Prayer – Carol Ann Duffy – 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.

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.

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.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer –
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

Carol Ann Duffy

Minim = a musical note with the time value of half a semibreve or two crotchets. It is written as an open note head with a stem.
Train = long moving line of people

Looking at this sonnet …

The first quatrain … when in the middle of a task something to the peripheral arrests attention … in this instant a voice from the trees … as though someone else is speaking and there is communion with the environment … the woman stops what she is doing and for one brief moment there is an appreciation of life … the joy of just being.… there is a gift of thanks … or putting it another way this can be thought of as a prayer of thanks whether or not just a thank you for life or whether a thank you to another ‘God’.

The second quatrain … prayers happen regardless of any formal faith … night is the time when the mind is vulnerable … and often in those sleep hours thoughts occur seemingly out of nowhere… and if the truth of the matter unravels there is usually some pain and discomfort from this communion in any resolution.

Maybe hearing a piece of music gives association to something way back from his youth … perhaps to a time when the man was more motivated and a time when he was following his young heart with strong purpose … and again this may be painful and the man may seek consolation if reflecting on unfilled dreams.

The third quatrain … pray for us now – this looks like an ask … an ask for help and we all need help and support in order to give help and support … prayer is defined as a solemn request or a giving of thanks to an object of worship (usually God) … so this is an ask for us to ask our ‘God’ for help for those in need … to invoke an external force … if the lodger needed consolation then the Grade 1 piano scales could be seen as a response to prayer. The last sentence seems to show a person in grief … as though they named their loss … in grief for a child and in need of consolation … in need of prayer

The rhyming couplet … mentioning the shipping forecast invokes a prayer for those at sea … a prayer that sailors may be able to heed the information and not risk life … darkness outside gives the feeling that prayer is a mystery and hidden … whereas inside the radio’s prayer gives the other side of the coin that prayer always emanates from the internal reaching out from the person

Re: shipping forecasts … the unique and distinctive sound of these broadcasts has led to their attracting an audience much wider than that directly interested in maritime weather conditions. Many listeners find the repetition of the names of the sea areas almost hypnotic, particularly during the night-time broadcast at 0048 UK time. (from Wikipedia)

I do like this sonnet as it widens the concept of traditional prayer and brings prayer down to the basics of everyday communication in the living of life.

And to end, –  a prayer that our daily transactions are appropriate as we negotiate life!

2 thoughts on “Prayer – Carol Ann Duffy – Analysis

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