Andrew's Reviews > The World's Wife: Poems

The World's Wife by Carol Ann Duffy
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Jul 28, 11

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I picked up a free copy of this in New Beacon Books – there was a stack of them left over from World Book Night earlier this year.

It’s a collection of poems all on the same theme of overturning male-centred history, literature and myth, and looking at familiar stories from the neglected wife’s perspective. So, for example, we have Mrs Aesop tiring of her husband’s constant boring fables, and Delilah explaining why she cut off Samson’s hair (he’d complained to her that he didn’t know what it was to be gentle, and so she’d done it to help him change, to take away the pressure of always having to be strong). There are also more modern characters, like Frau Freud, the Kray sisters, and Elvis’s twin sister.

There’s a playful, humorous tone to the poems, and I enjoyed reading them on a quiet afternoon recently in a sun-drenched beer garden. A lot of them had the same basic premise, of a wife wryly mocking her husband’s posturing and self-aggrandisement, and this got a bit repetitive after a while. My favourite poems were those that truly brought a new twist to a familiar story, imputing new and more interesting motives to the characters, as in the Delilah example already mentioned, or my favourite of all, Queen Herod. In this poem, we learn that it wasn’t the King who ordered the killing of all first-born male children after all, but the Queen, who does it to protect her own newborn daughter: “No man, I swore, will make her shed one tear.” I found it a powerful and poignant reworking, and loved the last few lines:

We do our best,
we Queens, we mothers,
mothers of Queens.

We wade through blood
for our sleeping girls.
We have daggers for eyes.

Behind our lullabies,
the hooves of terrible horses
thunder and drum.
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