The poem tackles the terrible problem found in history of women who were forced into anonymity because of their role in society: simple and demeaning child bearers. Duffy indicates that, though these women will never be known and named, their powers of words and expression live on and will be passed down to newer and known women.
Themes – The Under-appreciated Role of Women in Society
We understand that, throughout history, women have been mistreated due to their womanhood, often meaning that men have either stolen their place, in this case as writers, or their names have been erased entirely and replaced with the insulting ‘anon’, meaning anonymous. It is implied by Duffy that there have been a plethora of prolific women writers that have experienced this blotting out of the history books, writers that now seem like skulls upon a shelf that only whisper faint unintelligible words to the current people.
This greatly diminishes their great works and their ideologies by stating that, not only do we only see them as a skeleton, bare of the flesh and muscles that define them properly, but their voices are unheard. One can then compare this to the subtle implication that these same women all share a natural link to the modern woman. They ‘passed on their pen like a baton’ to the women of today.
This image of a relay race is somewhat comforting, knowing that the women of the past actively support and encourage the women of today, but we can also say that it subtly implies that, though women have more liberties and freedoms today, they still participate in this negative cycle of being constantly under-appreciated.
Themes- Writing as Expression
One finds it a common concept to liken one’s writing with a depiction of one’s own self. Writing has given humans the ability to live on, as if they were immortal. If we define human life, that of higher living, as dependent upon our ability to write and communicate, we can agree that writers and poets can essentially live on past their physical deaths. Though the body may perish, the mind persists. Just like Keats’ nightingale, the song of the bard will be hopefully heard by those in a millennium’s time.
From this, we can say that, despite the fact that we do not know the name of the writer, the will and emotion of the women that have written under ‘anon’ still allow their mind and their ideals to float through the generations. One can also say that it is a mix of positive and negative because of this. Though their minds continue, we cannot properly put a name to the mind. It feels insulting to the women of the past, and even the present, to benefit from their great works and their innovative ideas without giving them the courtesy of their name.
Symbols – The Skull
In the poem, we see one woman place her skull on a shelf in her room. This could symbolise a simple idea of death, the death being that of the woman’s potential and talent. The woman, realising that her aspirations are futile, gives up and kills off her future greatness. The skull could also represent the various female writers of the past who were never recorded, thus being nothing more than a skeleton.
A skull lacks the defining tissue that allows us to identify another individual. It has no flesh or muscle, or eyes and hair. To the world, it is simply a skull. This is a perfect way to describe the female writers of the past, whose works we only know to be of human origin.
Symbols- The Baton
A baton is a stick that is most often used in a relay race. A relay sees a team of runners work together in order to complete the race. One must pass the baton over in order to allow the next racer to run. Linking this to the idea of women writers, we can debate that Duffy may be showing that the women of the past have aided the women of the present. Without the works and unappreciated efforts of them, our modern novelists and poets would perhaps not have the platform to express themselves.
The baton is, subsequently, a symbol of teamwork and unity between these women. Those who are lost to sands of time, buried thousands of years ago, still connect with the women of today because of the fact that they contributed to the timeline of this ‘relay race’.
Devices – Rhyme
There is no dedicated or properly consistent rhyme scheme present in ‘Anon’ but there are brief moments in which one does present itself. The most prevalent is in the second stanza. This may serve to act as a humorous way of presenting the odd times when a prolific female writer breaks the stifling and suffocating mould. Furthermore, the rhyme is a pair of couplets. Couplets are arguably the most noticeable type of rhyme.
By choosing this particular rhyme form, Duffy may have intended to make it seem powerful. It is impossible to not notice the rhyme, just like how a good female writer is also incredibly hard to ignore. There is a level of saddening realism when we observe that most of the rest of the poem is void of such rhyme, implying that a great majority of female writers have been buried, with this one being a rare anomaly.
The most obvious example of such repetitive refrain, and perhaps the only example, is the word Anon. We see how it starts the poem, via the title, and ends the poem. We see it act as an anticlimax in the first stanza and as harsh breaks within the middle stanzas. These refrains only seem to break up the poem, restrict the flow, and make the poem feel as if it returns to where it starts, indicating that the problems that women have dealt with thousands of years in the past still occur today.
The repeating of the word in every stanza also creates this sense of unfortunate consistency, where such blotting out will be forever present, yet again reinforcing that concept of such mistreatment repeating itself.
The poem discusses intentional female anonymity throughout history, especially in regard to the canon of literature specially, and how only white men were chosen to be published and remembered. Duffy suggests that women have been forgotten throughout history, their talents going unnoticed, and shortened to ‘Anon’.
The aim of the poem is to give a voice to those forgotten women. Although their names are lost, Duffy argues the tradition of female writing has passed down the generations because of them. By focusing on the women who have been forgotten in history, she suggests that not only men but that perhaps even they themselves would not recognise their own anonymous work.