English Literature
Mean Time

Mean Time

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Carol Ann Duffy's 'Mean Time': An Exploration of Lost Love

Published in 1993 as part of her anthology of the same name, 'Mean Time' by Carol Ann Duffy delves into the aftermath of a broken relationship. Through the use of literary devices such as enjambment and dark imagery, the speaker reflects on the end of their love and attempts to understand the reasons for its demise, creating a pessimistic tone and melancholic mood.

Summary of the Poem

Carol Ann Duffy's 'Mean Time' was written in 1993 and is a free-verse poem consisting of four quatrains with no set meter or rhyme scheme. It makes use of poetic devices such as enjambment, assonance, and end-stopped lines, as well as personification and imagery that evokes darkness and endings. The overall tone of the poem is regretful and pessimistic, as the speaker reflects on the lost potential of their relationship.

Context of 'Mean Time' and Carol Ann Duffy

Understanding the context of the poem within the larger anthology it belongs to is crucial to its interpretation. Scottish poet Carol Ann Duffy has been writing for most of her adult life, with a varied career that has included working as a TV writer and serving as a writer-in-residence in London. In 1983, she won the National Poetry Competition and in 2009, she became the first female Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, a position that has existed since 1616.

'Mean Time' is part of Duffy's fourth collection of poetry, also titled 'Mean Time'. Published in 1993, the anthology received both the Whitbread Poetry and Forward Prizes. The overarching theme of the collection is relationships, explored from different perspectives and emotions. The poem is just one of 39 in the collection, all of which reflect on the past and the impact of relationships on our lives.

Does reading 'Mean Time' in the context of the entire collection change its meaning?

Analysis of the Poem

'The clocks slid back an hourand stole light from my lifeas I walked through the wrong part of town,mourning our love.'

The title of the poem, 'Mean Time', is open to interpretation, adding to its impact. It could refer to 'in the meantime', the period of waiting for something to happen. Alternatively, it could allude to Greenwich Mean Time, the time zone in London. It could also personify time itself, giving it the attribute of being 'mean'.

The poem is written in free-verse with a consistent quatrain structure, creating a natural rhythm that reflects the speaker's emotions in the moment. Each stanza contains four lines with an irregular rhyme scheme. The use of varied meters, such as anapaestic, iambic, and trochaic, adds to the sense of detachment and uncertainty. These meters are defined as follows:

  • Anapaestic meter: two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable
  • Iambic meter: a line composed of iambs (unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable)
  • Trochaic meter: a line composed of trochees (stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable)

The structure and meters used in the poem mirror the speaker's state of mind as they struggle to make sense of their lost love and the passage of time.

The Impact of Consonant and Assonant Rhymes in Poetry

In poetry, the use of consonant and assonant rhymes can create a sense of continuity despite variations in line length, meters, and enjambment. This diversity in structure not only enhances the overall effect of the poem but also reflects the speaker's emotional uncertainty and vulnerability.

Consonant rhymes are words with the same consonant sounds, while assonant rhymes are words with the same vowel sounds. For example, in the first stanza, the ambiguous title is clarified as a reference to the end of Daylight Savings. The speaker likens the loss of their relationship to the loss of light in the evening, hinting at the disruption and emptiness in their life.

The following stanza continues the theme of loss and despair, emphasized by the use of pathetic fallacy. The personification of the clocks and their ability to 'steal' light adds to the poem's melancholic mood, highlighting the speaker's feeling of being robbed of time with their loved one.

Rain, Repetition, and Regret in Carol Ann Duffy's "Mean Time"

The bleak streets are drenched in rain, mirroring the somber mood of the unnamed narrator in Carol Ann Duffy's poem "Mean Time". Through the repetition of consonant sounds in words like "streets" and "mistakes", the reader can feel the narrator's sense of displacement and emptiness in the face of their past mistakes.

In the third stanza, a shift occurs in the narrative as the narrator reflects on a different future. The conditional "if" and the modal verb "could" create a sense of wonder and regret, causing the narrator to ponder what could have been if certain words were never said or heard in their relationship.

The final stanza brings a sense of resignation as the narrator reluctantly accepts the reality of "shortened days" and "endless nights". The use of monosyllabic words reinforces this tone, while the half rhyme of "light" and "nights" in the last two lines symbolizes the impossibility of returning to the light of the relationship.

Poetic Techniques in "Mean Time" by Carol Ann Duffy

Duffy employs enjambment throughout the poem to fragment the narrator's thoughts, emphasizing their struggle to process their feelings. Particularly in the third stanza, the use of enjambment creates pauses between lines, conveying the narrator's hesitation and regrets.

