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Poem Comparison: 'Delilah' and 'Pygmalion's Bride'


Both Delilah and Pygmalion’s bride appear as passive objects within their relationships, and it is only through finally rising up actively that they are able to break away from their lovers’ holds.

To what extent do you agree with this statement?

The essay title put forward above is my own, and I thought it would be useful to see how it could be explored (I also happen to enjoy these two poems greatly).

Essay notes on desk

What is the essay title asking for?

1. Are the two truly passive?

2. Do they break away from their lovers’ holds actively?

3. What would be considered ‘breaking away’ and how do they fit that?

Since an essay is an argument, it should be built upon a structure; trying to change tack midway through throws everything off, and is just as painful for the person writing it as the person reading it, so my main piece of advice would be to have a clear line of argument. This may of course take quite some time to plan out, but once it is clear then the actual writing should (theoretically) produce itself much more easily.


1. Passive? - clear in Pygmalion’s Bride, but a sense of mutual care and therefore equality in Delilah?

Leading to…

2. Actively rising up (Delilah’s actions in particular, in light of the comparison)?

- depends on whether she is caring, responding to gender problems on the side of men,

- or a lover fed up with the falsity of male difficulties

3. On the front of it, Delilah seems to be a woman’s defense at helping a burdened Samson emasculate himself, yet I am more inclined to believe that the undertone of rebellion would place her in a much more similar position to that of Pygmalion’s bride.


Below are the beginnings of an essay response, so you could start to see how I decided to tackle the question; unfortunately it is unfinished, but feel free to carry on with it and share the direction of the next steps you took!

Carol Ann Duffy provides a voice for neglected female characters within myth, depicting their liberation from male power in both Delilah and Pygmalion’s Bride: Pygmalion’s bride frees herself from the sculptor’s violent advances, whilst Delilah seems to be aiding Samson in relieving himself of the need to embody the archetypal male. Thus Delilah, unlike the bride, remains active throughout the poem, and even her cutting of Samson’s hair becomes an act of love. However, a sense of sarcasm permeates Delilah, lending itself to the suggestion that the poem represents an act of defiance similar to that as displayed in Pygmalion’s Bride.

The image of the bride as a passive woman is clear: though Pygmalion constantly seeks to provoke a reaction from the bride, having ‘thumbed’ her eyes and ‘squeezed’ her flesh, she remains ‘dumb’, refusing even to ‘blink’. Even by using the mythical statue of Galatea as an underlay for the female poetic narrator, Duffy strengthens the lack of a response on the part of the bride. The irony, though, here lies in the narrative voice being that of a human being, not simply a personified statue, rendering Pygmalion’s acts even more violent.

Delilah, in contrast, holds an active role within the poem. She ‘nibbled the purse of‘ Samson’s ear, a tender act, and the opening scene presented to the reader depicts a happy couple: ‘we were lying in bed’. The image suggests contentment, even the pleasant laziness of a clichéd, loving couple; this is certainly not the ‘cold’, ‘stone-cool’ composure of Pygmalion’s bride.

However, Delilah’s later recounting of Samson’s actions places her own self as simply an object, expressed through the description of their sex: ‘He fucked me again/ until he was sore’. The grammatical subject-object relationship seems to reflect that of Samson and Delilah themselves, in which the latter remains not only passive, but also lacks importance in comparison to Samson’s carnal pleasures. Though without the sinister tone of Pygmalion running ‘his clammy hands along’ his bride’s limbs, Delilah nevertheless illustrate a certain inferiority in Delilah’s position within her and Samson’s relationship.

This ambiguity then feeds into the questionable purpose of Delilah’s final actions, as the reader, in the same manner as the assumed court to whom the narrator explains the ‘how and the why and the where’, seeks to unpick the reasons behind the cutting of Samson’s hair. For though the narrator of Pygmalion’s Bride clearly ‘changed tack… kissed back’ in order to achieve her end of being rid of Pygmalion, Delilah lacks such a marked shift; whilst even the pace of Pygmalion’s Bride suddenly, actively, increases as the narrator ‘got hot’, Delilah slows down towards the final couplet, whose polysyllabic words reflect the ‘deliberate’ actions of cutting each and ‘every lock’ on Samson’s head.

Of course, the action of cutting is in itself active, yet perhaps Delilah aims to liberate Samson, rather than herself. Samson’s demand for the ‘cure’ to his inability to ‘be gentle… or tender’ could certainly suggest so. However, Delilah recognises the pretence in Samson’s inescapable, stereotypically manly, strength: he ‘slip[s] and slide[s] and sprawl[s]’ whilst asleep, actions incongruous with the warrior presented earlier in the poem. Even more so, the image of the narrator’s ‘scissors-/ snipping first at the black and biblical air’ reveal Delilah’s spite, attacking even her own blackened image…


I shall stop there, but hopefully this approach to writing an essay has been of at least some use to you, and perhaps also provided a different outlook on the poems examined!

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