Love is an important theme in Duffy’s work. She is best known for writing love poems. Mrs lazarus, Havisham, and Valentine are excellent examples which illustrates the depth and complexity of love. In Valentine she shows the positive and negative sides about love by comparing love to an onion. Mrs lazarus a fine poem which includes a multi-dimensional love. In this poem she constructs a version of love which differs from the stereotype. Duffy also uses love in ‘Havisham’ to explore heartbreak and the destructive power of love as Havisham has been driven insane after being abandoned by her ex-lover.
Valentine and Havisham are poem from the collection Mean Time, published in 1993. It is thought that these poems provided the inspiration for Duffy’s first themed collection of poetry The World’s Wife (1999). Mrs lazarus is one of the poems from The World’s wife (1999).
‘Valentine’ focuses on the speaker’s unusual perspective of love to prove to her lover that as she has put more thought into the onion she offers as a gift, rather than clichéd Valentine’s Day gifts, their love will endure. By metaphorically comparing the onion to ‘a moon wrapped in brown paper’, she conveys real romantic gifts do not need to be embellished or concealed within expensive wrapping. She has put so much thought and care into offering something unique which represents love more honestly than ‘a cute card or a kissogram’ Symbolically, ‘ the onion ‘promises light’ for a more positive and hopeful relationship ‘due to the honesty shared by the speaker who focuses on both the joy and pain love can bring.
Alternatively, ‘Havisham’ only focuses on the misery forsaken love can cause as the speaker explains how being jilted on her wedding day completely corrupted her view of love making her resentful and embittered.’Not a day since then/I haven’t wished him dead’ utilises unusual sentence construction to show the speaker’s chaotic state of mind and thus conveys her distress as she can’t even verbalise her thoughts in a logical manner due to the disturbing intensity of wishing her former lover dead.’I stabbed at a wedding-cake’ conveys that love has been completely corrupted and has become hate as the word choice of ‘stabbed’ conveys the violence and hatred she now feels towards love and marriage.In the last line ‘Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks, ‘ the final word is broken up not only to imitate the sound of the speaker finally breaking down in anguish, but to emphasise the extent of her mental and emotional disintegration. The final statement implies a fractured mind and a broken spirit due to the love she has lost which has completely destroyed her emotionally, and mentally. However, in Mrs lazarus Duffy describes the real but dwindling grief of the wife of Lazarus, in a rewriting of the biblical story of Lazarus.
The poem deals with something like the death or expiration date of love. In doing so, “Mrs. Lazarus” seems to question the metaphysical dimension usually attributed to love. Since love takes place between human beings, love dies when one of the lovers dies. The poem thus constructs a version of love which differs from the stereotype. Herein resides much of its power
Duffy insists that rejecting the metaphysical dimension of love does not question the love of Mrs. Lazarus for her husband, as she “had grieved”.
The loss of the beloved turns Mrs Lazarus into an animal by taking from her her reason. This take place both in terms of meaning – “ripped”, “howled”, “shrieked”, “clawed”, “bled”, “retched” – as much as sound – the verbs are composed of monosyllabic words in which plosives abound. The desperation of such naturalisation also finds expression in the frustrated sexuality that emerges in lines 7 – “empty glove” –and 11 – “gaunt nun in the mirror, touching herself”.
Duffy aims at something healthy: she dares to bring love down to earth, make it more natural and pare down some metaphysical because idealized and therefore inhuman outgrowths of love.