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Medusa - Duffy

The reason Duffy chooses to breathe new life into Medusa is that this is a character full of fascinating imagery and symbolism; she is woman persecuted by both men and women who has ultimately been cursed for a combination of youthful beauty and pride. Thus Medusa makes a powerful metaphor for ageing, the bitterness of betrayal and the fleeting nature of youth and beauty. If there is one theme or idea that runs through the character of Medusa it is loneliness. Medusa has been forced to live apart from human society for almost the entire span of her life. Her curse did far more than make her ugly; it made her a monster to be feared by all humans. We have to ask ourselves, should we pity Medusa? What is more monstrous, Medusa or the curse? One interpretation is that this poem is simply a reworking of the Medusa story, the other that Duffy uses Medusa as a metaphor for the breakdown of love, ageing, bitterness and betrayal. You will notice in stanza two the speaker refers to herself as a 'bride' introducing the idea of an embittered woman who feels that she has lost her looks and allure, bitterly watching her husband 'stray from home' unfaithfully, hence her desire to turn him into stone. This is reflected through the speaker's reflections on her own youth, asking 'wasn't I beautiful / Wasn't I fragrant and young', while her 'perfect man', her 'Greek God' pursues his 'girls'. Conversely we could also argue that the speaker is merely being paranoid, that her man has not been unfaithful but she fears that he will betray her in the future, so it would be better to turn him into stone now rather than watch him wander later.
Form and structure
The poem is in free verse, structured around the woman's transformation, and the escalating scale of the living things she turns to stone. She starts with a bee and her victims increase in size until she changes a dragon into a volcano. Finally she turns her attention to the man who broke her heart. Despite the free verse formation, the poem is divided into stanzas of equal length. The final line, which is a stanza on its own, is an exception; this underlines it and creates a sense of menace in the four word sentence. Language Sound

The poem is rich in alliteration and rhyme, helping to unify the lines and create a sense of rhythm even in free verse. For example in the third stanza, the two lines "but I know you'll go, betray me, stray/from home" have two sets of internal rhyme (know/go and betray/stray), and half rhyme between the final word and the first set of rhyme.

The third to sixth stanzas all have some end rhyme, which always includes the final line of the verse, creating a sense of finality associated with the death of her victims. Sibilance is used at the end of the first stanza to suggest the hissing of snakes: "hissed and spat on my scalp". Duffy uses groups of threes as a means to build up rhythm from the very first line: "a suspicion, a doubt, a jealousy". Imagery

Duffy has written a blackly humorous version of the myth. She uses appropriate types of stone for each living thing that Medusa kills: a "dull grey pebble" for the bee; a "housebrick" for a ginger cat. The sizes of the stones increase through the poem. The danger posed by upsetting Medusa is emphasised by the metaphor of "bullet tears". The metaphor is paradoxical, since tears are commonly seen as weak, but bullets are violent. The whole poem is an extended metaphor for a jealous woman who turns against her partner. Although jealousy makes Medusa dangerous, she also loses significantly: her hair turns to "filthy snakes" and her breath "soured, stank". She is aware of the change in herself: by the end of the poem the rhetorical questions "Wasn't I beautiful?/Wasn't I fragrant and young?" show her bitterness at being betrayed and sadness at that change.

The extended metaphor is further developed in her description of her man who was a "Greek God" (a clichd description of a handsome man but wittily appropriate in context). His heart is metaphorically a shield, suggesting that he was unable to open up and love her fully. Comparison with The Clown Punk

The eponymous characters of both poems are frightening as well as tragic. Both poems rely on strong visual imagery to engage the reader. Like Medusa, the Clown Punk is a character we wouldn't normally observe so closely: both poems ask us to take a second look at someone we might try to avoid.

Perfect man, Greek God, my own: But I know youll go, betray me, stray from home

I glanced at a singing bird, A handful of dusty gravel Spattered down.

Wasnt I beautiful Wasnt I fragrant and young?

Look at me now