Each stanza in "Mean Time" ends with an end-stopped line, signaling a shift in the narrative. For example, the second stanza focuses on the narrator's walk through the bleak streets, while the third stanza centers on their contemplation of what could have been.

The use of assonance, or partial rhymes, adds to the poem's overall effect. These subtle rhymes between words create a musical quality and contribute to the emotional depth of the poem.

The Power of Assonance in "Mean Time" by Carol Ann Duffy

In the second stanza, the repetition of the 'e' sound in the line "fell to the bleak streets" adds to the poem's rhythm and conveys the narrator's emotional turmoil as they go through their daily routine.

Language Devices in "Mean Time"

The language used in the poem is direct and simplistic, reflecting the blunt tone and underlying sense of grief. For instance, in the third stanza, Duffy writes: "more than one hour from this day there are words I would never have said nor have heard you say." The use of mostly monosyllabic words creates a steady rhythm, adding to the poem's blunt tone and potentially representing the narrator's struggle to express their emotions.

Moreover, the personification of time as the antagonist of the love story is a crucial device in the poem. By blaming time for the ending of their relationship, the narrator portrays it as a criminal, selfishly taking something from them, as seen in the line "The clocks slid back an hour and stole light from my life."

Imagery and Tone in "Mean Time"

The imagery in the poem centers around darkness and endings, with a semantic field of darkness evident throughout. This contributes to the melancholic mood and sense of hopelessness felt by the narrator.

The tone of the poem is overall pessimistic, with elements of regret and resignation. This is achieved through the use of blunt, monosyllabic language and a sense of finality in the narrative.

Themes in "Mean Time"

The two main themes in the poem are time and loss of love. The title "Mean Time" likely refers to Greenwich Mean Time and Daylight Savings, emphasizing the dominant theme of time in the poem. The loss of love is also a prominent theme, reflected in the narrator's regret and acceptance of the end of their relationship.

The Significance of Time in the Title of "Mean Time"

The use of time as a theme in the title of Duffy's poem 'Mean Time' plays a crucial role in shaping the reader's perception of the rest of the poem. In the first stanza, time is personified as an enemy as the clocks turn back an hour and "steal light" from the narrator's life. However, by the end of the poem, the narrator has come to accept time's domination over love.

Furthermore, the repetition of the word "light" at the beginning and end of the poem, in relation to the theme of time, highlights the poem's journey from regret to resignation. Although time may have stolen the light from the narrator's life, they have now come to terms with it.

Interpreting the Meaning of Time in Duffy's 'Mean Time'

In the poem 'Mean Time', Duffy uses the loss of romantic love as a central theme, but also explores the broader impact of time on love. As early as the first stanza, the narrator mourns the loss of their love, using the word "mourning" to convey the depth of their emotions. This association with death and loss further emphasizes the narrator's realization that their love has come to an end and they must now grieve its absence.

The second stanza employs personification as the heart "gnaws" on past mistakes, reinforcing the theme of loss. This adds to the poem's overall pessimistic tone as the narrator reflects on the end of their relationship rather than happy memories.

Key Themes of 'Mean Time'

'Mean Time', written in four quatrains with a free verse structure, delves into the lasting effects of lost love and conveys a sense of resignation as the narrator comes to terms with the end of their relationship. Through imagery of darkness and endings, Duffy weaves together the themes of time and loss of love to emphasize their enduring impact.

Exploring the Themes in Duffy's 'Mean Time'

In her poem 'Mean Time' (1993), Duffy tackles the common theme of love and relationships found in much of her work, but shifts the focus to the lasting impact of love lost. The poem captures the emotional journey one goes through after a relationship comes to an end.

Unpacking the Message Behind 'Mean Time'

'Mean Time' highlights the inevitability of endings, as symbolized by the turning back of the clocks. This reinforces the poem's pessimistic tone, depicting the narrator's progression from regret to resignation. While endings may be painful, they are also an inherent part of life, just like the turning back of the clocks.

The Context of 'Mean Time' by Duffy

Originally published in 1993 in Duffy's poetry collection of the same name, 'Mean Time' conveys a powerful message about the lasting impact of lost love. Through the eyes of the narrator, the poem captures the emotions and thoughts one experiences after the end of a relationship.

The Message of 'Mean Time' by Carol Ann Duffy

In 'Mean Time', Duffy explores the idea that while time may ultimately prevail over love, the memories and feelings of a past relationship can endure. The narrator's journey from regret to resignation serves as a testament to the lasting impact of lost love and the necessity of coming to terms with its absence.

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