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
Biographical note
Poet’s own relationship with her daughter,
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
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
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...
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?
Before the actual birth, persona looks out
of the window at 'The people and cars'
(line 4) going about their everyday
in contrast, what is she about to
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
perhaps poet is marvelling at how
love and life are created through
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
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
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
Perhaps - still things that the mother and
child have yet to find out about each other;
darkness of the womb?
Your suggestions ... ?
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
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
with frustration and even some bitterness
because of the unending conflict entailed
in being Catrin's mother?
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.
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
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
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
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
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.

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