OUTPACE Uncategorized Critical Analysis of The Dolphins By Carol Ann Duffy || ISC CLASS 11 AND 12 English || OUTPACE

Critical Analysis of The Dolphins By Carol Ann Duffy || ISC CLASS 11 AND 12 English || OUTPACE


Carol Ann Duffy is an award-winning Scottish poetess born in Glasgow, Scotland on 23rd December 1955, the first child of May and Frank Duffy. The “post-post-war England” poetess as referred to by Danette DeMarco in Mosaic explored a wide arena of subjects ranging from gender and oppression to raising societal cases and thereby expressing them in familiar, conversational language. She was the first woman to openly speak out on LGBT and also the first poet laureate of England.

Carol grew up attending convent schools and began writing poems from the tender age of 11. Subsequently, she published her first poetry at the age of 14. She later attended Liverpool University and after graduating with a degree in philosophy(1977), she set to achieve her dreams of writing by publishing several books, read and teach poetry. Duffy also served as a poetry critic for The Guardian from 1988 to 1989 and as an editor to the Ambit ( a poetry magazine).

A wide range of works are attributed to her. Several collections include Standing Female Nude (1985), The Other Country (1990), The World’s Wife (1999), and Rapture (2005). During the early 21st century, her books were written for children, including picture books like Underwater Farmyard (2002), The Tear Thief (2007).

Dramatic characters mixed with narratives, voicing wittily being social critique, characterize Duffy’s early works.

She is lauded with several awards be it winning the Costa Book Awards twice (1993,2011) or T.S Eliot Prize in 2005.


The poem ‘The Dolphins’ is written in dramatic monologue – from the perspective of dolphins. It covers many themes of oppression, curtailment of freedom, tramping the voice of others. It also broaches ideas which have to do with animal welfare and treatment met out to the animals.

It presents the viewpoint of the trapped dolphin whose life has remained now confined to a mere water pool. The dolphin in agony tells us his happy anecdote of life in the ocean and their experience in the limited space of the water tank. This artificial life of theirs has no music “ We circle well-worn grooves/ of water on a single note”, no sunlight, no moon ( which is reduced to a “coloured ball”). Nothing is natural here and this hollowness makes their future seem bleak “…our mind knows we will die here.”


The poem

World is what you swim in, or dance, it is simple.
We are in our element but we are not free.
Outside this world you cannot breathe for long.
The other has my shape. The other's movement
forms my thoughts. And also mine. There is a man
and there are hoops. There is a constant flowing guilt.

We have found no truth in these waters,
no explanations tremble on our flesh.
We were blessed and now we are not blessed.
After travelling such space for days we began
to translate. It was the same space. It is
the same space always and above it is the man.

And now we are no longer blessed, for the world
will not deepen to dream in. The other knows
and out of love reflects me for myself.
We see our silver skin flash by like memory
of somewhere else. There is a coloured ball
we have to balance till the man has disappeared.

The moon has disappeared. We circle well-worn grooves
of water on a single note. Music of loss forever
from the other's heart which turns my own to stone.
There is a plastic toy. There is no hope. We sink
to the limits of this pool until the whistle blows.
There is a man and our mind knows we will die here.

The poem is divided into four stanzas, each having six lines. Although no definite rhyme scheme is followed, there are instances in the text where we find internal rhyme like at the end of line three of 4th stanza, “ own” and “ stone” rhyme. The use of words is simple and the form of is nearly curated. Simplicity juxtaposed with ambiguity makes an impression on the readers.

Message:  The poem aims at giving voice to other suffering creatures who are oppressed in the same way or other daily. We are exhorted implicitly to do something against the needless confinement of innocent beings. Protection and conservation of wildlife should be undertaken on a vigorous scale and awareness should be made for the same.


There are various poetic devices of the poem. They include:

1.    Simile– The example of simile is :

·       “We see our silver skin flash by like a memory”.

2.    Alliteration–  It is the close repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words. Examples of alliteration in the poem include:

·       World is what you swim in

·       Will not deepen to dream in.

·       Out of love reflects me for myself.

·       We circle well-worn grooves.

3.    Repetition– The purposeful use of words and phrases, again and again, to put emphasis and create a smooth flow.

Examples of repetition in the poem are:

·       “The other has my shape. The other’s movement

….The other knows

And out of love reflects me for myself.”

·       After travelling such space for days we began

to translate. It was the same space. It is

the same space always and above it is the man.”

4.    Enjambment– It refers to the continuation of a sentence to the next without a pause. In the poem, the examples of enjambment are:

·       “The other has my shape. The other’s movement

Forms my thoughts. And also mine. There is a man

And there are hoops. There is a constant flowing guilt.”

5.    Metaphor–  Examples of metaphors includes:

·       ‘constant flowing guilt’ a metaphor for the water pumped through the tank, or the sensitivity on the part of the dolphins who are aware of abuse.

·       ‘ no truth in these waters’.

6.    Anaphora– ‘The other’, ‘There is’, ‘We were blessed and now we are not blessed.’


Human greed and oppression meted out to animals is one of the key themes of the poem The Dolphins. Man has been always exploiting animals. Every day we hear about the cruelty imparted on the innocent anima. Such instances are many as Kerala’s bursting of cracker-filled pineapple in a pregnant elephant’s mouth or illegal poaching of feline ( lions, tigers), animal slaughter, chicken being revealed or disturbing the natural migration process of Siberian falcons( also called Amur falcons) in Nagaland to several others.

Such cruelty and human greed is clearly brought out through Carol Ann Duffy’s The Dolphins. The dolphins are confined in an aquarium which lacks the depth and richness of their ocean life. Man for his monetary needs forces them to perform acrobatics like balancing on them a ‘coloured ball’ failing which they are tortured or isolated.

The Dolphins brings the idea that we should never abuse the wildlife and exploit them. The dolphin in the poem, includes all other dolphins in it position, makes it clear that they long for freedom:

“ World is what you swim in, or dance, it is simple.

We are in our own element but we are not free.”

To succinct, The Dolphins pinpoint the psychological effects of isolation and dislocation. The dolphins here gives a voice to the feelings of all isolated and dislocated creatures. The poet wants to make us aware of it, as we know only of human isolation and is dislocation. We need to actively take up these facets and accordingly work for betterment.

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