-The Virgin's Memo-


Summary –

Duffy chooses to use a letter form, a letter that appears to have been sent from a mother to their child, or Mary to Jesus, which advises him to do away with and forgo the various oddities and ailments of life. Mary practically begs Jesus to rethink his decisions but she is ultimately ignored. This presents the fact that women have been ignored for the whole of history, their voices muted so that a man may have the right of speech. Duffy presents the struggle of women in a light that makes it seem futile as it is even perpetuated by God.

Themes – The Silencing of Women 

To look at the poem as a whole, we can agree that all of the facts and unfortunate parts of life listed still exist. Wasps still flit about and swamps still claim lives. This shows that, despite the fact that this woman, who we can take to the Virgin Mary, advises and even pleads for her son to think against his plans, he ignores her. The inclusion of intrusions via the bracketed ‘Untranslated’ and ‘Illegible’ shows that this letter has been discovered. 

By detailing that some parts of it have become too obstructed, bleached, or what-have-you to the extent where it can no longer be read may simply serve to prove the aforementioned idea of this letter being discovered, but it may also,  because of that, hint that such women’s voices have been ignored for centuries, if not the whole of history. By choosing to imply this, Duffy may be attempting to depict how this struggle is not only found in more contemporary times, but instead for all of time itself. It may also suggest that the same silencing of women will only continue. 

Themes- The Hypocrisy of Religion 

Many look upon the image of Jesus and think of the good he achieved, the wise words he spoke (dubiously) that have now trickled down through generations. They will look at these religious figures and assume they can do no wrong. Jesus and his kin supposedly gave the world it’s moral rules and thus must be devout followers of their own words. However, we can see that Duffy instead implies that Jesus, upon receiving the letter from his mother, ignored it. We still have wasps and verruca’s, for example, and we do not even have the unicorn. 

By showing that Jesus, the common figure of all that is right in the world, did not listen to his own mother implies that the very core ideas of religion are, themselves, flawed and deeply sexist. Duffy may be choosing to paint religion in such a light in order to depict how men will often preach equality and fairness, as religion would make you think, but they will also confidently act against their own words. 

Symbols – The Unicorn 

The unicorn is a clear example of myth, that which does not exist. Mary states that the unicorn is fine to exist but perhaps Jesus should reconsider the other things such as leprosy and herpes. However, we know for a fact that Jesus has done the opposite. The unicorn, which would be nice, does not exist yet leprosy and herpes do. It makes Jesus, or God, appear slightly sadistic, choosing a menagerie of things that cause suffering whilst completely omitting the more elegant matters.

 Unicorns are symbolic most often of beauty and rarity. The unicorn is very much an animal that would’ve made the world a slightly brighter place. Therefore, we can say that such a mystical animal is representative of the many bright and thoughtful ideas that women have had over the centuries that have been ignored, and even spat upon, by the minds of men.

Symbols- The Giraffe 

Giraffes do manage to get by in life, however it is not wrong to say that such an animal is a peculiarity biologically and anatomically. When one looks upon a giraffe, one first notices the strange dimensions, the odd physiology. Such a physiology often restricts them from doing and completing actions that would be otherwise elementary to other animals, such as drinking and eating. Whilst a giraffe may be lucky enough to find trees to dine upon, it has very little else to ingest, at least easily. 

One can imagine, therefore, that the giraffe is symbolic of the cruel humour of God. Mary, who we can assume to be quite wise, suggests to Jesus that he might rethink the giraffe, implying that she is aware of the strange life it may lead, or may be forced to lead. However, yet again, she is ignored and instead we see Jesus forge ahead with his tormenting sense of humour. 

The giraffe may be representative of the mistakes men have made, made even worse when one realises that it could’ve been avoided if they were to have listened to the advice of a woman. This symbolism of arrogance in one’s own judgement implies that Duffy may be attempting to criticise The idea of the word of God. 

Devices – Asyndeton 

The whole poem is a list of things that the Virgin Mary holds criticism for. We see that Duffy omits conjunctions, instead making it so that each idea and suggestion comes straight after the former. Such a technique makes it seem as if the list is endless or oppressively abundant. This leads us to focus upon the mistakes of Jesus and especially the quantity of such mistakes. By making us realise the blunders of this divine figure, we begin to criticise the idea of religion as a whole. 

We are expected to believe that the word of God, Jesus if you well, is infallible and always right. However, to be made aware of all the wrongdoings and missteps that such a figure makes forces us readers to question such judgement. Furthermore, the fact that the list seems endless may also emphasise the silence of women. 

We see that Mary picks up on a plethora of deficiencies and problems that Jesus has made yet we are also acutely aware of the fact that these mistakes still remain. This diminishes the voice of Mary, and therefore women, even further. Not even a single one of her recommendations or suggestions has been listened to.

Devices- Alphabetisation 

All of the problems, or woes of the world, mentioned by Mary to her son, Jesus, are listed in an alphabetical way. Choosing to do so may remind us that Mary is communicating to an infant boy, the infant son of God in this case. This puts Mary into the role of a teacher, teaching her child language whilst also attempting to make him see the problems in the world, problems that he has the power to solve. 

Such a decision to alphabetise the list may also imply that the problems are incredibly numerous. One can go through every letter in the alphabet and find some sort of criticisable and downright nonsensical failure of God. By choosing to do so, Duffy yet again disparages the efforts of our creator deity.

 She may also be subtly indicating her frustration with society. Men are so often listened to and their ideas and voices are heard and considered yet we are still stuck with a swamp of dilemmas. Mary represents the voice that, if listened to, may have aided in solving or avoiding such strife.


The poem is a memo for Jesus of all the things that he should change within the world. Duffy begins with ‘abscesses’, moving right down through the alphabet until she gets to ‘W’, at which point the text becomes ‘illegible’ for the last few letters. Duffy suggests that males don’t care about female opinions and that the female voice is lost within history, as even Jesus ignored Mary. Showing no matter their position or authority women have been forever ignored. With the frequent repetition of ‘ maybe not’, being potentially done to show the stereotypical indecisiveness of women and that women almost give up trying due to men ignoring them and disrespecting their opinions.

Check out Our YT Channel