In Carol Ann Duffy’s poem Salome, the main character (Salome) directly refers to Salome in the New Testament of the Bible. Two references, in the Gospels according to Mark and Mathew, give us the background to her character. Briefly, she danced for her father, King Herod, on his birthday. King Herod was delighted and said that he would give Salome whatever she asked for. Salome, prompted by her mother Herodias, asked for the head of John the Baptist, who had said Herodias’ marriage to Herod was unlawful. Herod, for his oath’s sake, sent an executioner to John the Baptist, who was in prison. His head was brought to Salome ‘in a dish’, and she presented it to her mother. Christian traditions depict her as an icon of dangerous female seductiveness; notably in regard to the dance mentioned in the New Testament. I will be exploring how Duffy develops the themes of loneliness and death in this poem.
Firstly, the structure of Salome is odd as it has stanzas and lines of various different lengths. The poem doesn’t follow any particular structure. However, what one may infer from the various different line lengths is the illustration of dripping blood as you turn the page sideways. Although this may be a simple coincidence, I think that Carol Ann Duffy uses this technique to inform the theme of bloodiness and death to the reader from the very start of the poem.
“I’d done it before”. Carol Ann Duffy sets the tone of the poem at the very start, the line suggests some deed or event has taken place. The character, Salome, has done something that she has, quite literally, done before. Not necessarily a bad deed, in fact it maybe an ordinary routine for Salome. However, the line seems to hint some feeling of regret or guilt as it’s meaningless for Salome to explain that she’s done a meaningless routine and obviously, she will do it again. The reader gets the feeling that something bad has happened “and doubtless I’ll do it again, sooner or later”. So, if the task that has taken place is way bigger than an ordinary routine, why does Salome explain it to be something very casual or something that happens all the time. This may suggest that the task taken place isn’t of much importance to Salome however others may regard it as something ‘huge’ and Salome recognizes this. The next line gives us more information and clues as to what the deed might be, ‘woke up with a head on the pillow beside me – whose? – what did it matter?’. This line tells us of the physical presence of, probably, another human being. One may already infer that the presence of another human in bed means that the person is most probably Salome’s sexual partner. However, the reader isn’t aware of Salome’s relationship status, as to whether the person lying next to her is a friend, boyfriend, stranger or husband. The poem indicates, however, that Salome doesn’t know whom the person is as she says ‘whose? – what did it matter?’. Salome seems to have had a one-night stand after being drunk with a stranger. This gives us a sense of Salome’s looks and personality – she probably possesses some sexually attractive qualities that allow her to have a seductive nature. This is shown by the fact that she didn’t care about whom she slept with and that she might have done this many times before as said in the first line of the poem. This seductive quality is also shown when Salome mentions that the person was ‘Good looking’ … ‘of course’ - suggesting that she’s completely aware of her sexual status and she knows she deserves nothing less than the most handsome men. The reader can infer that Salome is a beautiful, seductive lady.
The poem already makes references to the modern era by using contractions rather than complete words (“I’d”). Carol Ann Duffy has made a modern version of Salome’s character from the Bible. Salome, in this case, is shown as a lonely, sad, lifeless woman.
The second stanza tells us that there was a sexual action between the two...