Catrin I can remember you, child, As I stood in a hot, white Room at the window watching The people and cars taking Turn at the traffic lights. I can remember you, our first Fierce confrontation, the tight Red rope of love which we both Fought over. It was square Environmental blank, disinfected Of paintings or toys. I wrote All over the walls with my Words, coloured the clean squares With the wild, tender circles Of our struggle to become Separate. We want, we shouted, To be two, to be ourselves Neither won nor lost the struggle In the glass tank clouded with feelings Which changed us both. Still I am fighting You off, as you stand there With your straight, strong, long Defiant glare, bringing up From the heart's pool that old rope, Tightening about my life, Trailing love and conflict, As you ask may you skate In the dark, for one more hour. What is it about? Theme? loving but sometimes tense relationship between a mother and daughter 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. Biographical note Poet’s own relationship with her daughter, Catrin wrote the poem to answer the question, "Why did my beautiful baby have to become a teenager?" seems torn between celebrating her child is growing up, and resisting her desire for independence very personal poem but could be about any relationship between a mother and child Structure The poem consists of short lines divided into two stanzas. One stanza deals with Catrin's birth, one the skating incident. pause between them perhaps to make readers wonder what took place in the intervening years title name of the child we meet in line 1 name is not mentioned again? perhaps to reflect the universality of the poem: it could be about any mother / child relationship. Yet also, since the poem is addressed to the child, you, it may be that the relationship is so close that names are unnecessary. Other language features first stanza - past tense - as persona remembers birth of her daughter second stanza, however, is in the present tense - suggests that a struggle is still going on between them - and that their love is still as intense as ever very simple language – could be used to indicate the simple, intense feelings that the poem conveys focus of the dispute? skating in the dark something that children are likely to want to do and parents likely to refuse "it is beautiful and dangerous to be young" Perhaps the mother recognises that and would like to let her daughter out to enjoy the experience, but worries about what might happen if she does... setting begins in the labour ward of the hospital: it is 'hot, white' (line 2) and sterile seems at odds with the intimate event that is about to occur also seen as 'a square / Environmental blank' (line 9) and a 'glass tank' (line 19) Why do you think Clarke places so much emphasis on the hospital building? setting Before the actual birth, persona looks out of the window at 'The people and cars' (line 4) going about their everyday business; in contrast, what is she about to experience? Why do you think she mentions 'the traffic lights' (line 5)? Metaphorical language What does ‘The tight / Red rope of love' (line 8) represent? Literal: the umbilical cord Figurative meaning? red - blood that flowed between the mother and the child in the womb; red - colour of passion and love. red – life – contrasts with the stark, sterile, white hospital surroundings. Metaphorical language Mother and child 'fought over' (line 9) the cord? fought suggests brutality and pain of childbirth perhaps poet is marvelling at how love and life are created through violence. Metaphorical lang 'I wrote / All over the walls with my / Words' (line 11)? Why? Poet’s shouts and screams of pain? words of a poem she thinks of through her labour? imagines the words colouring 'the clean squares' (line 13) of the hospital. Effect? the coloured words would deface the hospital's clean walls? or give them new life and vibrancy? Metaphorical language 'wild tender circles' ? perhaps - 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. mother and child shouted (line 16) Why? in pain or joy? perhaps both? Imagery - conflict Both poet and Catrin were changed (line 20) by the birth: poet became a mother, someone upon whom a tiny baby depended; Catrin became a child, still dependent upon her mother - but less so than she had been in the womb. However, in some ways nothing changed, because the fight continues: Still I am fighting / You off (line 20). Clash of wills v independence? Metaphorical language Catrin has asked to 'skate / In the dark' (line 29). This illustrates Catrin's growing independence, Perhaps - still things that the mother and child have yet to find out about each other; darkness of the womb? Your suggestions ... ? sounds alliteration and assonance used to link and emphasise ideas ‘..our first / Fierce confrontation' (line 6), where the repeated f sounds suggest the heavybreathing effort of the birth '..