ISC Class 12 Literature —– The Dolphin by Carol Ann Duffy

The Dolphins by Dame Carol Ann Duffy

About the author .. Dame Carol Ann Duffy (born, 1955) is a highly acclaimed poet of Scottish descent. She teaches Contemporary Poetry in Manchester Metropolitan University. She has prodigious literary talent that began to flourish quite early in her life. Prizes, Honours and awards came to her as she began her writing career. She is crowned the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, an honour bestowed on her for her lifelong dedication and illustruous contribution to English poetry. In matters of personal freedom and choice, she chose the non-conformist path making many frown on the liberty she too with morality, as understood in the conventional way. Her unconventional personal life has been marked by multiple love affairs, and birth of Ella, her only child. Ella’s biological father is Peter Benson, with whom she had a brief romantic relationship during the time she was living with, Jackey Kay, her lover for fifteen years.
Among Duffy’s countless great works are Beauty and the Best (poem), Take my Husband (play), Stopping for Death (poetry), The World’s Wife, (poetry), Rapture (poetry), and many many more.
The poem The Dolphin gives the readers a glimpse of her liberal mind, unfettered sense of personal freedom, and universal love that includes the love for animals. She felt pained to see the suffering caused to entrapped animals. In many ways, she was the crusader for freedom, empathy, and universal love. The Dolphin reflects these sentiments of her in good measure.
The poem ..

First stanza … World is what you swim in …   constant flowing guilt.

Meaning .. The first stanza is the lament of a deracinated dolphin, caged in an aquarium. [It was born and reared in the wild ocean waters, but was trapped by poachers and brought to the aquarium for entertaining humans.] A trainer with a hoop in hand, stands controlling its movements, so that the visitors are amused. The speaker is the hapless dolphin who swims and dances, but not in her natural rythm, nor according to its natural instincts. The trainer sets the pace. The dolphin bemoans its loss of freedom, but soon realizes that deliverance from the bondage is out of question. It is enslaved for life. Even if it escapes to the outside world, it will die because it can’t breathe. No aquatic animal survives in dry land. The dolphin resents the way it has to surrender to the commands of its trainer. It seethes in indignation, but is powerless to do anything. The depressing thought hurts the dolphin endlessly.

Second stanza ..  We have found no truth …………………………………..and above it is the man.

Meaning .. The dolphin continues to pour out its woes.  Quite understandably, the dolphin finds the aquarium’s water alien and hostile. It’s clueless as to why it has to endure such pain and unease. It reminisces about its earlier days when it could ram freely in the vast expanse of the ocean’s waters. It was its natural sanctuary. Now, it is held captive in the narrow cramped pool of the aquarium.  It wonders how and why such misfortune befell it. Now, the monotony of swimming in the same water for days on end pricks it relentlessly. Looking up, it sees the man towering over it. There is no respite.

Third stanza .. And now we are no longer ………………… till the man has disappeared

Meaning .. There are a group of dolphins in the aquarium, each condemned to life-long captivity. The dolphin speaks about its fellow creatures with remarkable empathy and sensitivity. Resigned to its fate as a show animal, the dolphin wryly says that the pool is not going to get deeper likethe ocean, its original habitat. So, for the rest of the life, it has to live in the shallow water of the pool. It knows that its companion must be feeling the same frustration. Its silver skin has begun to fade due to the artificil environment. It can’t regain its lustre. The task in hand is, however, to obey the commands of the trainer, and balance the coloured balls for the entertainment of others. The whole group has to fall in line and do likewise. 

Fourth and last stanza ..  The moon has disappeared ……………………….mind knows who will die here

Meaning .. The night is drawing to an end. The moon has disappered. The dolphin swims around the same confined pool along with its companions. Boredom aggravates the agony, but there is no freedom from the confinement. Life has become insipid, monotonous, and deeply hurtful. The dolphin knows its friends are enduring the same pain. It understands their predicament, but can only show solidarity, with no remedy. Inured to such humdrum existence, the dolphins’ hearts have turned stone. The training routine is repetitive. The dolphins are asked to swim down till they touch the pool’s floor and again swim up to do stunts with a plastic ball. The routine goes on and on, because the trainer standing guard wants it.  It is so boring. The dolphins know, they will be here in the pol till their last braeth. What a dumb way to die!



Q1.. What is the theme of the poem?   Answer ..  The poem suffuses with the lament and indignation of an incarcerated dolphin. The dolphin is the sibling of the seas. It is a ace swimmer, and a totally harmless towards the humans. Sadly its playfulness and friendly attitude towards the humans prove to be its bane. When captured and kept in small congested containers, it suffers unimaginably.

The moan and the anguish of a creature imprisoned for the rest of its life comes out clearly from this poem. The dolphin suffers as miserably as a human being who has been robbed of their freedom and thrown into a jail.  In many ways, the poem expresses the pain and peril of a captive. It shows what toll captivity takes of a living being when its freedom is lost, and it has to obey the commands of its captors. Sadly, during the dark periods of history, when ship loads o slaves were uprooted from Africa, and forcibly relocated in America and Europe, generations of black human beings suffered the same pain and frustration the dolphin suffers in this poem. The apartheid system in South Africa is another such shameful saga of history. 

The poem Dolphin might appear too simple and innocuous, but it surely stirs the soul. It makes us to reflect, look within, and judge our attitude towards the animal world and fellow humans. Interpreted intelligently, the poem can be the guide to our conscience, and the loadstar of our collective attitude to other creatures with whom we share this earth. Bereft of empathy, and compassion, we all become beasts. The dolphin, through its anguish, stops us from being beasts. So, let’s read this poem again and again.

Q2. .. ‘The Dolphins by Duffy is a protest against the exploitation of wildlife’. Discuss.

Answer .. The captured dolphins speak collectively about their cruel incarceration, the cramped aquarium, the dawn-to-dusk drill, and the total loss of hope about deliverance from such wretchedness. It is a lament, whose pathos rings loud in our hearts. No human being with an iota of compassion can bear to hear out the wail of the imprisoned dolphins without feeling a turmoil in their conscience.

The dolphins protest. The protest may not lead to their release into the wild again, but the protest shakes the foundation of our collective sensitiveness to its very foundation. The protest is powerful, poignant, and nerve-wracking. It touches our heart. By penning this poem, and speaking through the mouths of the dolphins, Duffy has succeeded in arousing our conscience to the sin we all commit in participating in this game rooted in cruelty and torture. We all begin to see our guilt in perpetuating exploitation of wildlife.



More questions and answers will be posted soon.


55 thoughts on “ISC Class 12 Literature —– The Dolphin by Carol Ann Duffy”

  1. Hello, it would be helpful if you could post the answer to the question: ‘The Dolphins by Duffy is a protest against wildlife and exploitation of animals. Discuss.’. Thank you

  2. very well explained sir….. sir i will be very thankful to you if u provide me the explanation of the poem “the spider and the fly”.

  3. Hey, may you please help me with the answer to the following question:
    Discuss on the role of man in the life of imprisoned dolphin.

  4. Can u pls post this 1000-1500words
    Discuss Carol Ann Duffy’s the dolphin as a plea to preserve and respect animals natural rights .

  5. Can you please give the answer of this question by tomorrow ? I need it urgently pls . The question is :- The poem , ‘the dolphins’ brings out the state of their existence through a series of contrasting ideas . Discus with substantiation from the poem .

  6. Pls can you give me an answer for this question in 200 words??
    Why does the Dolphin regret that ‘ no regulations tremble (our) flesh?
    It would be very grateful.

    • You have wrongly typed your question. It should be ‘no explanations tremble the flesh’.
      The Dolphin has its sensory mechanism embedded in its skin. It senses changes in its environment through the skin. Accordingly, it takes evasive action to ward off danger. It also swmis to more hospitable waters when the signals from the skin prompt it to do so. However, inside the cramped space of the pool, the skin’s sensory power is rendered redundant. So, the Dophin bemoans the fact that its skin is of no use to it anymore.

