Carol Ann Duffy: A Special Way of Seeing

Enjoy this enchanting poem by former UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

“Heron by Moonlight” by Rine Philbin
THE LOOK
by Carol Ann Duffy

The heron’s the look of the river.
The moon’s the look of the night.
The sky’s the look of forever.
Snow is the look of white.

The bees are the look of the honey.
The wasp is the look of pain.
The clown is the look of funny.
Puddles are the look of rain.

The whale is the look of the ocean.
The grave is the look of the dead.
The wheel is the look of motion.
Blood is the look of red.

The rose is the look of the garden.
The girl is the look of the school.
The snake is the look of the Gorgon.
Ice is the look of cool.

The clouds are the look of the weather.
The hand is the look of the glove.
The bird is the look of the feather.
You are the look of love.

~ from The Hat (London: Faber & Faber, 2007).
Art by Rine Philbin

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Art by Rine Philbin

I love Duffy’s line of thinking — that one thing can be emblematic of another. We see how the human mind works, making associations and connections, sometimes between the tangible and intangible.

She actually had me at the first stanza: “the sky’s the look of forever” is such a lovely way to define the infinite. Poets do love a good metaphor.

Did the final line catch you by surprise? Duffy saved her direct address, one that veers from the established syntax, to powerful effect. “You are the look of love” trumps all that came before.

Art by Rine Philbin

With its rhyme, repetition, and parallel structure, “The Look” reads like a revelatory incantation, arousing the reader’s curiosity as the pattern is established and each line introduces another comparison. Once the narrator has you in her thrall, she reveals the most important look of all at the very end.

Art by Rine Philbin

This poem made me think:

The poem is the look of the heart.

Though I’m not a poet, I can see that “The Look” would make an excellent mentor text. Please feel free to share any “looks” of your own in the comments. 🙂

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The lovely and talented Irene Latham is hosting the Roundup at Live Your Poem. Check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week and have a beautiful weekend!

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♥️ Self taught Irish artist Rine Philbin, whose work graces this post, has been painting since childhood. Having grown up on a farm near the sea, her art is informed by the beautiful seascapes, landscapes and woods she has known and loved all her life. She works in watercolor, acrylics, and oil. Learn more at her Official Website.


*Copyright © 2022 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

40 thoughts on “Carol Ann Duffy: A Special Way of Seeing

  1. As I read, I was thinking what you said at the end of your post, that it would be a great mentor poem! I love the paintings you’ve used to illustrate this week, especially the first! Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

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  2. I like how you describe the poem as an incantation, it really draws you in, and the ending is a lovely surprise! Gorgeous Art you shared Jama, I think I’ll share Rine’s with my students next week. I love the first two, they are so delicate, and the peachy pinks in the last, thanks for this feel-good wakeup! 🥰

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    1. Happy to hear you plan to share Rine’s work with your art students, Michelle. When I found the first heron painting I knew it was a perfect pairing for Duffy’s poem. Then I discovered more at her website which also seemed to speak to some of the poem’s lines.

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  3. You’re right — the poem is the look of the heart. I love this stanza especially:

    The whale is the look of the ocean.
    The grave is the look of the dead.
    The wheel is the look of motion.
    Blood is the look of red.

    The ocean and the wheel are both in motion. The grave and the blood speak to stillness.

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  4. This is the first time I’ve read this poem. The last line was a surprise but so perfect! I’m saving it! I love your line “The poem is the look of the heart.” So true.

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  5. This really does invite one to write a personal “look of” poem. I’m adding this to my list of poetic forms to try. Thank you for sharing this poem, and your thoughtful analysis of what makes it so powerful and effective.

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  6. Carol Ann Duffy’s poem is delightful. I want to read it over and over and savor every contrasting image. Rine Philbin’s paintings are exquisite, and almost too much to absorb at the same time. Wonderful post, though!

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  7. You had me interested with the name Carol Ann Duffy, Jama. I am most pleased to find this fine example of her poetry here. It is indeed worthy of being preserved and presented as a mentor piece. i shall copy it into my notebook. Excellent choice Jama and as you note, the pattern of the poem breaks to deliver a strong final line.

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    1. Nice to hear you’re also saving this one for future inspiration, Alan. I enjoy discovering more and more of Duffy’s work as time goes on.

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  8. Such a lovely gallery to walk through this morning. Yes, poets DO love a good metaphor and there’s a stack of them here. That iris with bees…I want to stay with that one for a while. Thanks for the beauty.

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  9. Mentor text, indeed! I’ll copy this into my notebook just so I can slow down and appreciate every word and image. The surprise for me was that the art is all by the same artist! What diversity! That first painting just POPS out of the screen! Gorgeous. Thank you for this (another) rich and satisfying post!

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  10. Jama, I am swooming over this post. The poem is one to read over and over again and the artwork enhanced the experience. I strolled over to Philbin’s website and was amazed by her gorgeous work. Thank you tor this wonderful sensory experience.

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  11. What a fabulous post! The poem is, as so many have noted, one to copy, savor, and inspire. The accompanying artwork is stunning. Like Mary Lee, I was also struck by the Rine Philbin’s range. “Heron by Moonlight” is a painting to fall into. Thank you!

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  12. You nailed the added line “The poem is the look of the heart.” Reminds me of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem Famous. Great mentor text. Do you have the rights to the artwork you featured? I’d love to use one for a poem prompt.

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  13. Agree perfectly about that last line. I like how she blindsides her reader with something surprising in her verse. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to her live when she was a guest at the Singapore Writers Festival a few years back, that was a total treat.

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  14. This is lovely. The artwork you’ve paired throughout the post is gorgeous, too. I don’t think you get to say you’re not a poet when you end with, “The poem is the look of the heart.” ❤️ Thanks for this, Jama!

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