Gillian Clarke says that this poem answers the question: "Why did my beautiful baby have to become a teenager?" The poem contrasts the baby's dependency on her mother with the independence and defiance of the teenager. In a sense, therefore, this poem is for all mothers and all daughters. Gillian Clarke writes that "It is an absolutely normal relationship of love, anxiety and exasperation."
In this poem a mother wants to protect her child from danger. However, there is conflict as well as love in the relationship here as the daughter is defiant and fights her mother off
NB: Central image of this poem – that old rope = umbilical cord
The mother is in the labour ward in a city hospital, before (when she looks out of the window) and during labour (the room is "hot" and "white" and "disinfected"). Perhaps it is hot because of the plate glass, since later it is a "glass tank" - almost like a fishtank, or the vivarium where one keeps a pet that needs to stay warm. From the first mother and child seem to have been in a tug of war or a tug of love, fighting over the "red rope". Did the poet literally write all over the white hospital walls - or does she mean that she found herself thinking up (and maybe writing somewhere) words, like those in the poem? Or maybe she is trying to explain her reaction to the "disinfected" and "clean" or "blank" environment - without "paintings and toys" and colouring in the white spaces. She sees this now as two individuals struggling to become "separate" and shouting "to be two, to be ourselves".
This tells what happened. Neither has "won nor lost the struggle" but it "has changed us both". The poet is still fighting off her daughter who can tug at her feelings by pulling "that old rope". The mother seems very much to want to be able to agree to the request to play out, and it hurts her to say no - not only because she foresees an argument with a strong-willed teenager, but also because she very much likes the idea of her daughter's skating in the dark. But she cannot give in - maybe because it would be irresponsible to allow the skating or perhaps because she doesn’t want her daughter to think that she was winning the struggle. The poem was written at a time when children were allowed to take far more risks than is common in the UK today, but enjoying as a result a freedom to explore and learn from the natural world. (In Catrin's case, it was roller-skating. Gillian Clarke says that "the request is half true, half symbolic".)
Structure, