“Warming Her Pearls” is a free verse poem written by Scottish poet Carol Ann Duffy. It is a dramatic monologue told from the perspective of a maid who pines for the mistress she serves. The poem is set in Britain’s Victorian era, the period spanning 1837 to 1901, during which same-gender relationships were forbidden. Unable to express her desires, the poem's speaker channels her lust into the pearl necklace that her mistress directs her to wear, warming it to bring out the pearls' natural luster. Published in 1987, “Warming Her Pearls” is one of Duffy’s earliest poems about queer love, which has since become a prominent theme in her writing.
Next to my ...
... cool, white throat.
All day I ...
... neck, her rope.
She's beautiful. I ...
... her milky stones.
I dust her ...
... want to speak.
Full moon. Her ...
... she always does....
And I lie ...
... and I burn.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Biography of Carol Ann Duffy — A concise summary of Duffy's life and works from the Poetry Foundation.
The Liverpool Poets — An overview of Adrian Henri, Roger McGough, and Brian Patten's artistic practices in mid-20th century Liverpool.
Feeling Chilly? Reach for Your Pearls — An explanation of why pearls store heat.
Hard Conditions for Victorian Servants — A synopsis of the conditions in which domestic servants lived and worked during the Victorian era, with a hierarchy of positions and pay.
"Warming Her Pearls" on the South Bank Show — A performance of Duffy's poem.
A Short History of LGBTQ Rights in the UK — An examination of LGBT rights in Britain from 1533, with primary source material.
for Judith Radstone
1Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
2bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
3when I'll brush her hair. At six, I place them
4round her cool, white throat. All day I think of her,
5resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk
6or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
7whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
8each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.
9She's beautiful. I dream about her
10in my attic bed; picture her dancing
11with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
12beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.
13I dust her shoulders with a rabbit's foot,
14watch the soft blush seep through her skin
15like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
16my red lips part as though I want to speak.
17Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
18her every movement in my head.... Undressing,
19taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
20for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way
21she always does.... And I lie here awake,
22knowing the pearls are cooling even now
23in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
24I feel their absence and I burn.