• Clarke says the poem was written in answer to the question, “Why did my beautiful baby have to become a teenager?”
  • In essence, this poem talks about the relationship between the speaker and her daughter. The speaker wants to emphasise how their relationship is changing as time progresses
  • Clarke tries to show that with time, the daughter becomes more defiant and tries to become more independent however, the mother, ie the speaker, is reluctant to see this change taking place
  • Structure- This is poem has a bipartite structure to it. In the first stanza, Clarke talks about the birth of her daughter. And in the second stanza, Clarke describes the skating incident, in which Catrin wanted to go against the wishes of her mother and skate in the during in the dark, against her mothers wishes. It deals with two separate confrontations between them – the actual birth, then one night about twelve or fourteen years later, when Catrin wants to go out roller skating after dark and her mother refuses.
  • The gentle, irregular rhythm of the poem expresses the love the mother feels for the child, and sounds like a natural, spontaneous train of thought. Gentle rhythm of the poem stresses the spontaneous nature of the poet’s recollections
  • Very simple language, indicating the simple, intense feelings the poem conveys.
  • MAIN IDEA- tries to highlight the complexity of human relationships. ï The poet is both glad of how her daughter is growing up, yet does not want to give her the independence she desires
  • The first stanza is the past tense and the second stanza is in the present tense. This may suggest that the struggle between them has been going on ever since Catrin’s birth, and has maybe intensified in recent times. However, their love towards each other is still strong
  • She uses very simple language. Perhaps this indicates the simple, intense feelings that the poem conveys.
  • No mention of the name of ‘Catrin’ apart from the title reflects the universality of the poem. Hence it could be about any mother-child relationship. Alternatively, since the poem is addressed to the child, you, it may be that the relationship is so close that names are unnecessary
  • By the end of the poem, the reader can clearly understand the rationale behind the mother’s side of the argument. Allowing the reader to see this rationale also allows him to enter into the feelings of the mother. Just like the mother, the reader is also unable to open the eyes of the child to the practical nature of the mother’s decision. Thus, the reader can enter into the mother’s feelings.
  • The gentle rhythm of the poem expresses the love the mother feels for the child. The rhythm is not regular, as if it were a natural, spontaneous train of thought.


  • ‘I’ and ‘you’, may refer to universality of the poem as well as the affection felt by the speaker towards her daughter ‘Catrin’
  • ‘child’ at the end of the first line seems somewhat disconnected from the warmth of the name in the title
  • ‘hot, white room’- the intensity and passion of the sensory details makes the reader feel as if the foundation of the confrontation is already being laid down
  • ‘people and … traffic lights’- in contrast to the big day that Gillian Clarke is having as her babu is being born, the other people of the world carry on with their simple and daily routines
  • This line may also imply that the memory of ‘you’ is difficult to confront, hence there is a momentary distraction.
  • Traffic lights could also suggests the progress in life. Mention of them turning at the traffic lights could symbolise how her life will now be controlled by another force.
  • ‘watching’ and ‘taking’- enjambments used by Clarke in order to elongate the sense of time in the poem. It created a momentary as pause as the reader stops in order to ‘watch’ along with Clarke as the cars slowly ‘turn’
  • Clarke looks out of the window, rather than at her daughter, almost avoiding her gaze as she knows this make weaken her resolve and allow her daughter to do what she wants.
  • The full stop after this line (traffic lights.) May suggest that a new chapter is about to begin in the live of the narrator. It prepares the reader for the upcoming birth as well.
  • Repetition of the phrase ‘i can remember you’, perhaps leads to the speaker confronting the main issue ‘first fierce confrontation’
  • alliterative phrase ‘first fierce’. The alliterative ‘f’ reflects maybe the heavy breathing during childbirth or the struggle between the two individuals.
  • Moreover, the word ‘first’ suggests that this is just the battle in their relationship i.e. birth, similar patterns will be seen throughout the poem.
  • ‘tight red rope of love’- maybe the most important symbol of the poem. Literally, the poet is referring to the umbilical cord that joins the child and the mother during birth. Metaphorically, this may refer to the bond between the mother and the daughter.
  • Moreover, the different connotations of the word ‘red’ such as- love, hate, passion, anger show the complexity of human relationships
  • ‘red’ also highlights the fact that the poet and the child share a biological connect. Alternatively, it could be the blood that flowed during child birth. Red contrasts with the stark, white hospital surroundings. It also shows the emotional connection with her child and also the physical attraction as she remembers the birth. Making her seemed tied to her daughter by an invisible rope of love, which is red to express the colour of the heart, or the sense of anger which love can cause
  • The speaker uses the game of tug of war to provide an analogy for the conflict between herself and the child. Though they both pulled on each end of the rope as tightly as they could, they were still inevitably connected by this rope of love which could not be severed. The love and devotion between a mother and her child is one as strong as a rope
  • ‘fought over’- The verb fought suggests the brutality and pain of childbirth. Perhaps Clarke is marvelling at how love is created through violence.
  • ‘It was a square Environmental blank’, it is interesting for the readers to notice how Catrin’s birth has made everything in the surroundings pale and listless in comparison.
  • The speaker used the word “disinfected” to reveal the reality of this confrontation. She remembers all the things she has disinfected over the years in order to keep the child healthy.
  • **She then describes the way she coloured all over the walls with her words. This parallels the way in which a child can colour on the walls when he is young. Now, the mother has coloured the walls with her words. Just as a child’s colouring on the wall would frustrate a parent, the mother’s words seem to be equally frustrating to the child.**
  • The words “wild” and ”tender” (line 14) emphasise the mixture of experiences as a mother gives birth. Clarke fights with her daughter but loves her at the same time.
  • This oxymoron perfectly describes the tempestuous relationship while also shows that a struggle to control the red rope of love is loving and passionate
  • ‘The wild tender circles’ perhaps refer to the waves of contractions in the lead-up to the birth. Contractions get closer and closer together as moment of birth nears, as the circles of ripples on a pond are closest to the point where a stone is dropped in. The mother and child shouted (line 16). Was this in pain or joy? perhaps both
  • She says, “We want, we shouted, to be two, to be ourselves.” This reveals that the speaker understands that her child is a separate being with different feelings and ideas. However, it is still clear that whatever the mother and child are fighting over, it is worth the fight to the mother. Even though she is able to recognise her child’s desire to be his own person, she still continues to hold on to her end of the rope, fighting this fight that has led to such frustration and anger between the two of them.
  • The “I” and “you” that characterises the presentation of the relationship up to this point modulates into “our”, “we” and “ourselves”. However, mother and child are united in their “struggle to become / Separate.” The word “separate” that begins line 16 is followed by a full stop, leaving the next sentence as a concerted statement of individuality. The neat choice of the plural reflexive pronoun that concludes the first part of the poem paves the way for Clarke to explore the paradoxical nature of the mother-daughter relationship that is characterised by mixture of affinity and conflict.
  • The inclusive pronouns may suggest that the two beings struggle as they love each other
  • ‘We want, we shouted, To be two ’Both want are violently fighting for the right to be individuals. There is a sense of claustrophobia, or too close bonds, goes both ways here.


