The Dolphins Poem Summary & Line by Line Explanation in English ISC 11


Carol Ann Duffy, through her poem, “The Dolphins”, talks about the poor plight (condition) of the dolphins. Dolphins are known for being man’s friend in the water but humans mistreat their kind nature. Humans, for their own greed, capture such dolphins and trap them under the miseries of an artificial pool. Dolphins are supposed to be free in their own element- water. But this time, even if they are in their own element, they feel strangers and grow detached. 

Stanza 1

World is what you swim in, or dance, it is simple. 
We are in our element but we are not free. 
Outside this world you cannot breathe for long. 
The other has my shape. The other’s movement
forms my thoughts. And also mine. There is a man 
and there are hoops. There is a constant flowing guilt. 

In this poem, we, the readers, see from the point of view of the dolphins who are captured by humans and trapped to swim in a confined space. In the first stanza, the dolphin claims that the world is a place where one can  swim in, or dance, meaning one is free and happy.

But for the dolphins, even if they are in their element (water),  they are unhappy as they are not free. They are not free to roam or explore but stuck within the limits of the pool. They can’t breathe for for long outside this world yet at the same time they feel suffocated at their new place.

The dolphin says that there are many dolphins like it around, all miserable, other’s movement forms my thoughts. The dolphin says that there is a man who controls their movement through the use of hoops (round circular rings to pass through). The use of constant flowing guilt  here means how the man knows within their heart that they are guilty yet they don’t mend their ways. 

Stanza 2

We have found no truth in these waters, 
No explanations tremble on our flesh. 
We were blessed and now we are not blessed. 
After traveling such space for days we began
to translate. It was the same space. It is 
the same space always and above it is the man. 

In the second stanza, the dolphin continue saying that there is no truth in this confined area meaning that the water doesn’t speak to them as the oceans and seas did. The use of SONAR (method of echolocation) is limited in the man-made pool. The dolphin reminisces (remembers) the days when we were blessed.

The days when they were free from the clutches of man and swam endless measures of the oceans but now, they are trapped and miserable. Though it is the same space, the same water, the same element- there is a man this time, residing over them. The poet shows how much the dolphins suffer under the rule of a man. She talks through this stanza about the cruelty of man of trapping them in a man-made pool and depriving them of their real home.

Stanza 3

And now we are no longer blessed, for the world
will not deepen to dream in. The other knows
and out of love reflects me for myself. 
We see our silver skin flash by like memory
of somewhere else. There is a coloured ball
we have to balance till the man has disappeared. 

In the third stanza, the dolphin says that all of them have accepted the fact that this was their life, world will not deepen to dream in. No one is going to save them and their dream will soon surround only the pool and their miserable life now. The other dolphins also share the same thoughts and reflect the same feelings and sometimes try to console each other but it seems it’s futile (useless).

They remember the time when they were out in the ocean and beneath the moon, their silver skin would shine. Now it seemed to them like a distant memory. Instead of that freedom, now they have to learn tricks like balancing on a coloured ball to please the humans.

They have to keep on doing that until the man who watches over them is pleased and goes away. The poet emphasizes here the fact that the man controls the dolphins who actually are sweet loving creatures and help the humans when they are in trouble at the sea. Instead of getting a better treatment, they are captured to perform tricks and live in an enclosed place. 

Stanza 4

The moon has disappeared. We circle well-worn grooves 
of water on a single note. Music of loss forever
from the other’s heart which turns my own to stone. 
There is a plastic toy. There is no hope. We sink
to the limits of this pool until the whistle blows. 
There is a man and our mind knows we will die here. 

In the final stanza of the poem, the dolphins griefs about the fact that the natural moon has disappeared the moment they entered the artificial pool. They circle the same little water every single day trying to get accustomed with it. Their heart aches with sorrow due to music of loss forever, the other dolphins sighs and silently cries about their plight.

Those sounds turn each other into misery as they share the same unhappiness. The natural moon and the sun, under which they used to thrive, have all been replaced with man-made balls and plastic toy. All of them have accepted this life as their fate now as they are aware that they cannot get out.

They sink to the limits of this pool meaning that they dive to the bottom of the pool to wait for their instructions, in the form of a whistle, so that they can resurface again and perform tricks for the audience. The same man controls their actions and will continue to do so; as all the dolphins know that this is where they will meet their death.

The poet shows the cruel side of humans in this final stanza, evoking the sympathies of the readers for the dolphins. The dolphins are used for humans’ own monetary gain which results in their unhappiness. 


Through this poem, the poet has shown how inhuman the man is when it comes to their greed and self benefits. They capture the dolphins to perform tricks and uses them to earn profits. The poor helpless dolphins sigh out of misery and remembers the good old days that they had spent out in the vast ocean. They know that this is their new home  and nothing can help them get out from the artificial pool. They are  trapped within the guilt of the man, without their knowledge.