‘The Difficulty that is Marriage’ by Paul Durcan

‘The Difficulty that is Marriage’

by Paul Durcan

Upon analysing a poem, I like to decode it in a particular way. I like to read the poem as if it were a story. This helps me to generate an understanding of both the poet and the poems context.  The following notes outline the story of Paul Durcans ‘The Difficulty that is Marriage’. Once an understanding of this poem’s story has been established you will then be able to more effectively create your own opinions and observations.

The Story of the Poem

  1. The scene of the poem is the marriage bed. The speaker lies next to his sleeping wife, yet he feels a distinct distance between them ‘I lie in bed beside you and you are faraway curled up in sleep’. As he lies there, he contemplates their relationship. 
  2. ‘We disagree to disagree’. The couple argue a lot.They even argue about arguing. 
  3. Despite their turbulent relationship, the speaker loves his wife. He cannot believe his luck that she is in his life ‘How was it I was so lucky to have ever met you?’. He doesn’t however worship her or put her on a pedestal – he cannot see her flaws, he is in love. 
  4. The poet proclaims that he is not a ‘brave pagan’. He does somewhat believe in the afterlife. He is almost envious of pagans as they are atheist (don’t believe in God) and don’t have to should the burden about being judged and subsequently omitted or refused to heaven due to their actions while on earth. The poet perhaps feels that this ideology confines him.
  5. The contrast between heaven earth is established. Heaven is described as being a ‘changeling earth’ (a place where nothing stays the same). The poet seems to resent this characteristic of life on earth. 
  6. The poet would gladly sacrifice his place in heaven if he could live on earth forever with his wife ‘Yet gladly on this changeling earth I should live forever if it were with you, my sleeping friend’. He would swap an eternity of bliss for an eternity in his troubled and changeling world, provided he could spend his time with wife. 
  7. This poem exposes marriage as being complex, challenging and volatile. For the speaker love has the power to make the thought of leaving his wife unbearable.  
  8. The poem is an insight into Durcans religious faith; he never fully abandons his faith considering he believes in heaven. He does acknowledge the envy he possesses in relation to atheists and how the fact that they afforded the opportunity to live in the now, without worrying about the afterlife, appeals to him dearly. 
  9. Perhaps Durcan is expressing the fear he has that he may lose his wife due to their strained relationship. 


  1. Marriage
  2. Religion
  3. Intoxicating Power of Women
  4. Love
  5. Relationships
  6. Mental Anguish (Fear of losing a loved one)
  7. Morality/Afterlife

Poetic Techniques Evident:

  1. Alliteration:  ‘We disagree to disagree, we divide, we differ’
  2. Rhetorical Question: ‘How was it I was so lucky to have ever met you?’
  3. Assonance: ‘I array the moonlit ceiling with a mosaic of question-marks’

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