In the volume ‘The Other Country’ Duffy examines a multiplicity of themes, one of which being the idea of a ‘platonic, sexual or romantic love as being another country’. Another of Duffy’s chief concerns in this volume is the failure of language to express truth or meaning. The poet’s presentation of loving relationships differs in each of her poems, as in the poem ‘Girlfriends’ where the loving relationship is suggested to be one between two women and in which Duffy examines the relationship of the self in relation to the other.
Conversely, ‘Words, Wide Night’ and ‘Dream of a Lost Friend’ also examine loving relationships, however the latter explores a more platonic relationship rather than sexual like in ‘Girlfriends’. Duffy explores a range of techniques to portray the relationships being examined creating feelings of nostalgia, memories and physical distance, as in ‘Words, Wide Night’. A notion explored both in ‘Girlfriends’ and ‘Words, Wide Night’ is the inadequacy of language to express feelings and emotions.
This is highlighted further through enjambment, towards the end of ‘Girlfriends’, when language breaks down, of ‘de da de da de da’, showing the loss of control and continuity that the dramatic persona feels. The poem is written in the form of a sonnet and has a lyrical, romantic quality throughout it, due to the sensual language, such as ‘hot… naked… sweat’. Furthermore, it is through the language that the reader is able to infer that this is a lesbian and not a heterosexual encounter, ‘frail bodies… our nightgowns’.
‘Words, Wide Night’ also has a lyrical quality throughout it, shown through the languorous language through the soft sounds and little punctuation, ‘Somewhere on the other side of this wide night… I am thinking of you. ‘ In this poem however, the incompetence of language is explored through the use of ‘I singing’, showing that grammar has broken down. Duffy has taken an intellectual approach to put across this idea, as she is using an impossible tense to say something that does not make sense and therefore explain how love can confuse.
The poet then further shows the inability of language with, ‘La lala la’, revealing that language is simply a mixture of sounds that is incapable of expressing emotion. Nevertheless not all three poems are preoccupied with romantic love, as ‘Dream of a Lost Friend’ examines more of a spiritual friendship. The poem refers to a dream and therefore is designed to confuse the reader through the use of real and unreal surrealistic images. The entire poem is rather ironic as dreams as mainly associated with hope and positive images but instead this poem contradicts this and creates anxiety of separation and loss in the reader.
The anxiety is reinforced through the juxtaposition of the conscious and unconscious and the use of italics further emphasizes the confusion of the self in relation to the other, ‘help me… it’s only a dream… How do you feel? ‘. The use of italics does not only enhance this idea but also is used a summary of each stanza’s main points and create the uncertainty of who exactly could be speaking, by combining formal and informal sentences, ‘I missed your funeral”. The idea of the self in relation to the other is explored in all three poems, however in a variety of ways.
In ‘Girlfriends’ it is explored in a sexual, sensual manner, using language that suggests closeness and union, ‘we slept in a single bed’ and through the sense of mirror images of oneself, ‘the pink shadows’. The poem is filled with passion and romanticism which is introduced through the use of colours ‘red gold… pink’, and the alliteration of soft sounds, ‘floor… fell… ferocious’, creates a sexual rhythm. ‘Words, Wide Night’ is also a love poem exploring the ideas relating to the self in relation to the other, however it focuses on imagery of separation to put this idea across.
The poem gives an objectified perspective of the relationship and the idea of the self in relation to the other is shown through the metaphysical statement, ‘the distance between us, I am thinking of you’. It is throughout this poem that Duffy looks at the relationship between thought, language and emotion, creating a sense of distance, ‘the dark hills I would have to cross’ and religious references of crucifixion, which was the ultimate sacrifice for love.
Imagery of distance and isolation in relationships is highlighted through the last line that is separated from the poem to portray the impossibility to express emotions in words, ‘is what it is like or what it is like in words. ‘ Whilst, ‘Girlfriends’ concentrates on sensual imagery and ‘Words, Wide Night’ on distance, the other poem reinforces physical and emotional suffering through the comparison of healthy and unhealthy imagery, ‘dead… pale… unwell… nurture… healthy… alive’.
The poem contains many surreal elements, which enable the transformation from the personal to the universal. The use of the past tense adds to this surreal quality, ‘You were dead’ and Duffy uses ‘A public building’, presenting a combination of the covert and a shared, revealed experience. Similar to ‘Girlfriends’, this poem is self objectified and in order to reinforce the fact that ‘Dream of a Lost Friend’ is a recollection there is more punctuation making it sound like a list, ‘where I’d never been, and, on the wall’.
‘Girlfriends’ focuses on the danger of emotional connection and this becomes more apparent towards the end of the poem, where the language becomes more perilous reflecting the fear of giving yourself fully to another person. This is reinforced even at the height of climax where the persona feels disembodied, as she still has one ear open to reality, ‘back… squeezed… Also I remember hearing’. Irrefutably Duffy succeeds in portraying loving relationships in a variety of forms, whilst simultaneously identifying issues concerning society.
‘Girlfriends’ is Duffy’s attempt to defy stereotypical comments of lesbian encounters and showing the sensuality, closeness and passion connected with such encounters. ‘Words, Wide Night’ focuses on relationships, love and imagery of separation and the mixed up feelings that love causes. Duffy changes her style to a more colloquial one in the final poem where she describes the personal loss linked with the socio-political issues of AIDS and the stigma attached to the disease and the gay community, separating them from society.