by Carol Ann Duffy
HAVISHAM is an exploration of love turned to hatred through the bitterness of rejection and was inspired by Miss Havisham, a character in Charles Dickens’ novel, GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Dickens is my favourite novelist. Once a beautiful heiress, Miss Havisham had been jilted by Compeyson and had lived ever since in her wedding dress amongst the decaying ruins of her wedding feast at Satis House, Rochester, where she brought up her protegee Estella to despise men. She paid for Pip’s apprenticeship and he believed her to be his secret benefactor. He rescued her from nearly burning to death; but when she later died she left almost all her fortune to Estella. In my poem, the title is HAVISHAM, to indicate a move away from “Miss” Havisham- ie this is my creation now, not Dickens’- and the poem is in Havisham’s voice. Havisham is a woman driven mad with loss and rejection and the poem is a hymn of pain and rage as she moves in and out of dream and awakening, always remembering the love of her life who jilted and betrayed her. In many ways, HAVISHAM as a poem is the opposite of ANNE HATHAWAY.
Free verse. No rhyme scheme or formal metre and the poem ordered into 4 4-line verses against which restraint the violent tone and imagery of the poem push. The jerky rhythm of the lines is dictated by the voice of the character, a voice filled with pain and bitterness. In the opening line of the poem the punctuation has been removed to emphasise this passionate intensity (“Beloved sweetheart bastard...”) and lack of control. This device is used again in the third verse when the woman dreams of lovemaking (“...my fluent tongue in its mouth in its ear/ then down till I suddenly bite awake...”). Some internal rhyme or half-rhyme is used as the poem moves towards its ending (“awake”, “hate”, “face”, “cake”, “breaks”) to end on the chord of the final “b-b-b-breaks”.
The first two words of the poem are common romantic endearments (‘beloved, sweetheart”) which are immediately followed by the angry and aggressive word “bastard”. Thereafter, the poem is the opposite of a love poem. Bodies are described harshly and negatively-Havisham’s eyes are “dark green pebbles”; the veins on her hands are “ropes”; her body “stinks”; and at the end of the poem, the body of her beloved is described as “a male corpse”. Havisham’s mind has been unbalanced and the words used to describe other things in the poem mirror this- “yellowing”, “trembling”, “slewed”, “puce”, “bursting”. Havisham’s language has been affected by the pain of rejection- (“cawing Nooooooo at the wall”; “puce curses that are sounds not words”;)- and it is only when she dreams about the time when she and her lover were together that she feels “fluent”. From the first “bastard”, the vocabulary of the poem is harsh- “dead”, “hard”, “strangle”, “stink”, “curses”, “bite”, “hate”, “bang”, “stabbed”, “corpse”- and the very last word of the poem is deliberately fractured to show that Havisham’s mind and spirit have been broken as well as her heart. (“Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.”)