  7. I have to make a project on what does dolphin symbolise in the poem?
    Word limit -1000 to 1500 words
    Written in this direction –
    – Explanation of the question that has been framed
    – Reason for choosing the word
    – Brief explanation of how the candidate Intends To interpret The choosen text
    And literary materials used in the process.
    2. MAIN BODY – organised and well structured treatment of the question using appropriate sub heading.
    3.CONCLUSION – comprehensive summary of the points made in the main body.
    Pls pls help me sir.🙏🙏

    • Ann Duffy has captured the pain of the encaged Dolphin with remarkable sensitivity. Dophin is a marine animal of the wild, vast and turbulent sea. It roams in the vast expanse of water unbriddled and un-hindered. There is no one to tell it where to go, and what else to o. From this paradise of limitless freedom, it is captured thrrough chicanery by humans, and kept in a claustrophobic enclosure, and made to dance to the tune of the trainer. The visitors derive their pleasure at its expense. For the virual lord of the seas, nothing can be more pathetic than being condemned to such a life of captivity. The trainer shows no mercy, no sympathy, because he has to entertain the visitors for commercial gains. The dolphin knows this, but tragically it has no recourse to seek deliverance from such incarceration. It knows, it will not die soon, and it also knows that long years of pain and suffering lie ahead of it. Nothing can be more tragic than this realization.

  8. Thank you for the explanation! Could you please write the answer to the question- artificial devices used in the poem
    The question is for 5 marks. I need it as soon as you can answer it.
    Thank you so much again!

  9. hello! i have to make a project on the topic ‘The poem The Dolphins by Carol Ann Duffy evokes pathos in the hearts of the readers.Comment.’
    the word limit is 1000-1500 words

    • By when you want it? I need about 20 days to complete it. Besides this, I charge a fee of Rs.1000 for such work. If you are agreeable to these, please revert.

  10. Can you please give me the answer to this-“Write about the life of a Dolphin in a pool and the dream of getting the lost motherland depicted in the poem Dolphin.”

  11. Can you please give me an answer to this- In the context of the poem, if the trainer were to speak about his/her predicament, what, in your opinion would he say about his/her life in the pool?
    It would be really kind of you if you answer this question as soon as possible because i need it urgently 🥺

    • Lament of a Dolphin trainer .. (Written in first person)
      I am Phil Thomas (48). I joined the National Dolphin Entertainment Park in the U.S’s eastern coast of Florida when I lost both my parents at the age of 14. My boss was the owner of the facility, who was quite deft in reining in the wild dolphins that the Park bought every year in August after the cyclone season was over.
      In the initial months, I never understood why the new entrants were kept in a separate enclosure divided by a brick and concrete partition from the main park. My boss, John by name, starved the dolphins for days, hit them with electric hunters, and pointed spears to make the sea giants submit to his commands. My heart wept to see their initiation to their lifelong incarceration and a 12-hour-long daily routine of gymnastics. The animals made peculiar sounds, out of pain, resentment, and anger, but they could never protest. My stomach wrenched as I saw the dolphins cry out in hunger, but I could hardly do a thing. John came at 6.50am to hand over a burger and a piece of bread to me. When I dared to ask John about the dolphins’ feed, he would just shrug the question off.
      As I grew up, I learned the art of training the dolphins, making them show acrobatics to the tune of loud recorded music, and after each show devour the small portions of fishes thrown at them as reward.
      Quite honestly, I nursed a grudge against Jon for his cruelty towards the dolphins, but never gave vent to it. He died a decade ago in a winter morning, I deliberately kept myself away from his burial rites.
      Sadly, my lack of formal schooling, and my training in a dolphin aquarium meant that I could never switch my job. I felt as condemned to cruelty and servitude as the dolphins were. Sometimes, I felt angry at the visitors too for the enjoyment they derived from the suffering of the dolphins, cramped in to small narrow place. ‘The sea had disowned them,’ I felt. An animal that could swim hundreds of kilometers a day and savour myriad fishes, now lived in a dormitory, on doles!
      I am bearing the half-century mile stone of my life, but the relentless grief of seeing the dolphins in bondage has robbed my life of all bliss. Before the final moments of my life, remorse will grip me like an iron vice. That would be so excruciatingly painful!

  12. You all are indeed splendid writers, these answers help a lot. I’d like to volunteer for the website if you’re ever hiring!


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