Durcan’s poems are multifaceted, complex and are wildly enigmatic. It is Durcan’s narrative approach that makes his poetry so individualistic. Durcan is unlike any poet I have studied. He writes about the common aspects of life such as family and love yet he does so with such captivating power. He discusses monumental times in his life in a truthful and heartfelt manner. Yet It is Durcan’s honesty that is charmingly curt which crafts such beautiful poems.

Family is a popular theme in his poetry, like many other poets. However, Durcan provides a different perspective sprouting from his experiences. In his poems “Parents” and “Sport” he touches upon the distance and separation that lies between parents and children. 

‘Parents’ is a touching poem in which the poet describes the helplessness of parents in a recurring sea metaphor. Durcan in this poem tells the tale in the third person. This feature emphasises the separation between the child and her parents.

The poem opens with an unsettling image, “A child’s face is a drowned face”. This striking metaphor captures our attention and immediately reveals it is not just about the love of parents. As the poem continues, we see that the unnamed child is separated from her parents by sleep. She is physically close to them, as they “stare down at her asleep” yet she is far away in the realms of sleep. 

Durcan employs water imagery to convey this separation. “She is under the sea and they are above the sea”. This is also repeated further down the poem, once again highlighting the distance between them. The surface of the sea is barrier creating the unbreakable wall that prevents the parents from helping their child as she “in her sleep” calls “out to them, Father Father, Mother, Mother”.

The love of her parents is clearly evident as they “stare down” at their child. This aids the image of helplessness in the final lines, “through the night, stranded” they watch the “drowned drowned face of their child”. However, this love does nothing to assist the child in danger. The simple direct language helps the reader to understand the agonizing honest truth that Durcan reveals. Sometimes parents feel helpless in situations where they can do nothing but watch. 

Similar to ‘A Difficulty that is Marriage’, Sport has a misleading title. Sport implies dun, unity and teamwork. However, the theme of this poem belies its title. Durcan explores his difficult relationship with his father and his desperate desire to impress his father. 

Durcan writes the poem in a factual and seemingly unemotional manner though his imagery is deeply saddening. Durcan expresses the height of his achievement as being chosen to represent “ Grangegorman Mental Hospital”. The repetition of the phrase “mental hospital” emphasises the lack of respite and escape he feels from sadness. 

The emotional distance between Durcan and his father is expressed in the tone of the poem. Durcan addresses his father directly creating a sense of intimacy, “You drove all the way down”. However, the underlying accusation cannot be dismissed. 

Durcan was so determined to win his father’s approval that he was “fearful” he would let his father down. This subtly suggests that Durcan may have felt that he was a failure in his father’s eyes. This unordinary father-son relationship is far from perfect. The tension and emotional distance between the two are unavoidable. Once again, Durcan veracity makes this poem so appealing. 



Durcan explores the theme of love in an unconventional sense. This is a feature of his poetry that is unique to Durcan. He explores love in the poems “Nessa” and “The Difficulty that is Marriage”. He also conveys his self-deprecating nature with such painful honesty.

Durcan writes “Nessa” in an anecdotal style. In this poem, the “whirlwind” of falling in love is described. In the first stanza, the meeting of the two is a magical image that shares the immediate passion and excitement. “I met her on the first of August, in the Shangri-La hotel”. 

Durcan reference to “Shangri-la” conveys the wonderful early days of their relationship. 

However subtle traces of change in the refrain of the poem suggest the change in their relationship. “And that was a whirlpool..” Here in these lines “whirlpool” is being referred to the love passion and excitement.

However, in the 3rd stanza, the whirlpool is now being referred to Nessa. They are on land contrasting with the earlier water imagery. Their incompatibility is brought to light with the two strikingly different images of “The Irish sea” and “the field”. He “hopped” into the sea for her yet from Durcan’s dejected tone, her unwillingness to lay on the grass with him is shown. “I’d have lain in the grass with her all my life With Nessa:”. In a delicate manner, Durcan portrays the pain of unrequited love. The “whirlpool” is no longer exciting, it has now an element of danger suggesting the threatening effect of Nessa on his life. 

In the last stanza, the tense changes. He is now speaking in the present tense. Referring to Nessa as “you”. This creates separation and shows the possible end of their relationship. It seems the passion has faded and the speaker is left with a broken heart, yearning for a fraction of what they once shared. “O Nessa my dear, Nessa my dear”.The “O” voices his despair and sorrow while the repetition of “Nessa” conveys his desperation. 

The face pace of the first three stanzas is quick to convey the dizziness and rush of love. However, it seems that this relationship is not meant to last. 

Once again in the poem “The Difficulty that is Marriage” it seems heartache is inevitable. I have great pity for Durcan. He is chasing and longing for a failing relationship. This is clearly evident in the opening line, “We disagree to disagree, we divide, we differ;”.  The alliteration of the letter ‘d’ conveys the discord of the relationship. The poem is filled with paradoxes. Even though they sleep together his wife is “faraway curled up in sleep”. I believe that Durcan is doomed for nothing but heartache. As his wife sleeps, he lies awake at night idolising her. “ How was it I was so lucky to have ever met you?”. Here not only is his love seen but also his self-deprecating character. It seems he doesn’t feel good enough for her and sadly blames his “troubles” for their rocky relationship. Durcan almost glorifies his wife and sees her perfect, despite him saying otherwise. “But I do not put you on a pedestal or throne: You must have your faults but I do not see them”. This paradox further channels the harsh possible idea that he is blinded by his obsession with their irreparable relationship. It is deeply saddening to read that Durcan never feels good enough for his flawless wife.  


Strength of women 

Durcan is not afraid to explore more diverse themes such as the power and strength of women. In his poems such as “Nessa” and “Wife who smashed Television gets jail” he explores this concept both in different ways. 

In the poem, “Nessa” Durcan employs water imagery to convey the powerful nature of female sexuality. Water is a central metaphor which flows throughout the poem. The poet creates an image of a strong forceful woman through language. Verbs such as “took” and “dropped” suggest that she immediately took control over the relationship. Nessa’s directness continues throughout the poem. Her confidence is conspicuous as she makes commands, “Take off your pants” and “would you care to swim”. However, it is Durcan’s reference to Nessa as a “whirlpool” where we see the full extent of the power women possesses. “She was a whirlpool, she was a whirlpool, And I very nearly drowned”. This would have been a very controversial subject in the year 1975 yet Durcan addresses this topic with such candour. 

In the poem “Wife who smashed Television Gets Jail” Duracn addresses how the strength of women was oppressed in Ireland. Similar to “Nessa”  Durcan employs strong verbs to showcase the tenacious characteristics of the “Wife”. Words such as “marched” and “declared” create an image of a powerful woman. 

This poem is written in a pseudo- journalistic style which gives the poem an amusing and light-hearted tone. However, through humour, Durcan highlights the oppression of vehement women. Durcan use of hyperbole to depict a ridiculous court case could suggest the ludicrous misogynistic thinking that people had in a patriarchal society. It is Durcan’s ability to shed light on these contentious issues in a truthful manner that makes his poetry so compelling.

Undoubtedly, Durcan takes a different approach to poetry than the other poets on this course. He shares his experiences and personal struggles so candidly that it is admirable.  His narrative style invites us to walk through his personal experiences and the issues in the world around us. His poems are genuine and open and does not hesitate to address controversial issues in society today.


This is an answer I wrote myself, so do correct me if I have made any mistakes and let me know if there is anything I can improve on. Thanks :)