A Woman’s Question by Adelaide Anne Procter and Valentine by Carol Anne Duffy

‘A Woman’s Question’ was written in the 19th Century and ‘Valentine’ is a modern poem which was written in the 1990s. This fact is fairly obvious from not only the content of the poems, but the style in which they are written, too. It also affects how the women generally view their relationships. Both show evidence of how society viewed women, and despite the different times in which they lived, they both rebel against traditional ideas of the time in certain ways. Procter and Duffy view their respective relationships very differently.

Procter seems to be quite insecure about her partner, and wants to know whether he is going to leave her, and also talks about how she wants him to be completely honest with her. Duffy on the other hand, is very realistic about her relationship and not over-romantic. This does not mean that she does not think love is important; she just does not depend on her partner and does not talk about love using elaborate, romantic phrases. This shows that she has a modern view of love.

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Although the theme of ‘A Woman’s Question’ is not actually romantic, as Procter spends most of it talking to him about her insecurities, the language she uses in it is quite romantic and ‘flowery’. She calls her partner ‘her Fate’ and is dedicating her entire future to him. Nowadays, although people do marry with the general idea that they will be staying together forever, they may be less inclined to think that their entire fate depended on the other person. In the present day, women’s attitudes have changed the most, as they are more independent. The moods of the two poems are fairly different too.

In ‘Valentine’, although the mood is not exactly sombre, it is still fairly serious-Duffy talks about the pain of love (she uses the symbol of the knife to represent this) and does not use romantic language. “Not a cute card or a kissogram”. She does not believe in this kind of love, and seems to consider it to be fake and unrealistic. The time in which she wrote the poem will affect her views on romance, obviously. It would make her more jaded and less idealistic-she looks at love in quite a levelheaded way. The way she uses words expresses this well.

The tone of ‘A Woman’s Question’ is quite serious also, as she is acting insecurely about this man. However, this poem expresses feelings in a more loving and devoted manner. As said before, she refers to the man as ‘her fate’. This is partly due to the time in which she lived, as women would have relied a lot more on men. Procter gives the poem rather a negative atmosphere, as she is constantly questioning and talking about ‘pain’ and ‘risk’, and how she would be ’empty’ without him. Procter’s religious beliefs would also be a factor here, as she was a devout Roman Catholic.

This would make finding the ‘right’ man even more important, as she could not have sex before marriage, get divorced or have abortions. Her religious beliefs would also be affected by the time in which she lived-a lot more people in the 19th Century were very religious, and would have taken the ideas mentioned above very seriously. While the poems, in some ways, are not so different in content, they are very different in structure and form. ‘A Woman’s Question’ has quite a strict structure and stanzaic form, which makes it fairly rhythmic and easy to listen to.

Procter uses rhyming words in every stanza. There is some structure within the stanzas, but it is not a very fixed one. With this, she is perhaps trying to show that love is not particularly stable or concrete and you can’t control it. She is doing this subtly, as it is represented in the way she sets the poem out, instead of actually saying anything in the poem. This could also mean she is showing that she is challenging expectations of the then current time (19th Century) with her poem and her beliefs, and showing this through the stanzaic form.

Another way in which Procter challenges expectations is in her use of imperatives. The style of writing in this poem is quite gentle, but there a few commanding phrases, like “Speak now”, which do not fit with the rest of the poem. This effect may surprise the reader, who may have initially thought it was a poem written in a fairly gentle style, e. g. romantic and old-fashioned wording is used. In ‘Valentine’, Duffy does not follow a specific form, and this is referred to as free verse, nor does she use much rhyming language, which means the poem is not very rhythmic.

This style could show that it is a more modern poem-less passionate and exaggerated. This could mean that Duffy, too, is challenging expectations, only she does it in a more obvious way. Her view of love is not at all what someone might expect a woman’s to be. She uses a lot of short statements, and imperatives, such as “Take it”. This is also shown in sentences such as “I give you an onion”, “I am trying to be truthful” and “It will blind you with tears”. This shows that she is not unemotional, but she is sensible and realistic.

In ‘A Woman’s Question’, Procter uses a lot of very expressive language, and also some quite dramatic language, such as ‘peril’. This works in emphasising how important this relationship is to her, as she says, “Before I peril all for thee”, and “I break all slighter bonds”. This poem is quite easy to listen to and sounds more effective, as you can hear the rhyming couplet in each stanza. The poem is well formed, and she uses fairly interesting and descriptive language (such as ‘Wither’ and ‘Decay’.

Both these leave you with a good idea of what she means. ) The poem is also written in the first person to second person, which makes it more direct, and again, easy to listen to. Because it was written in 19th Century, she uses ‘thee’ and ‘thine’, as opposed to ‘you’ and ‘your’, which would be used in a more modern poem. Procter uses some figurative language, which usually represents marriage, as this would have been very important. Some examples are: “Or place my hand in thine” “Withdraw thy hand one day.

She uses the idea of joining and breaking hands, which might also make the reader think of the idea of a parent and child-the joining of hands meaning the child is dependant on the parent, and the separation representing being abandoned. It could also represent just the separation of marriage, which is what Procter’s most afraid of. Carol Ann Duffy uses quite a few adjectives in ‘Valentine’, making it a very descriptive poem. A lot of the adjectives she uses are very straightforward and simple, fitting the rest of the poem, such as “fierce”, “cute”, “lethal”, “possessive” and “faithful”.

Her language is not as dramatic as Procter’s (perhaps due to the fact, that in the 1990s, losing a lover would not be as great a loss as it would have been in Procter’s time, or at least, we accept it more as part of life now. ), but it is still effective. The entire poem is an ‘extended metaphor’. The onion Duffy is talking about is representing love. It talks about the layers that need peeling off, which Duffy refers to as ‘the careful undressing of love’. Duffy’s style of writing is very modern, and there is no vocabulary that is really pre-20th century.

This adds to the realistic element of the poem. It makes the poem easy to listen to in this way, although it does not as sound as rhythmic as ‘A Woman’s Question’. I, personally, prefer ‘Valentine’ by Carol Anne Duffy because I think her style of writing is very direct, and that the poem is easier to read because of the modern style. I find ‘A Woman’s Question’ a bit too romantic, and the vocabulary a little too old-fashioned. I think that ‘A Woman’s Question’ is basically Procter questioning whether her partner is as ready to commit to her ‘Fate’ as she is to his.

I do not get the impression that she believes in fate, and everything happening for a reason, which is why she does not want him, if he deserts her, to blame it on ‘fate’. I think she believes in making the future happen for herself, partly because she is making this huge decision for herself, and not leaving it up to him or fate. It may even be an ‘illicit’ or ‘forbidden’ affair, which maybe why she is so worried. Valentine, I think, is more about the different layers of love, and the complexities.

Duffy is also questioning whether he’s ready to commit to her, but instead of fixating on this one question, like Procter in ‘A Woman’s Question’, she proceeds to tell him about the bad and good points of love. The end of the poem is not particularly final (it ends with ‘cling to your knife’), as it is in ‘A Woman’s Question’, but instead almost leaves more time for him to make up his mind, almost like she has not finished talking to him. She ends with a statement, but it is not one commanding for him to make his mind up about whether he wants to commit to her.