Stealing

The most unusual thing I ever stole? A snowman.
Midnight. He looked magnificent; a tall, white mute
beneath the winter moon. I wanted him, a mate
with a mind as cold as the slice of ice
within my own brain. I started with the head.

Better off dead than giving in, not taking
what you want. He weighed a ton; his torso,
frozen stiff, hugged to my chest, a fierce chill
piercing my gut. Part of the thrill was knowing
that children would cry in the morning. Life's tough.

Sometimes I steal things I don't need. I joy-ride cars
to nowhere, break into houses just to have a look.
I'm a mucky ghost, leave a mess, maybe pinch a camera.
I watch my gloved hand twisting the doorknob.
A stranger's bedroom. Mirrors. I sigh like this - Aah.

It took some time. Reassembled in the yard,
he didn't look the same. I took a run
and booted him. Again. Again. My breath ripped out
in rags. It seems daft now. Then I was standing
alone among lumps of snow, sick of the world.

Boredom. Mostly I'm so bored I could eat myself.
One time, I stole a guitar and thought I might
learn to play. I nicked a bust of Shakespeare once,
flogged it, but the snowman was the strangest.
You don't understand a word I'm saying, do you?

Carol Ann Duffy.



Summary


This poem is an example of a dramatic monologue. The speaker of the poem appears to be talking to someone (a policeman? a counsellor? a teacher?) about the various crimes s/he has committed. The speaker is ambiguous - it could be a male or female of any age. As the speaker talks about the strangest thing s/he ever stole - a snowman - we begin to sense that this is an lonely, sociopathic person with little empathy and few morals. We are also made aware of the fact that the speaker feels detached from society and knows that no-body really understands, not only what s/he says, but his situation, motives or life. Duffy says she wrote the poem in the 80s - during Margaret Thatcher's Prime Ministership - as a response to the way the Tory government created a culture of greed, selfishness and disenfranchisement which ignored and ostracised the working-class. She made the depiction of the speaker deliberately vague so that s/he could stand for anyone.

The Title


The title draws our attention to the objects in the poem which the speaker admits to stealing. This alerts us to the fact that they are stolen for no apparent reason. Or, when there might be a reason (such as learning to play the guitar) that purpose is never achieved. As such, the poem highlights the mindset, loneliness and lack of purpose of the speaker. The poem is not really about stealing at all. It is about the speaker's disturbed and isolated life.


Suggested Revision Activities

Learn the poem!

There is no substitute for knowing a poem off by heart. It takes only a couple of hours to learn a poem like this, and the poem will be with you for ever. Break it down into chunks of two lines and work on memorising each section. Once you've learnt it, add another two. Keep repeating everything from the start, adding couplets as you go. When you think you've learnt a whole stanza, ask a friend or family member to test you. You could spread this out over days or weeks - learning a couple of lines a day or a stanza per week.

In your exam you will benefit massively from being able to remember all the important lines and phrases. This will help improve your essay, save you time, boost your confidence and most importantly give you a head start on your classmates! There is also a deep satisfaction to knowing a poem off by heart. Ask your parents or grandparents - they will almost certainly be able to recite a poem they learned at school!


Learn your key quotes!

If learning the whole poem seems too much, then make sure you at least know your key quotes. There are lots of strategies you could use to help with this. It doesn't really matter which one you use, as long as it helps you remember your quotations accurately and easily.
1 - Write the quotes on study cards and have someone test you.
2 - Write the quotes on cards or post-it notes and stick these all around your door/bed/fridge/tv/computer/mirror/ceiling - anywhere that you will see them regularly.
3 - Write the quotes on cards or piece of paper. On the reverse, draw a picture which you associate with that quotation. Practise looking at the pictures and memorising the quote that goes with it.
4 - Write out each quote 5, 10, 20, 100(!)... times. Some people find the repetition of doing this helps them memorise it.


Think Creatively About Theme

Below is a list of 10 keywords associated with the poem. For each one, write a sentence or two explaining how it relates to the poem.
Make reference to specific words or lines where possible. There may be several possibilities.
Try comparing your ideas with a classmate - you might be surprised by how differently you interpret the words.

e.g.
Cold - There are many phrases and words in this poem which convey a sense of coldness: ("snowman... midnight....winter moon...cold as the slice of ice". This creates a dark and sinister atmosphere which mirrors the 'cold' personality of the speaker who seems to lack emotions: "part of the thrill was knowing that children would cry in the morning")

Cold
Ambiguous
Friendship
Voice
Personality
Crime
Sympathy
Anger
Self-Improvement
Selfishness


Use essay feedback

By the end of the year you will probably have written a number of essays on the poem, many of which will have been marked by your teacher or peers. Look over the comments you were given and the suggestions that were made. Try re-writing sentences, paragraphs or even the whole essay using the feedback/comments to improve.
Although making your classwork/homework essays better isn't important at exam time, simply immersing yourself in those essays will help you remember important points,


Read up on the background of the poem

Although you aren't required to write about the social, political or historical context of the poem in your exam, it will drastically improve your understanding of the poem if you appreciate the reasons why it was written. Use the links below to read up on Dramatic Monologues, Carol Ann Duffy, her poetry and the Thatcher era, which inspired the poem:


BBC Bitesize Revision Site on the Poem
Carol Ann Duffy Talking about what led her to write the poem
Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Dramatic Monologues


Materials & Resources