Prayer | Summary
Prayer by Carol Ann Duffy is a soothing poem which deals with the theme of comfort, solitude and finding respite in the day to day realities of existence. Written in Shakespearean Sonnet style ( fourteen lined iambic pentameter with three quartrains and an ending couplet), this poem beautifully captures the stirrings of one’s soul which is capable of finding the spiritual in the ordinary and the poetic otherworldly experience in the prosaic corners of our daily lives. The poem explores the idea that a prayer needn’t necessarily be uttered in a conscious manner. Some days a prayer utters itself itself in the form of half notes sung by a tree which a woman stares at in moments of solitude. Some nights it may make itself felt in the distant sound of a train or the soft notes of piano or the sound of someone calling her child’s name at dusk. At other times when there is darkness outside, a prayer may present itself in as simple a thing as the familiarity of the radio’s weather forecast.
Prayer | Analysis
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.
The poem begins by providing an alternate perspective on the idea of prayer. It says that a prayer isn’t always something we consciously utter. Rather it is something which utters itself, regardless of the volition of the speaker. The image of a woman uncovering her face to stare at the half notes sung by a tree mingles the visual and auditory imagery in this phone thus displaying deft use of sensory language. A brief moment , a shared pause with the companionship of the environment suffuses one’s state of mind with meditative prayer thereby enriching our inner lives. This experience is nothing short of a gift, an answer to all our unasked and unexpressed prayers.
Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Some nights truth enters our hearts and although we make lack in religious faith (although we are faithless), a prayer presents itself in the form of a distant Latin chanting of a train, the sound of which reminds a man of his youth. The distanct sound of the chugging train reminds him of the Latin classes he took as a student, engulfing him in the familiar notes of nostalgia. Notice the use of “Some nights” with which the second stanza begins is in contrast with “Some days” with which the first stanza began. The auditory imagery employed in the stanza is truly remarkable and the overpowering nature of this nostalgic experience is captured by the deployment of an alliteration when the man is forced to stand stock still on hearing the sound which is reminiscent of his youthful days.
Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.
The third stanza urges the reader to “pray for us”. The use of the collective, inclusive “us” binds together the speaker, the people inhabiting the poem and the reader into a knot of common humanity and shared experience which lends a degree of universality to the nature of the prayer. The prayer is immanent in the notes of a grade 1 piano which consoles a tenant looking at the Midlands town and also in the sound of someone calling her child’s name at dusk “as though they named their loss”. This beautifully placed phrase is all the more relatable as it is a realistic representation of the sound of parents calling their children in the evenings, especially heard in many small towns and suburbs.
Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer –
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.
The poem, in line with the Shakespeare Sonnet tradition ends in a final couplet. The lines use the technique of contrast to juxtapose the unfamiliarity of darkness outside with the familiarity of the sound of the radio within : “Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer“. The sound of “Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.” which are the names of places reported in BBC shipping forecast. These places though not quite known by the listener is made familiar by the routine utterance of their names every evening thus easing the listener into recognizable comfort, quite like a prayer whose recital is comforting due to its familiar nature.
Thus, it isn’t always in the strictures of a creed or within the rituals of a religion where a prayer may be found. A prayer resides in the most mundane aspects of daily existence , in the neglected corners of experience which constitutes the larger part of our lives and which plays a great role in shaping our being, for life itself is after all a silent, sincere prayer.
About the Poet
Carol Ann Duffy is the first female poet, first Scot and to be named the Poet Laureate of England. Carol began writing poems from the age of 11 and had published several of her works by the time she turned 16.
Her first collection of poems Female Standing Nude deals with the construction of femininity through art and culture and questions the same. The collection won the Scottish Arts Council Prize. The World’s Wife represents the retelling of myths and history voiced by the wives and lovers of famous men ranging from Sisyphus to Aesop.