  • There is a switch from the past tense to the present tense, makes the reader wonder as to what happened between this time period.
  • ‘nether won nor lost’ the speaker reveals that she does not feel as though either of them won the argument. Yet, they were both changed from it. And perhaps growth was the important aspect of these fights. There may be real fights, and feelings may run very high on either side – but at the end of the day the struggle between parent and child is not about winning or losing, but about change and growth on both sides.
  • “In the glass tank clouded with feelings” – Represents Clarke’s and Catrin’s relationship; it’s clouded by their mixed feelings for one another. It also suggests that they are trapped and need space to become their own person.
  • The tank may metaphorically refer to a fish tank. and it was so clouded with feelings that they couldn’t see each other, and they were drowning in these feelings
  • ‘heart’s pool that old rope’- old rope may mean that there still exists an invisible umbilical cord that joins the 2 beings, Alternatively, there seems to be a continuation of the metaphor in the first stanza. Over here, perhaps, Clarke wants to conjure up an image of a boat at a dock. Even though the rope which attaches the boat to the dock cannot be seen it exists. and as the boat tries to move away from the shore, it becomes tighter, eventually stopping it after a point. Similarly, the boat represents the daughter, who is trying to gain her independence from her mother, but the mother is reluctant to let go.
  • Moreover, ‘tightening’ could suggest how Clarke was in a fix. She wants her child to grow and develop but at the same time, doesn’t want them to distance from each other. The mother never forgets her attachment to the child: “that old rope” is actually ageless; it is both real and metaphorical.
  • Rope is surrounding the mother, or she is holding onto it, She is bound by the fact she is a mother.
  • The metaphor of “the heart’s pool” and the idea of the umbilicus being that which signals attachment, inescapable responsibility, and the reality that the story of a mother and daughter’s life is patterned by “love and conflict”. and now she is unable to let go of the rope, no matter how much it hurts.
  • It comes up dripping from the water – suggesting the way that every struggle between mother and daughter comes trailing deep-felt feelings ‘From the heart’s pool’. The rope tightens about the mother’s life, constricting it – but also holding it safe, like the boat securely tied to the quay side bollard.
  • The “long brown hair” and “rosy defiant glare”  suggest feminine features. The image of Catrin, the daughter, is one of strength, so much so that Clarke has to fight her off. She looks powerful, ‘with your straight, strong, long brown hair and your rosy, defiant glare’, making her seem the one in control.
  • ‘…your straight, strong, long, brown hair and your rosy, / Defiant glare’ where the st sound and rhyming -ong and -air sounds emphasise Catrin’s strident strength.
  • ‘skate/ in the dark’ is a common activity that kids may ask there parents to do during childhood. Hence Clarke has chosen this incident
  • The word “Your” suggests that Catrin is always fighting with her mother as she has a recognisable glare.
  • This illustrates Catrin’s growing independence, yet perhaps contains other layers of meaning. One student quoted on Gillian Clarke’s website points out that In the dark may mean that there are still things that the mother and child have yet to find out about each other; another interpretation suggests it refers to the darkness of the womb.
  • It is interesting that this stanza begins with the speaker claiming that neither of them won the argument. It would appear that the daughter was not allowed to skate in the dark. Thus, it seems the speaker won the argument. However, she does not feel like a victor. Rather, she feels that both of them have changed, and she has lost something in the process. For this reason, it seems as though they both lost.
  • This poem allows readers to understand the intense dynamics in parent-child relationships. Some readers have experienced both sides, while others will have only experienced the child’s side of the argument. However, the poem reveals the importance of the mother’s wisdom and the significance of her role in the child’s life not only as friend, but as an authority figure.
  • Earlier in the poem, the speaker revealed her own acknowledgement that her daughter was attempting to be a separate person. She clearly had her own will, her own ideas, and her own desires. Those ideas and desires did not always comply with those of her mother. The speaker, her mother, understands this fully, and yet chooses in this instance not to let go of her end of the argument. The readers can feel the intensity of the love that the mother has. Though she is frustrated, and perhaps even angry, she will not let go of the rope because the rope comes from her very heart and is red with the blood of her heart. Her concern for her daughter’s safety combined with her daughter’s separate will has led to this conflict which forever changed them both.

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