Hour by Carol Ann Duffy

Love’s time’s beggar, but even a single hour,
bright as a dropped coin, makes love rich.
We find an hour together, spend it not on flowers
or wine, but the whole of the summer sky and a grass ditch.

For thousands of seconds we kiss; your hair
like treasure on the ground; the Midas light
turning your limbs to gold. Time slows, for here
we are millonaires, backhanding the night

so nothing dark will end our shining hour,
no jewel hold a candle to the cuckoo spit
hung from the blade of grass at your ear,
no chandelier or spotlight see you better lit

than here. Now. Time hates love, wants love poor,
but love spins gold, gold, gold from straw.

© Carol Ann Duffy. All rights reserved.

Now this is a very interesting contemporary poem that plays around with the contemporary attitudes surrounding the traditional perceptions of love. Duffy really impresses me with the way in which she manages to morph the very Shakespearean portrait of candlelit moments and passion filled romances that we are covertly taught is the norm at a very young age; ‘Hour’ explores the fresh and ostensibly unorthodox (though more commonplace than we may want to believe) faces of intimate relationship. I utterly adore the images Duffy constructs to juxtapose facets of ‘love’ that we associate with the tale of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with her own ideas of what real true love looks like. I think my favourite line(s) is in the first stanza: ‘we find an hour together, spend it not of flowers / or wine, but the whole of the summer sky and a grass ditch.’ I just love the complete transformation in the language used here; substituting the opulent imagery of coins and richness with the organic imperfections of a grass ditch. Now, I’m sure that if you were asked to rank the top ultimate romantic settings, a grass ditch would probably lay very low (or more likely not even appear) on your list. But that’s the very essence of this particular poem. It’s unexpected, it’s witty, it knows it’s breaking tradition.

Another thing to note is Duffy’s emphasis upon the relationship between time and love itself, portraying time as a malevolent antagonist intent on making ‘love poor.’  The first stanza implies the vulnerability of love under the harsh constraints of the personified ‘time’, labelling it as ‘time’s beggar.’  Despite this seemingly pessimistic opening, by the final stanza Duffy concludes that love still triumphs over the obstacles that time has set out for it. She portrays time as trivially gluttonous in that it ‘hates love’ and ‘wants love poor’ for an unjustifiable notion. To Duffy these notions are ultimately futile anyhow, as love will continue to be victorious and ‘spins gold, gold, gold from straw’ as reminiscent of the fable of Rumpelstiltskin. This fundamentally suggests that love can derive value from something that is initially worthless, proving it’s true power and potential. ‘Hour’ champions the classic message that love conquers all, giving the poem just the right amount of traditional elements to still instill a romantic tone. Although offset by unorthodox means of expressing love, the poem does maintain that love is (as traditional tales teach us) the most valuable virtue in this world.

Carol Ann Duffy (1955-)

Carol Ann Duffy (1955-)

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