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Mrs Sisyphus

Page history last edited by Shagun Arora 15 years, 5 months ago

Mrs Sisyphus[1]


That's him pushing the stone up the hill, the jerk.

I call it a stone - it's nearer the size of a kirk.

When he first started out, it just used to irk,

but now it incenses me, and him, the absolute berk.

I could do something vicious to him with a dirk.[2]


Think of the perks, he says.

What use is a perk, I shriek,

when you haven't time to pop open a cork

or go for so much as a walk in the park?[3]

He's a dork.

Folk flock from miles around just to gawk.[4]

They think it's a quirk,

a bit of a lark.

A load of old bollocks is nearer the mark.

He might as well bark

at the moon -

that's feckin' stone's no sooner up

than it's rolling back

all the way down.


And what doe he say?

Mustn't shirk -

keen as a hawk,

lean as a shark[5]

Mustn't shirk![6]ObamaObamaObama


But I lie alone in the dark[7],

feeling like Noah's wife did

when he hammered away at the Ark;[8]

like Frau Johann Sebastian Bach. [9]

My voice reduced to a squawk,

my smile to a twisted smirk;[10]

while, up on the deepening murk of the hill,

he is giving one hundred per cent and more to his work.[11][12]



  1. As we discussed in class, having some background on a poem can sometimes help to explain it further- this is one of those poems. Although the reader can clearly tell that Mrs. Sisyphus is annoyed with her husband for rolling a rock up a hill and ignoring her, it is not necessarily in the reader's knowledge that this women's voice is based off a greek myth where a women's husband gets punished by the G-ds and has to roll a boulder up a hill only to see if roll down for the rest of his life. This information that the poem is based off a greek myth puts the poem in context. Also, since the reader can clearly understand the situation, they can instead focus on the language of Mrs. Sisyphus and her emotions.
  2. The lines in this stanza all contain the same end rhyme. Mrs. Sisyphus begins by describing the process of her husband's "work" and her reactions to it, and the effect of the rhyme scheme is to mimic the repetitive motion of his task. The rhyming words are all expressions of irritation and anger, as well, because Mrs. Sisyphus ties each observation of her husband to a new source of increasing animosity. As he pushes the stone up the hill, she is performing her own endless repetitive task of bearing such anger, which, like his actions, produces nothing.
  3. These four lines resonate with me due to the flow and ability of the language to rhyme and play with itself. Mrs. Sisyphus is right in that idea that if one is working all the time, then how can one enjoy the perks that result from the hardwork. There is no time to enjoy the perks and then there is no point in working. Most employed people work in order to make a living and to enjoy the benefits of that work. The three words that play off each other are perk park and cork because they sound similar and have rhyming patterns. This technique of rhyme with words that look and sound alike add to the tone of the poem and emphasizes style.
  4. This line shows a alliteration of the f~ sounds in "folk flock from." Alliteration is prevalent throughout the poem, with the most conspicuous one being he k~ sound that is within the lines as well as used throughout the poem as a rhyme-alliteration hybrid.
  5. With the use of two consecutive similes comparing him to a hawk and shark, the poet creates an ambitious and driven character. We imagine these too aggressive animals going after their prey, keeping their eyes on a goal. This is seen throughout the poem as the character is driven and pushed towards pushing the rock up the hill.
  6. The repetition in this short stanza of "Musn't shirk" indicates the repetitiveness of the actions of Mr. Sisyphus. He must not evade his work and duty of pushing the stone up the hill only to watch it roll down again (as punishment). This stanza indicates Mr. Sisyphu's view of his work. He has to be "keen as a hawk,/lean as a shark."
  7. The descriptive, dark tones continue the attitude the woman feels for her husband. The use of 'alone' and 'dark' help portray how the woman feels abandoned from her partner. He is consistently consumed by his work, which she clearly does not approve. Further in the stanza, other gloomy words appear, including 'reduced' and 'twisted.' The pain she feels from the absence of her husband is leading her to a sinister attitude, almost engulfing her with self-doubt, all alone, reduced, and twisted.
  8. In this poem there is analogy as well as rhyme which makes it easily flow off the reader's tongue. At this point in the poem we see that the poet parallels Mrs. Sisyphus to Noah's wife. From the description of Noah "hammer[ing] away at the Ark," the reader can infer that his wife feels neglected, lonely and frustrated. Mrs. Sisyphus "lie[s] alone in the dark," waiting for her husband to love and cherish her, however he never does. The analogy to Noah and his wife helps the reader better understand the despair that Mrs. Sisyphus feels due to her abandonment by her husband.
  9. In this line, Sisyphus' wife references Bach. Bach's works as a composer were considered too "old-fashioned" during his time (the classical period of music). Like many artists (musical, visual, literature alike), Bach's works did not receive attention until after his death. Thus, by using this reference, Sisyphus' wife is not only saying that her husband is currently ignoring her, but also implying that her voice will never be heard during her entire lifetime.
  10. Throughout the poem, the rhythm reflects her husband’s repetitive action of pushing the rock up the hill only to watch it roll down again. However, it also reflects the bitterness and scorn Mrs.Sisyphus feels since the speaker chose to use language in a very lyrical sense for such a sad circumstance as if she is sarcastic. We can see it clearly in the last stanza as she explains that his punishment and consequently, his neglect “reduced” and “twisted” her. The diction also indicates that she is not only sad but resentful.
  11. This marks a shift in the tone of the poem. Here in the last line, the speaker reveals that in some way she does admire her husband for being so dedicated to his work. Though it is also possible that she is being sarcastic in the use of the phrase "he is giving one hundred per cent and more to his work", showing that such dedication is not always a good thing.
  12. The form of this poem is very interesting. There's the feeling throughout the poem of discomfort and somehow being trapped within classicism, with the grating rhymes and the references to classical laborers of creation. The poem begins with a 5 line stanza, which is an uncomfortable number of lines, particularly when held against the rhythm which has about 5 stresses per line. This 5 stress per line system mimics iambic pentameter, though it isn't actually composed of iambs. Iambic pentameter is the first part of the sonnet, a very classical form, that is mimicked. The next stanza is a 14 line stanza, mimicking the length of the sonnet, but without the meter. It decidedly loses the meter, and over emphasizes the rhyming words with shorter line lengths. The last stanza begins with a "volta" a classic mechanism used in petrarchan sonnets. This "but" signals the turn in the poem, yet instead of providing a solution to the problem, the last 8 lines provide a sense of futility and no solution. It is also interesting that this last stanza is made of two quatrains, making it the only stanza that feels full and complete. This is ironic given the subject matter.

Comments (1)

nomeaku@... said

at 2:58 am on Nov 7, 2008

Although the story and the plot of the poem are clear, the purpose of the poem was unclear to me. So, I utilized google and did some outside reading on Duffy and the purpose of this poem. This helped me further comprehend the poem. By discovering that the poem is actually about the wife of a Greek God as she watches her husband roll a rock up a hill as punishment. It kind of adds a sense of humor to the poem. The idea of a nagging, unhappy wife creates a lighthearted feeling in the poem.

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