“Salome” is a poem featured in Carol Ann Duffy’s collection, “The World’s Wife”, which is a collection of poem in which Duffy tries to give a voice to female characters from history, fiction and mythology.
In her poems, Duffy writes from a feminist viewpoint, exploring themes like sexism, equality, loss of innocence etc. The poem “Salome” is inspired by the biblical story of Salome who was the stepdaughter of Herod Antipas, the King of Galilee. King Herod promised her anything she wanted as long as she danced for him. She danced for him and in return asked for the head of John the Baptist, on behalf of her mother, who condemned Salome’s mother’s marriage to King Herod. John the Baptist was beheaded and given to Salome’s mother on a platter. Duffy borrows a lot of ideas and references from the original story and text such as the list of men who are Jesus’ disciples, and perhaps also borrowed references from the famous mafia movie “The Godfather”.
Duffy borrows from these texts to enhance the meaning of the poem, as well as give a better idea of who Salome is as a person. The first idea that Duffy borrows is from the Bible, where she writes “Simon? Andrew? John?”. The listing of these names helps give the reader a better idea of who she is, which is a woman who is privileged, spoiled, promiscuous and sinister character who abuses her power of sexuality to cause harm and satisfy her own needs. The list of names also connects to the biblical context of the poem as these are all names of Jesus’ disciples. The last one, “John”, being a reference to John the Baptist, which is also borrowed from the original story as she was the one who ordered for his beheading . This helps the readers dive into Salome’s thoughts and understand more about her backstory.
In the beginning of the poem, it is assumed that she slept with someone the night before and woke up with a man in her bed who she did not remember. The line “Simon? Andrew? John?” is trying to answer the question “What was his name?”. This gives the readers an idea that Salome was very promiscuous and slept around a lot. She says “John?” and continues on with a different thought. This gives off the impression that the speaker has either given up on trying to think of a name for this man, or that the man’s name is John.
The effect of this is to show Salome’s nonchalance of, firstly, sleeping with someone and, secondly, of killing someone and how it seems that forgetting the name of the man she killed and slept with is no big deal. The second point that Duffy borrows is the line “like a lamb to the slaughter”. This line in the poem is borrowed from the bible and is referenced many times in the bible in many different stories.
This could be a reference to Jesus’ crucifixion who was sometimes described as the lamb of God. It could also be a reference to Abraham and Isaac’s sacrifice in the Old Testament. The real meaning behind that phrase is to be unaware of something catastrophic coming up, in this case it the beheading of John the Baptist.
There is some irony to this, as John the Baptist was already dead by this time in the poem and was brought to her as a gift “to Salome’s bed”. The catastrophic event has already happened.The last point Duffy borrowed from other texts is the last line of the poem, where she writes “was his head on a platter”. This is a clear reference to the original story of John the Baptist’s head given to Salome’s mother on a platter. The last four lines of the poem are very powerful in the sense that they tie in everything and the readers finally understand what has happened.
In the second line of the last stanza, Duffy writes “I flung back the sticky red sheets”. This line could be a reference to a scene from “The Godfather”, a 1972 movie about organized crime among different mafia-involved families in New York. This scene in the movie is, probably, one of the most famous scenes from the movie, because of its highly disturbing nature and the negative backlash it got. The scene shows one of the characters in the movie in bed and flinging his bedsheets back to find the head of his horse placed in his bed. This reference to the movie, could connect to Duffy’s use of colloquial language in this poem and in many more of her poems. “The Godfather” is a movie set in a more modern time than the actual context of the poem and Duffy uses this to make the poem more present and relatable to the readers. Both this scene and “Salome” have a distinctly dark tone: there is a sense of normalcy mixed in with a very gruesome event.
What is different though, is that in the scene in the movie, the character reacts with horror and fear, much like any person would. But Salome, reacts in a very nonchalant way and shows no emotion when confronted with the head of a dead man. Once again, the effect of this is to show Salome’s casualness and calmness to a situation that would be very traumatising to most people. In this poem, Duffy reimagines the story of Salome in order to reinforce the character and personality of Salome by borrowing ideas from the bible, such as, “Simon? Andrew? John?” and “like a lamb to the slaughter”. As well as ideas from modern concepts, like the reference to “The Godfather”. Duffy succeeds in retelling the biblical tale and showing that Salome is a ruthless and immoral woman who does whatever she wants to whoever she wants.