Carol Ann Duffy's Mrs Lazarus as a transformation text!
This would make an excellent transformation text! Imagine recreating this text as a letter from Mrs Lazarus to a problem page editor. 'Now you think you have heard most problems...let me tell you about my husband..'
Carol Ann Duffy has revisited many familiar stories with provocative results. However this poem resounds powerfully and enduringly for me as it is so engaged with the problematic representation of grief. The sorrow of Mrs Lazarus is inarguable. It is physically felt so that the body of the text testifies through the rage and then mononotone of the narrator's voice, to the abject horror of being left. Death can make us feel betrayed. How dare anyone leave us to life without them? How can we negotiate a present and even a future in a world whose very coordinates have been removed? Ever word we are left with testifies to absence.
This seeming incompatibility between grief and self-regard seems resoundingly true. Everything is paced, is condensed, summarised through the bleak harshness of the lists of actions following on from Lazarus's death.
Who is dead? Surely a resurrection at this point would be the miracle of all miracles? And yet life fails to yield up the magical intervention of divine resuscitation. Mrs Lazarus is forced by habit, by convention perhaps to go on. Suicidal thoughts and even actions become memory and the incidental details of a daily lived life start to resurrect her hope, her spirit. Healing emanates from seemingly arbitrary observation.
The conspiratorial glances of the villagers with their communal stench and malevolence contrasts with the separating fragile subtlety of the friendship between Mrs Lazarus and the school teacher. How far has she ever fitted in with these vulgar punitive figures we wonder? Has the exile of her widowhood just accentuated her difference from the mob down the road?
And why does Duffy keep Christ out of this poem? What does his absence engender in terms of the theatre of the cruelty almost created here? Think of Pilate's Wife and we remember the provocative erotic retranslation of Christ through the yearning and resurrecting gaze of Pilate's Wife. The barrenness of any loss makes a desire for a miracle compelling even irresistible; yet the dramatic irony remains here that it is not the resurrection of Lazarus that is rendered a miracle in this poem, it is the new interest in life by the narrator Mrs Lazarus. Paradise is briefly regained only to be lost again, through the interfering intervention of an significantly absent 'Messianic' figure.
Is there a subtle criticism here of Christ's masculine lack of imagination, his disregard for connotation? I wonder...physically at any rate we collude with the narrator Mrs Lazarus in her revulsion at her returned prize of a husband as he is still very obviously dead..he smells of the grave..he is zombified and made thus replusive and unwelcome, even unto himself!! Out of time indeed! ( Now why do I recall one of the Roling Stones finest three minutes?!)
'Dear Virginia Ironside...I am in a deep quandary..'