brilliant.

    • I could imagine that you would like this. I can’t remember ever having come across a book of poetry which really managed to be this close to storytelling. I need to see if I can find those poems by Anne Sexton. I’ve read a very wonderful biography of her and a lot of poems here and there but never a whole collection.

  5. Maybe I should start here. I think there’s something wrong with me. I love words, language, and images–yet most poetry is foreign to me. I would love to say who my favorite poet is and recite some–but I can’t since I don’t really have one. Unless you count Dorothy Parker and i like her because I did a biography study on her when I was in school. The only poem I can quote is Men seldom make passes at girls with glasses–or something like that.

    • If you really want to start reading poetry – she is a great starting point. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything else by Dorothy Parker than short stories. I love to learn poems by heart and know quite a few. Maybe that’s odd. :)

        • Praker’s humor is priceless most of the time. I’ll have to look whether I can find some poems. Maybe you have been force fed poetry in school. That can damage the enjoyment.

  6. I must give this a try and will see if it’s been published here. I am exactly as you describe in the first paragraph of your post. I think I make poetry too hard and have a couple of poetry books on my nightstand right now to just dip into now and again. I can’t read a poetry book straight through either, but I do like the sound of this–that it can be read that way. Just looked at it is going to be published here in March–the cover is not as pretty alas.

    • It’s very rare that I read a poetry book like that but it’s really a bit like telling a story and I could relate to most of the poems. I think it’s nice that she chose to write about mundane things. I know a German writer, Mascha Kaleko who was famous for that. And Alice Walker is very accessible as a poet too. I quite like some of her poetry but not as much as this. This spoke to me on so many levels.
      The covers is so lovels, even to te touch. Too bad that’s not the one you will find. As usual my copy is from amazon de.

  7. I want to talk about the first poem you quote, ‘Name’ where the poet is in rapture over the sound of the person’s name. That can turn. Sometimes the sound of a name can have just the opposite effect. I’m just saying that the sound of a name is a slim basis for a relationship. But it is nice that she captures this early magic.

    • It’s one of the first peoms in the collection and I thought it was nice that she doesn’t find this to be too less of a topic for a poem. Some others are more artful.
      And, yes, it can certainly turn.

  8. Nice review. I’m not good with poetry.

    Favorite poets? Baudelaire, Verlaine and Eluard. Especially Eluard as he seems simple but is not, writes powerful images, has a vivid imagination, and is never never never pompous.

    Singers are underrated as poets: Brassens, Renaud, Delerm, Dylan, Cohen…

    • Thanks, Emma.
      Yes, you’re quite right about singers being underrated. I totally agree. I undertand the impatience with some poets, some make you work too hard, at leafs that’s how I see it.
      I like all the poets you mention. I read quite regularly but only ever a few, hardly ever a whole collection. But singers, or rather songwriters should be mentioned.

      • I forgot Jim Morrison.

        You’re right, I should say songwriters instead of singers. It’s better for Roda-gil. Philippe Djian writes lyrics for Stephan Eicher, they’re good.

        • There are many. Some like Patti Smith publish poetry. Jim Morrison did too. That’s why I buy CDs and don’t just downlaod music, I want to read the lyrics – if available that is.

  9. I’ve been exploring more poetry these days, so it was very nice to come across this review. I hadn’t been acquainted with Carol Ann Duffy’s work, but I enjoyed the excerpts you posted, so I’ll be sure to look for her collections.
    Right now one of my favorite poets is Mary Oliver and I just got her new volume, “A Thousand Mornings”. I can’t wait to dig into it.

    • I discovered Mary Oliver on your blog! I love her work. I bought two collections but I don’t read them from beginning to the end, just poems here and there. She’s a bit more challenging than Duffy but I like them both.
      I hope you will like Duffy if you get a chnace to explore more of her.

      • Oh, isn’t that great! I love how Mary Oliver uses nature to reflect on her own emotions and place in the world. I hope you came across her poem “Mornings at Blackwater.” It’s one of my favorites.
        I’m looking forward to reading Duffy’s work for poetry month, coming in April.

        • I didn’t know about poetry month. Thanks for telling me. I’ll see if I have that poem by Mary Oliver. Yes, the use of nature in her work is strong.
          I’m looking forward to read your thoughts on Carol Ann Duffy.

  10. Beautiful review of a beautiful book, Caroline! The theme of the book makes me think of ‘Essays in Love’ by Alain de Botton. But because Carol Ann Duffy’s book is a book length poem, it must be more beautiful. I liked all the three poems you have quoted, though the first one ‘Name’ is my favourite. I read poetry only occasionally, but I like poetry when I read it. I love the poems of Neruda, Rumi and occasionally W.S.Merwin, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, Thomas Hardy, Robert Frost, Rudyard Kipling and Constantin Cavafy. I would love to read Mary Oliver’s poems someday. I will add ‘Rapture’ to my ‘TBR’ list. Thanks for this beautiful review.

    • Thanks, Vishy. It’s a wonderfil book. I really like it a lot. Mary Oliver writes amazing poems as well. But they don’t feel as intimate as Duffy’s. It’s a bit like mini essays in love. I know most of the poets you mention but not all of them, so I will have to see if I can find some of their poems online. I used to read a lot of poetry but much less lately. I like Rumi and Neruda very much as well. I hope you will enjoy “Rapture”.

  11. I read a collection by Carol Ann Duffy that came out for World Book Day a couple of years ago. It was called The World’s Wife, and featured poems about the wives of famous men, from Mrs Aesop to Frau Freud. It’s quite playful and humorous. Have you read it? I think you might enjoy it.

  12. Pingback: GCSE Poetry Analysis | ‘Valentine’ by Carol Ann Duffy | Smart English Revision

  13. Hi Caroline! I just saw this post. I was wondering if you could post the titles of all the poems that are in this collection of Rapture? I am studying a particular poem – Row, and I have a strong feeling it’s in this collection; however I can’t find a review (analysis & summary) or even just the poem online. If you have any idea of what the poem is about and any literary devices that Duffy uses that are unique to this poem, would you mind sharing with me? Thank you so much! ^_^

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