Baby Sitting




  • This poem explores the relationship between a baby sitter and the child.
  • In this poem, Clarke recounts her baby sitting experience where she baby-sat for a baby who is asleep but will wake up to find the baby-sitter, a stranger, and feel that it has been abandoned by the mother.
  • She shows how the bond between the infant and babysitter is of loneliness and by shedding light on this, Clarke explores the feeling of abandonment experienced by the narrator and the baby at the same time
  • The poem looks at a babysitter’s feelings baby-sitting somebody else’s baby and **wishing it was hers**
  • Main Ideas —Tells of when she was babysitting and how as the baby is not her own she cannot love her, and how she cannot replace her mother, as the baby will still feel abandoned. The powerful tie between a mother and child which cannot be replaced
  • Emotions—Fear for this child with whom she cannot bond with, and the feelings of abandonment which the babysitter cannot prevent. Sympathy with a baby who will not be able to understand her suffering, making it worse
  • Structure—two stanzas, first tells of babysitters feelings, second of baby’s. Relaxed rhythm, some iambic pentameter e.g. lines 17-18 gives thoughtful sound, adds to emotions in the poem.
  • The poem consists of two ten-line stanzas with lines of slightly varying length. There is no rhyming, and in fact many of the lines run straight into the following one, so that breaks occur frequently in the middle of the line, particularly in the first stanza.
  • Gillian Clarke has painted a sensitive picture here, seeing the situation from the point of view of the baby, imagining exactly how it must feel on awakening to find a stranger instead of its mother. She also understands how the baby-sitter will react, actually feeling fear because the baby will not welcome her presence. It is a convincing picture, giving an unusual slant on what to us is probably a commonplace situation.
  • The poem has short lines – there is no set metrical form, but most lines have four stresses, and many naturally fall into two halves.


  • Stanza one focuses on the mother’s feeling of being in a house with someone else’s baby.
  • The repetition of the word ‘wrong’ shows that Clarke is babysitting an unknown child in a house that is not hers. Moreover, this repetition suggests that there exists a ‘right’ baby, the biological child of the narrator.
  • The word ‘wrong’ also suggests that their is no emotional connect between these two beings
  • The baby no being hers is reinforced in the line ‘i don’t love/ this baby’. This enjambment first tells the readers that Clarke doesn’t love at all, but the next line shows that she isn’t affectionate towards this baby only.
  • ‘Roseate, bubbling sleep;’ Transferred epithet is used by Clarke to describe the child and the sleep simultaneously. This allows the poet to convey a more vivid description of the child to the readers. **This may have been used to convey her thoughts quickly as she is afraid that the baby would wake up. **
  • ‘She is sleeping a snuffly’ Her ‘mother’s eye’ allows her to appreciate the baby as it sleeps.
  • the use of alliteration ‘sleeping a snuffly’ express the breathing sounds of the baby, as does the onomatopoeic ‘bubbling’ sound.  Alliteration of “s” sounds soft and loving, showing a knowledge of babies and general acceptance of them
  • the ‘s’ in the first line, like breathing: ‘sitting in a strange room listening’. The baby ‘is sleeping a snuffly, roseate, bubbling sleep.These are snuffly sound.
  • the baby is described as ‘fair’, but rather that over glorifying this child, as one may do with their own, the narrator calls her ‘perfectly acceptable child’ , showing that this child isn’t special, and just an ordinary kid in her mind
  • ‘I am afraid of her.’ Caesura (pause because of the full stop) forces the reader to ponder this odd statement. In contrast to the gentle descriptions given in the first few lines. Also, this line again shows that there is no maternal bond between these beings
  • Negative diction has been used. words like ‘hate’ ‘rage’ ‘disgustingly’ cast a negative cloud around the baby.
  • She fears that if the child wakes ‘she will hate me’ as she will make lots of noise and ‘shout her hot midnight rage’ the ‘h’ alliteration emphasising the harshness of the sounds she may make if she wakes up.
  • Long sentence (enjambment) over lines 7-10 gives a panicked sound, like the poet trying to deal with the screaming baby she does not love. Long sentences in contrast to earlier short sentences
  • Clarke says, “[this] implies that I understand the experience of being enchanted by a baby’s breath. I use the word ‘perfume’ – as this is something joyfully experienced as a mother.


  • The enjambment shows that the abandonment comes as a shock to the reader as it would to the child. The caesura forces the reader to dwell on this feeling. The ‘abandonment’ comes as a shock to the readers.
  • Alliteration of “absolute / Abandonment” shows a complete feeling of loss
  • Subsequently, she compares the loneliness of the child to that of a ‘lover cold in lonely sheets’. This bleak image represents that like a wife’s life revolves around her husband, an infants life revolves around her parents. And loss of the loved one would be be unacceptable to both. This arouses sympathy for the child. She will be like a lover who wakes to find her loved one gone and replaced by an impostor.
  • This line also shows Clarke would never be equivalent to the child’s real mother. This adds tension and stress to the situation.
  • Comparison to adult experiences of loss, perhaps suggesting that the confused pain of the baby is worse than the knowing pain she may experience as an adult.
  • The loss for the baby is both practical (loss of food) and emotional (the stranger can give no comfort).
  • this hint at the future loss and hardships to come.
  • the confused pain of the child and the knowing pain of the adult are considered to be the same
  • ‘monstrous land’ — nightmare, only a mother would be able to provide comfort to a child in such circumstances.
  • Repetition stresses that neither the milk, nor the comfort, will come because this child is not hers
  • The baby awakes from a bad dream. This is exactly the time when a child needs comforting most and makes the absence of maternal comfort all the more pitiful
  • ‘Beside the bleached bone’ combines alliteration and metaphor to create a harrowing image of a person dying in hospital.
  • ‘it will not come’— cannot help the child physically as well as emotionally. Shows how the baby will find neither milk nor comfort as Clarke is not her mother
  • The fact that this is not what she wants is emphasised at the end by the repetition of ‘it will not come’ at the end which really emphasises the sense of emptiness and loneliness felt by both the baby and the baby sitter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s