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 Other literary devices enjambement (where the spoken sense runs on over a line-end) used to great effect: '.. cars taking / Turn at the traffic lights.' (lines 5/6), run-on 'enacts' the cars turning '..our struggle to become / Separate.' (lines 15/16) line-end used to physically separate the words. Standing alone at the beginning of a line, and followed by a full stop, the word prepares us for the birth, when mother and child become at last separate and ourselves (line 17). rhythm gentle rhythm - expresses the love the mother feels for the child not regular – gives sense of natural, spontaneous train of thought How would you read this poem? with tenderness and warmth, to express the mother's intense love for her daughter? with frustration and even some bitterness because of the unending conflict entailed in being Catrin's mother? theme poem is certainly about conflict! begins and ends in conflict. A conflict inseparable from love; it's an old rope 'Tightening about my life, / Trailing love and conflict'. There is perhaps some frustration in the poem's tone - but not bitterness. The tenderness is seen as all the more intense because of the conflict. Ideas The most important idea - the bonds or ties between parent and child seen in constant two-way tension, binding together and at the same time pulling apart. The bond is imagined now as a rope, now as a struggle. . the tight / Red rope of love which we both / Fought over. The main image here is of a tug-of-war between mother and baby, which is at the same time a tug-of-love (in a tug-of-war you fight to pull your antagonist toward you). Red rope of love is also the umbilical cord, which binds mother and baby together but must be cut at birth – an image both of dependancy, and of separation. Neither won nor lost the struggle / In the glass tank clouded with feelings .. This recalls the tug-of-war image: now one side pulling and the other giving way, now the other way about. real fights, and feelings may run very high on either side at the end of the day the struggle between parent and child - not about winning or losing but about change and growth on both sides imagery bringing up / From the heart's pool that old rope, / Tightening about my life image is of a boat in a harbour tied to the quay by an old rope which is partly submerged - but pulled up out of the water as the boat is tugged at by the tide. 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 poet answers questions posed by teenagers. Q What's the poem about? A Why did my beautiful baby have to become a teenager. At least, I think that's what it's about. Q What is 'the tight red rope of love'? A The umbilical cord. Q So what's 'that old rope'? A The invisible umbilical cord that ties parents and children even when children grow up. I was also thinking of the image of a boat tied to a harbour wall. The rope is hidden. The boat looks as if it's free, but it isn't. Q Couldn't it be the tug of war between teenager and parent? A Brilliant! I hadn't thought of that. It proves that if you bring your personal experience to a poem you find ever deeper layers of meaning in the words. Q Or about letting your child go? A Even more brilliant. Q In the last lines is an image of the daughter asking to 'skate in the dark for one more hour'. Isn't that the baby in the womb wanting to 'skate in the dark' one more hour before being born? A A beautiful, amazing question! You've seen something I didn't see when I wrote the poem. It proves that poems are not carved in stone. Interpretations change as the world changes. When Catrin was born they didn't scan babies in the womb. Now we all know what a baby in the womb looks like, so your question gives the words new meaning. Nobody can stop you reading a poem in your own way, thank goodness. Q So what did you mean by skating in the dark? A Just that! Children asking if they could stay out in the street skating as darkness fell. I chose the request as an example of the sort of thing children want to do that mothers refuse. I chose it because it was a romantic, poetic request, and I wanted something that showed it is beautiful and dangerous to be young. Q Doesn't 'in the dark' mean the mother and daughter have yet to explore their relationship? A Wow! Another one I hadn't thought of. Of course you're right. The language proves it - 'in the dark' means not knowing something. Q What is 'the glass tank'? A The hospital. Q Do the changing traffic lights symbolise the progress of labour and changing relationships? A Another clever idea I hadn't thought of. I thought I was describing ordinary life going on in the city while inside the hospital momentous events were happening in people's lives. Q What do you think about students analysing your poems and finding meanings you didn't intend? A I'm grateful to you for reading them and for revealing to me what you find. Poets write instinctively, and don't always see every possible meaning in the words they choose. If you find something, and prove it with quotations, then it's there, and you're right, and don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise. Q Could 'that old rope' suggest the chains of DNA handed down from mother to daughter? A It certainly could. When the poem was written the genetic map had not yet been written, nor had the method of identifying people from their D&A been used. This proves that poetry and language move on, and new meanings can be found.