Mean Time

Summer Pearce
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Analysis of Carol Ann Duffy's poem, 'Mean Time', as part of the AQA A-level English Language and Literature 2015 specification (7706/7707)

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Summer Pearce
Created by Summer Pearce over 2 years ago
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Page 1

Overview

This poem is about a break-up. The persona was previously in a romantic relationship, but is now 'mourning our love.' Evidence of their relationship can also be seen in the use of pronouns in 'our mistakes', as couples often describe themselves plurally as a couple. Read the poem.

What is regret? wishing you had/hadn't done something wishing the past was different wishful thinking, and realising that fantasies aren't real pain mistakes guilt remorse: as actions affected more than one person that we know are wrong, more extreme than regret everyday emotion Definition: feeling of sadness, repentance or disappointment over an occurrence, or something that one has done or failed to do to remember with a feeling of loss or sorrow

Initial Thoughts on 'Mean Time' refers to time being cruel and it can take away the good things in our lives; hence 'Mean Time' talks about the length of days in Winter, where daylight is stolen from us; 'stole the light' narrator has fallen out with a lover and remarks that if the day was shorter, they wouldn't have argued (3rd stanza) persona is upset about losing their lover, perhaps regretting the time they spent together and what they said the poem is in the form of direct address, to their ex-lover, but it is unclear who the narrator is; it could be Duffy herself, or a fictional character, as there are few clues that tell us this the persona is sentimental over the lost love; use of word 'mourning' persona refuses to accept responsibility for their mistakes; instead blames time; 'if the darkening sky could lift...' time seems to be against them, as the phrase 'we will be dead' seem to suggest that the relationship can never be reconciled perhaps a male persona; 'walking on the wrong side of town' is perhaps only safe for a man at night; 'darkening sky' the entire poem can be interpreted as universal, because of the lack of gender or age specific pronouns; most people can identify with a break-up, happens to all of us, even friendships also no nationality, ethnicity or religion specified, even more universal personal elements presented in the form of the narrator's emotions

Summary: time can rob us of the things we value this is said sorrowfully, in a state of mourning; passive, and emotionally vulnerable 'stole light from my life' and 'if the darkening sky could lift more than one hour from this day,' illustrate the meaning and theme of the poem the theme of the poem is stated at the beginning the last two lines emphasise the theme that time is capable of stealing valuable things from us,

Page 2

Imagery

lack of concrete imagery suggests several things; it is not clear to the narrator what is happening, they don't need them to make their point, narrator lacks the rational thought to synthesise these images and compare them to their situation

Symbolism The 'light' could symbolise the partner's love for the persona, as well as being literal. 'light' could also be a representation of the lover themselves, and time is the break up itself: 'stole light from my life' 'shortened days and the endless nights' - good and bad times in the relationship theme of winter and darkness suggests that the relationship is receding, (like deciduous plants), and is bitter (cold)

Metaphor: 'we will be dead' 'we' suggests the narrator is defined by their relationship; life is ending now relationship has not physically dead, but relationship will be, creates image of depression perhaps death of happiness

Personification 'clocks slid back an hour, and stole light from my life' - makes it easier to blame the time if it has human characteristics, emphasis on tone of anger and bitterness time is personified; 'stole' and 'slid' are both verbs 'if the darkening sky could lift more than one hour from this day' - pleading with it almost, last hope, expression of desperation; shows how the mind is thinking of impossible and absurd things

Pathetic fallacy'unmendable rain fell to the bleak streets' - illustrates narrator's feelings, readers able to relate

Page 3

Tone

The speaking character's background, attitudes and feelings: persona has just come out of a relationship, after an argument (see 3rd stanza), unhappy about this regretful ("gnaw at our mistakes"), bitter and blames time for mistakes that have been made hopeless outlook; 'we will be dead', perhaps relationship is dead 'unmendable rain' reflects feelings in pathetic fallacy regretful, focus on bleakness of the present; shows immediacy of break-up

voice indirectly addresses the audience, expressing thoughts and feelings, intimate unclear whether this is the persona or poet talking (personal and universal) the speaker also addresses their lover; 'mourning our love', 'nor heard you say,' 'we will be dead' poem expresses narrator's feelings towards their recent break up; since it is also addressing the lover, they could be trying to evoke guilt and empathy from their lover so they choose to rekindle their relationship (pathos) speaker's mood is sad ('mourning'), depressed ('stole the light from my life'), hopeless ('we will be dead'), and regretful ('gnaw at our mistakes')

Page 4

Structure

Rigid and regular - could represent that time passes steadily, despite the persona trying to return to the past. There are different themes addressed throughout each stanza; Theme of time Theme of break ups Returning to the theme of time Summary of time, break ups and how the blend of metaphorical and literal ideas brings the two together

There are four stanzas of 4 lines each, each different lengths.Stanza 1: switch to GMT; theme of time being cruel image of walking through town feeling upset about failed love Stanza 2: pathetic fallacy of rain image of streets and rain description of feeling regretful; 'gnaw at all our mistakes' Stanza 3: blames time changing for the failure of the relationship reveals that the couple argued Stanza 4: relationship is completely over; 'we will be dead' link to GMT and nature of relationship: 'shortened days,' 'endless nights,' (days = good times, nights = bad times)

The conventional format of the poem perhaps suggests that it is controlled by the persona trying to keep it together - only control they have left in the relationship This represents the persona's composure; they are trying to keep their thoughts clear and organised, in order to remain rational, maintaining a grip on chaos

Page 5

Form

1st person narrative - personal slightly elegiac, 'mourning our love', death is permanent, like the end of the relationship, persona is unable to return to the past.

