In Your Mind
by Michael Woods
In this poem Duffy returns to her preoccupation with the themes of language, memory, place, imagination and the effects of time as she presents someone trying to escape the reality of 'English rain'.
The opening line, 'The other country, is it anticipated of half-remembered ', as well as including the title of the collection, mixes memory and desire. Although it is the concluding poem in The Other Country, it clearly points towards the major concerns of Mean Time.
The opening stanza presents the speaker experiencing difficulty hearing the language of the 'other country' that is 'muffled' by rain 'one autumn in England'. The seasonal setting suggests decay and the escape from England to a warmer place that can only be 'in your mind'. What does this suggest about England that is thought by many to be agreeable in autumn? The political climate explored in The Other Country is worth considering here. There is a craving for a past that 'fades like newsprint in the sun' because it offers respite from an unpalatable present.
The second stanza is composed of fragments of memory from the past. Duffy uses the visual image of photographs as a metaphor for the images that often live in our memories. The fact that they are on the 'wrong side' of the eyes adds to the sense of dissatisfaction with what is being experienced in the present. We tend to take refuge in our memories, thinking back to times that we perceive as being less complicated and more hopeful. Duffy's presentation of someone asking about the possibility of landing on the moon reminds us that there was a time when such an idea was as convincing as its crude drawing by a child. This is intended to highlight the child-like sense of possibility sensed by the persona and 'No. Never.' becomes a naïve denial in the light of what we know of the lunar landing of 1969. The final sentence of the stanza, 'You watch it peel itself into the sea.' stresses the power of the imagination. The moon cannot be observed peeling itself; it is a statement of belief on the power of invention set against the invasive march of technology and absolute explication.
One of the most striking aspects of stanzas two, three and four is that they contain a great deal of detail in the memory but the time taken to think them is 'a moment'. This is an acute observation concerning the way our memories have the ability to relive 'thirty years' or 'the passing of the hours' in a split second. The 'Sleep' mentioned in stanza three signals both a memory of waking up to the sound of 'carpentry' in a place where 'a painting lost for thirty years' is recognised and the fact that all this occurs in the 'sleep' that is the daydream. This momentary daydream makes the reliving of a protracted period of time possible. The old job in the past is cherished and the appealing images of 'Seagulls. Bells. A flute / practising scales.' (lines 17-18) offers a lyrical idyll in contrast to 'desk', 'newspaper', 'window' and 'rain' (line 24). The window of the mind has provided a much more attractive view that that set into the wall of the work place in the poem's present.
The simultaneous sense of being 'lost but not lost' places the speaker in a benign setting where to be uncertain of bearings is not threatening. The verb 'dawdling' emphasises an unhurried attitude to life while the primary colour of the 'blue bridge' suggests an uncomplicated optimistic past, the six swans seeming to symbolise sense of being at ease with the passage of time. This reading is supported in lines 21-22 as 'The certainty of place turns on the lights / all over town, turns up the scent on the air.' The effect of security is to increase the acuity of the speaker's senses of sight and smell, making it familiar. Excitement and immediacy of experience are emphasised in lines 22-23: For a moment / you are there, in the other country, knowing its name.' This 'moment' is just that, though, and we are reminded of just how temporary the relief offered by the solace of memory can be. The first poem of the collection, 'Originally' is recalled as the émigré to the past in all of us recognises that we will soon be required by custom to return as permanent, if unwilling citizens.
While this poem explores the consolation offered by memory it also highlights the inescapable reality of a country where it rains. What is this rain symbolic of? Does this poem have connection One of the saddest elements is the notion that the only means of escape from the England that had become unrecognisable is in the imagination.
The four short sentences that constitute the final line present four concrete nouns that delineate and circumscribe the persona's real situation. This neatly encapsulates the contrast between the expansive possibility of the imagination, the mind's ability to reminisce about the past and the unwelcome restrictions of routine. The place of work with all its paraphernalia that has been the point of departure for a daydream in stanza one snaps back into focus at the end of the poem.