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Duffy - the biographer
Terms in this set (19)
What is this poem about?
This poem follows the journey of a biographer who is assigned to write about the life of an author that has passed away. The biographer develops a deep sense of attachment to their subject, the author, and begins to mirror their life with an unhealthy obsession for them. It seems that the persona, the biographer, begins to reflect and mirror the life of the persona, embodying them and their experiences as much as possible, with their own idealised version of them.
the title demonstrates the occupation of the author, a theme that will be important throughout the poem as their position largely contributes to their apparent infatuation with the life of the deceased author.
'because you are dead, i stand at your desk, my fingers caressing the grooves in the wood'
the opening line of the poem is effective as this seems to be very forward about the death of a person that the persona admires. there is immediately an almost twisted vibe to the poem as the persona is described to be 'caressing' the desk of the deceased; immediately suggests that they feel a deep connection with the author despite having never met them in real life. it could be suggested that they feel a deep sense of connection towards the author and therefore the verb 'caressing' suggests an action of intimacy that cannot be reciprocated or accepted. slightly creepy, inappropriate connotations as a result of this.
'stand' - the persona does not yet feel worthy to physically sit at the desk of the author. treats this desk almost as a shrine after their death.
'i manage a quote, echo one of your lines in the small, blue room where an early daguerreotype (old fashioned photograph) shows you excitedly staring out from behind your face'
the persona seems to immediately echo and mirror the author from the beginning of the poem, staring at their photograph of the exciting life that they once led, a life that the persona idealises. the persona may also say this quote in order to embody the persona and reflect the ways in which they believe the author to be wise and intelligent; the author's characteristics are the characteristics that the persona themself wishes to have. the persona seems to stand behind this photograph, immediately becoming their shadow and attempting to mirror them.
'from behind your face' - may suggest that in this photograph, the author was wearing a mask and the persona wishes to uncover their true identity and personality in order to reflect this in their own life
'the first four words i write are your name'
perhaps almost ritualistic, the persona writes their name, a normal thing
the structure of the poem suggests that the persona is almost taking to the deceased author as if they are still alive, showing their obsession with them and their desperation to gain their approval
'i'm a passionate man with a big advance'
suggests that the biographer/the persona himself is a successful writer as he has an advance on his work, though despite this he views himself to be largely inferior to the author that he studies and wishes to mirror his life
'who's loved your work since he was a boy'
the persona has idealised the author for a long time. his work therefore lacks academic objectivity, and it's suggested that this early childhood recognition of the author taints his view of the author into a rose-tinte viewpoint that lacks objectivity
'the night i slept alone in your bed'
further emphasises the creepy aspect of the persona's actions as well as their desperation to mirror the life of the author. they sleep in their bed, almost attempting to become and embody the persona in an inappropriate way. the persona is deliberately intertwining their identities and is perhaps attempting to create a sense of replacement, blurring the lines between their separate personalities.
'the end of a fire going out in the grate'
once the initial excitement has calmed down/diminished, the persona wakes up and comes to the realisation that they will never truly be able to reflect the successful, sophisticated life of the author that they believe to be their superior. begins to 'awake' and come to the bitter realisation of what the author may think of him if he was still alive
'i came awake, certain, had we ever met you wouldn't have wanted me, or needed me, would barely have noticed me at all.'
comes to the bitter, sudden realisation that they believe the author would dislike them. shows their own insecurity and belief in their inferiority. sudden realisation demonstrated by structure of the poem and lack of punctuation, flows into idealisation to then sudden resentment. he idealises the author so much that he believes that such a successful man would never notice, respect or appreciate him.
full stop at end of sentence solidifies belief in inferiority.
'guilt and rage hardened me then'
the author that they idolise has now embodied the persona's sense of identity and their belief in their own inferiority. becomes 'hardened' towards author as a result of this. suggests infatuation is no longer completely positive. sense of resentment, believes author would not have approved of him to write his biography. pathetically has a rage against author as he has an imagined sense of rejection. seems petulant - feels that the author is superior to them and seems to experience the sense of an unrequited love as a result of this.
'how close can i get to the sound of your voice'
mimicking his voice and attempting to become him as he writes the biography - demonstrates sense of infatuation. trying to echo the author. emphasises sense of obsession and the way that the persona attempts to blur their identities.
'the faces you wrote leer and gape and plead at my feet'
'spat at the shadow i cast, at the meagre shadow i cast in my time'
believes their shadow to be unsatisfactory, whereas author/subject casted a far more influential and important shadow
'maestro. monster. mummy's boy. my main man'
he has power over the author as he can determine the personality in which to present him. despite supposed inferiority.
'i have an affair with a thespian girl. you would have approved. then i snivel home to my wife'
attempting to please/ become the author despite the fact that he has died. he still has an obsession with mirroring his life.
'you would have approved' - possibly judging the author in some way, perhaps beginning to resent him though still wishes to mirror his life, no longer admires and idealises author, bitterness as a result of this
snivel home - pathetic reality of his life and the way that his desperation to mirror the author has become damaging to his everyday life
'her violent love'
his relationship has become damaged as a result of his infatuation
'i print it out. i print it out'
it has taken the persona a long time to write this biography and the repetition of printing it out may reinforce the ritualistic element of his obsession
'in all of your mirrors, my face'
'talentless, dustjacket smile'
blurring and intertwining of identities. he has now become the person that he wished to be to a certain extent though he does not seem satisfied/pleased. sense of disappointment?
the poem seems to end with the persona's deep sense of self-loathing as they seem to realise that their idealised version of the persona is not who they really are. dissatisfaction. not truly happy - fake smile. 'dust jacket' creates a sense of age, they have lost themselves and wasted their life by mirroring the persona. makes the smile seem generic and fake - makes the biography seem unsuccessful and almost like it has been a waste of time . the persona was once passionate though this has been lost, they have lost their sense of identity through trying to mirror that of the author.
'your dislike chilling the air'
technique of pathetic fallacy used , woke up with a sense of self-disgust at their own inferiority after sleeping in the author's bed
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