Sound and rhythmAccented syllables in specific words add to the meaning of the poem: 'mourning' - wanting more from the failed relationship 'darkening' - sharp sound, darkness is uncomfortable for narrator and audience, sense of unease 'mistakes' - pain of failed relationship is taking something from the narrator 'endless' - sense of loss, narrator has less now the relationship is over

Feet per lineStanza 1: 6, 6, 9, 4 3rd line is longer than the rest, sticks out, 'wrong' last line shorter than the rest, readers expecting more, like narrator of the relationship almost like 3rd line has stolen syllable from 4th line; 'stole light' Stanza 2: 8, 5, 6 4gradually depleting from the feet of the first stanza, like the quality of the relationship Stanza 3: 8, 7, 8, 5 1st line lifted a syllable from this line last line shorter, as if syllables lover has said were taken back Stanza 4: 8, 4, 6, 52nd line is shorter; stopped 'dead'

Rhyme scheme Rhyme makes the poem seem comfortable and happy, and is predictable. The lack of rhyme in the first two stanzas emphasise the misery and discomfort of the persona. The alternate line rhyme in stanzas 3 ('day' and 'say') and 4 ('light' and 'night') shows the persona is becoming more comfortable with the break up, and the poem ends in a predictable way, as the persona has to accept the break up. It also shows how the narrator is having more ordered, and clear thoughts, perhaps suggesting they have been thinking these thoughts over and over; almost perfected them. The contrast between the lack of rhyme in the first stanza and the obvious rhyme in the 3rd and 4th stanzas demonstrates the size of loss the narrator feels through the stark contrast. Internal line rhyme; 'bleak streets' highlights the link and similarity most people would miss; seeing the world in a pessimistic way

Page 6

Language

The Title: 'Mean Time' time is mean as it steals things from us reference to Greenwich Mean Time ambiguous, open to interpretation

'clocks slid back an hour' is a reference to the GMT switch-over and autumn weather being part of the pathetic fallacy used in the poem. 'walking through the wrong part of town' is an example of a psychological landscape, where the persona projects their feelings onto their surroundings. Here the persona is upset, so everything seems wrong. The part of town may be literally wrong, as the persona may not live there, and thus it feels unfamiliar. This fits with the stereotype that people walk when they are upset and end up somewhere they are unfamiliar with. 'mourning our love' characterises the poem as a break up poem. 'And, of course, unmendable rain' - this an example of dry humour, it is almost ironic, "of course it would be raining", as everything else is going wrong. This is also an example of pathetic fallacy, as the persona is projecting their feelings onto the weather. This contributes to the feeling of hopelessness, misery and the irrepairability of the relationship 'bleak streets' - psychological landscape 'heart gnaw / at all our mistakes' - this is an image for a way of eating that requires lots of effort for very little reward, emphasises persona's frustration, and avoiding the cliche of 'it was eating away at me' 'There are words I never would have said / nor heard you say' refers to an argument the lovers had. 'If the darkening sky could lift / more than one hour from this day' is almost placing the blame on the sky for the failure of the relationship, and is an expression of the persona's grief. This is almost inviting the sky to take more time from the day, so the argument wouldn't have happened. 'we will be dead... beyond all light' - the relationship will be dead despite the love they may experience in the future. Light and dark is used as metaphors for hope and despair. 'Shortened days' and 'endless nights' is a reference to GMT, and the cold winter is part of the pathetic fallacy in the poem. 'endless nights' refers to the nights literally being longer, but perhaps also seeming endless as the persona is unable to sleep. the rhymes in the 3rd and 4th stanzas perhaps show that the persona's thoughts are ordered; turned over thoughts over and over in their head?

Emotive language 'unmendable' - not capable of being mended, demonstrates hopelessness 'bleak' - offering little or no hope, providing no shelter or sustenance, unpleasantly cold and damp (like being in the rain or crying) 'gnaw' - bite or chew with the teeth, become ground down or deteriorate 'mourning' - sorrowful through loss or deprivation, bereft of hope, state of sorrow over the death or departure of a loved one, the passionate and demonstrative activity of expressing grief 'wrong part of town' - can suggest poverty, crime or violence

Diction and language style casual language: 'wrong part of town' is colloquial expression formal elements like detailed phrases: 'bleak streets,' 'unmendable rain' personal and intimate: talking about a specific situation universal: no names, just 'I' and 'you', everyone can relate this to a break up

Language techniques contributing to sound Alliteration: 'light from my life' - 'l' is associated positively with words such as 'love' and 'lift' Assonance: 'light from my life' - 'i' benefits narrator; link to above positive word association Assonance: 'bleak streets' - same vowel sound, 'ee' like a mouse's timid squeak of fear, walking through town, narrator feels dejected and small Lack of onomatopoeia; narrator is shutting out their surroundings, wants to be protected and isolated to deal with the pain

Page 7

Themes

Passing of time - this is what separates the lovers, persona is willing to undo time in order to have their lover back, transition from BST to GMT Loss/grief - break-up poem Memory - of argument, summer time and good times in relationship Love/fondness - of wanting lover back Nostalgia - 'mourning' Direct address - collective pronouns of 'our' and 'we' Mean time - robs us of relationships Dramatising scenes from adulthood - monologue style Regret - 'gnaw at all our mistakes'