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Friday Poem: Demeter by Carol Ann Duffy

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Taken from her collection of poems The World’s Wife, Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Demeter’ is a quietly beautiful hymn to the relationship between mother and daughter. The poet laureate’s book of poems, all named after and based upon well-known female personae, is a stimulating compilation of verse. 

 

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‘Demeter’ utilises the change of the seasons, from winter to spring, to discuss the reunion of a mother and daughter. The line “bringing all spring’s flowers to her mother’s house” evokes a humble, pastoral image, suggesting the virtue and purity of maternal relationships. The emphasis upon “all spring’s flowers” suggests the intensity of this bond, portraying a sense of redemption and revitalisation, following on from the distinctly cold and unforgiving imagery at the poem’s opening. 

 

The poem inverts the Greek myth upon which it is based, focusing on the annual return of Persephone to her mother, which symbolises the arrival of spring. This inversion re-appropriates the myth to ascertain a reading more attuned to the female gaze and perspective and one which is particularly attentive to the striking bonds which can be formed between mother and daughter. Despite its basis in mythology and legend, this poem speaks first and foremost to mundane consciousness.

 

Demeter

by Carol Ann Duffy

 

Where I lived – winter and hard earth. 

I sat in my cold stone room 

choosing tough words, granite, flint, 

 

to break the ice. My broken heart -  

I tried that, but it skimmed, 

flat, over the frozen lake.

 

She came from a long, long way, 

but I saw her at last, walking, 

my daughter, my girl, across the fields, 

 

In bare feet, bringing all spring’s flowers

to her mother’s house. I swear 

the air softened and warmed as she moved

 

the blue sky smiling, none too soon, 

with the small shy mouth of a new moon.

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