“Mrs. Sisyphus” caught my eye when I was perusing the different poems we were allowed to analyze. I was unfamiliar with the story of Sisyphus so before reading and getting in-depth with this poem, I first had to examine the background information on it. Stemming from Greek Mythology, Sisyphus is a character that has been sentenced by Zeus to roll a boulder up a hill. The only problem is, the boulder never quite reaches the top before it tumbles back down again. Hence, Sisyphus is stuck with the never-ending task for all of eternity.
The poem is written in the point of view of Sisyphus’s wife, Mrs. Sisyphus. The poems satirical nature gives it a humorous feel even though it is juxtaposed with the serious and somewhat angry feelings that Mrs. Sisyphus is feeling towards her husband.
I think it is interesting that this poem is written in such a perspective. In the myth, Sisyphus is usually the one whose feelings are mentioned. Duffy used a unique and different approach by talking a look at a different perspective while unpacking different feelings and emotions that might have otherwise been rejected.
One of the most prominent literary techniques Duffy uses in this poem is that of rhyme and half rhyme. The poem is not broken into stanzas, rather by varying between long and short sentences as well as enjambed lines. At the end of each line, Duffy uses rhymes with an “-rk” sound at the end of the words. Such words include, “jerk, irk, dirk, perk, quirk, shirk, smirk, murk, and work.” She also uses half rhyme words where only the “-k” sound is prevalent. This rhyme and alliteration makes the poem seem very nursery-rhyme-esque.
Although the poem has humorous elements throughout, I found that a serious undertone could be observed throughout. Mrs. Sisyphus is obviously upset with her husbands predicament when she talks about doing “vicious things to him with a dirk.” She also questions the time he commits to her when she exclaims, “what use is a perk…when you haven’t the time for a walk in the park?” Mrs. Sisyphus knows that what her husband is doing has to be done, but she cannot help but feel neglected. By using an intertextual reference to the bible Duffy has Mrs. Sisyphus says that she, “lie(s) alone in the dark, / feeling like Noah’s wife did / when he hammered away at the Ark;” This is an interesting parallel, connecting both Greek mythology and Christian Bible stories. Although she tries to love her husband as much as she can, she finds it difficult when there’s no time left allotted for her and when, “he is giving one hundred per cent and more to his work.” This can be a true feeling for many women, and even men, in today’s society. Neglect is something we all might struggle with at some point, and although I do not believe Duffy’s main intent of this poem was to harbor deep issues relating to neglect among spouses, I feel as if it’s something that should be noted.