Analysis Of Medusa By Carol Ann Duffy (Gcse English)
A suspicion, a doubt, a jealousy
grew in my mind,
which turned the hairs on my head to filthy snakes
as though my thoughts
hissed and spat on my scalp.
My bride’s breath soured, stank
in the grey bags of my lungs.
I’m foul mouthed now, foul tongued,
There are bullet tears in my eyes.
Are you terrified?
It’s you I love,
perfect man, Greek God, my own;
but I know you’ll go, betray me, stray
So better be for me if you were stone.
I glanced at a buzzing bee,
a dull grey pebble fell
to the ground.
I glanced at a singing bird,
a handful of dusty gravel
I looked at a ginger cat,
shattered a bowl of milk.
I looked at a snuffling pig,
a boulder rolled
in a heap of shit.
I stared in the mirror.
Love gone bad
showed me a Gorgon.
I stared at a dragon.
from the mouth of a mountain.
And here you come
with a shield for a heart
and a sword for a tongue
and your girls, your girls.
Wasn’t I beautiful
Wasn’t I fragrant and young?
Look at me now.
‘Medusa’ is narrated in the first person by a woman who is distraught by the fact that her husband is being unfaithful to her. The first verse opens with: ‘A suspicion, a doubt, a jealousy’ this jealousy caused the woman to transform into a gorgon and at that moment anything she glances upon transforms to stone. This feeling of insecurity is amplified throughout the poem, and is quite evident in the line, ‘but I know you’ll go, betray me, stray from home’.
As opposed to our feelings towards the traditional grotesque character, this poem evokes empathy for the character as she is visibly distressed and anguished. Especially when she recalls in the final stanza about the time when she was young and beautiful, showcasing her complete lack of confidence. Nevertheless, she is still presented as a repelling character who threatens the reader, with the line ‘Be terrified’.
The closing line ‘Look at me now’ has a double significance. On one hand it is considered a cry of despair or, as a threat – if you did look at Medusa you would simply cease to exist . This leaves the reader with conflicting emotions for the character, most likely how Medusa herself feels in the poem.
Here is our expert analysis:
Medusa See (a monster, one of the Gorgon sisters and daughter of Phorkys and Keto, the children of Gaea (Earth) and Oceanus (Ocean), Medusa had the face of an ugly woman with snakes instead of hair; anyone who looked into her eyes was immediately turned to stone. Her sisters were Sthenno and Euryale, but Medusa was the only mortal of the three.)
She was originally a golden-haired, fair maiden, who, as a priestess of Athena, was devoted to a life of celibacy; however, after being wooed by Poseidon and falling for him, she forgot her vows and married him. For this offence, she was punished by the goddess in a most terrible manner. Each wavy lock of the beautiful hair that had charmed her husband was changed into a venomous snake; her once gentle, love-inspiring eyes turned into blood-shot, furious orbs, which excited fear and disgust in the mind of the onlooker; whilst her former roseate hue and milk-white skin assumed a loathsome greenish tinge.)
hissed and spat on my scalp. (supports the theory that ugliness within a person will make its way outside them)
My bride’s breath soured, stank (as soon as she married, her deterioration began)
I’m foul mouthed now, foul tongued,
There are bullet tears in my eyes. (as if her tears could kill those around her)
perfect man, Greek God, my own; (in these lines we learn that Medusa’s intended listener is in fact her husband)
from home. (she is sure he will leave her now that her beauty is gone)
So better be for me if you were stone. (dead or a statue; something unable to leave her side; this, it seems, would cause her less pain than losing him to life)
I looked at a snuffling pig, (everything she looks at, she realises, cannot survive)
in a heap of shit. (here the poet’s voice breaks through; this is, after all, Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Medusa’ speaking!)
showed me a Gorgon. (perhaps the poem’s most interesting idea: when Medusa looks at others it destroys them; these lines read as if she believes herself to retain her original form, beyond the mirror at least)
and your girls, your girls. (all of these protect him; wound her)
Wasn’t I fragrant and young? (i.e. ‘once like them’?)
Look at me now. (despite her angst, Medusa retains her threat: if Poseidon looks at her directly, she will end him)
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