Analysis of The Dolphins by Carol Ann Duffy

This poem is about a dolphin, remembering its previous free life in the ocean, speaks about the experience of being confined to an aquarium with others of its kind where it is expected to perform tricks in the aquatic equivalent of a circus and where its freedom is limited. This poem is written in the dolphin’s perspective to show how the dolphins feel.

This poem is written under the purpose of telling us that although dolphins are mammals and are man’s friends, Man is dominating these dolphins, controlling them and restricting their freedom, like how friends betray you and control what you do. In this poem, a depressing tone is used, evident from ‘There is no hope’ and ‘our mind knows we will die here’ and it shows how the dolphins are very certain that they will have a bleak future. ‘We are not free’ and we ‘cannot breathe for long’ emphasizes that they have no freedom as their movements are restricted. In the first stanza and the last stanza the phrase ‘a man’ is repeated. This is to give an effect that the domination of dolphins is a cycle of suffering for the dolphins.

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In the second stanza, the repetition of ‘space’ is used to show the monotonous life they are in. This shows that although space was what they desire, but now, space is limited and their movements are restricted. ‘Above is the man’ shows how the man is seen to be superior and he has power over the dolphins.In the last stanza, the ‘moon has disappeared’ and ‘well-worn grooves’ are visual associations being made between the spheres that are the hoops and the moon. The moon which symbolizes nature is now replaced by an unnatural, man-made object.

In the last stanza, a ‘plastic toy’ shows the contrast between the majestic state of the dolphins in the natural sea and its current state where it is given an artificial plastic toy. In stanza 3, simile is used in ‘sliver skin flash by like memory’ shows how the dolphins keep thinking about the times when they were in the sea and when the natural sunlight reflects off their skin, giving it a slivery appearance. In stanza 4, an auditory imagery is used in ‘single note’ where it represents the whistle blowing and ‘music of loss’ shows that there is sadness and emptiness in the music played. The mood of this entire poemrevolves around the depressing state of the dolphins who are devoid of hope and freedom, and are confined within the barricades of a man-made environment.