Education for Leisure

Background

This poem uses a persona to explore the mental state of a person who decides to commit murder. It is important to realise that the views of the first person "I" are those of a character and not Duffy.


The Poem

Today I am going to kill something. Anything.
I have had enough of being ignored and today
I am going to play God. It is an ordinary day,
a sort of grey with boredom stirring in the streets
I squash a fly against the window with my thumb.
We did that at school. Shakespeare. It was in
another language and now the fly is in another language.

I breathe out talent on the glass to write my name.
I am a genius. I could be anything at all, with half
the chance
. But today I am going to change the world.
something's world. The cat avoids me. The cat
knows I am a genius, and has hidden itself.

I pour the goldfish down the bog. I pull the chain.
I see that it is good. The budgie is panicking.
Once a fortnight, I walk the two miles into town
For signing on. They don't appreciate my autograph.
There is nothing left to kill. I dial the radio
and tell the man he's talking to a superstar.

He cuts me off. I get our bread-knife and go out.
The pavements glitter suddenly. I touch your arm.

-- Carol Anne Duffy


Analysis

"Today I am going to kill something."

Dramatic, violent first line to the poem, which is very immediate with the “today” and the present tense. Personal pronoun “I” sets up a persona.

"Anything."

Suggests that the persona is not bothered about what he or she kills, just wants to kill for pleasure. There are a lot of short, simple sentences in this poem and this makes us think, perhaps, that the speaker is not very intelligent.

"I have had enough of being ignored"

Perhaps we feel a little sympathy for the speaker, if this is true.

"I am going to play God."

Rather egotistical, to play God. It also reveals a Biblical awareness in the speaker, although he or she does not have a very positive impresssion of God: "play" suggests that God is not really compassionate, but views humans as toys.

"boredom stirring in the streets"

With this metaphor/personification, the speaker projects his or her feelings directly onto the street. This again suggests the speaker's egotism, in that he or she thinks their mood directly influences everything else.

"another language and now the fly is in another language"

The jump from the death of the fly to studying Shakespeare at school is very sudden and startles the reader. It suggest that his or her mind is unhinged, making connections that others wouldn’t normally see. But perhaps, too, it suggests that the speaker is quite intelligent, or at least creative. Perhaps that creativity was ignored at school, however, where the speaker clearly feels they learned nothing about Shakespeare.

"I breathe out talent on the glass"

Metaphor, suggesting again his or her egotism. With every breath, his or her talent flows out.

"I am a genius."

More egotism.

"I could be anything at all, with half / the chance"

Speaker sounds resentful, that those opportunities have not been given.

"The cat / knows I am a genius, and has hidden itself"

The speaker shows the strange creative associations again. He or she associates genius with changing the world, and one way to change the world, for someone, is to kill them. A very unhinged thought-process.

"I see that it is good."

This line has Biblical connotations, echoing Genesis I: “And God saw that it was good.” It suggests the speaker’s egotism again, that he or she thinks of themselves as a god.

"signing on"

This means collecting dole money. In other words, the speaker is unemployed.

"autograph"

Think about the connotations of the word: In the speaker’s mind, he or she is a celebrity, and it should be an honour for those people to get his or her autograph.

"I dial the radio / and tell the man he's talking to a superstar"

More egotism. But is there a sense of desperation? A reaching out and an attempt to communicate? A need for human contact?

"The pavements glitter suddenly"

Ambiguous. Why do the pavements glitter? With blood? Tears?

"I touch your arm"

The second person pronoun makes it chilling for the reader as it directly involves us. But what do we make of it? Again it is ambiguous? Is the speaker touching your arm to stab you, or perhaps to get your help?


Compares well with...
  • Hitcher - that is are very detached from the murder and psychotic, just like the persona in this poem, even though there is only a suggestion of a murder here...

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All text copyright © 2006 to EJ Taylor. Page Template created by James Taylor. Site created: 10 April, 2006. Last revised: 2 August, 2015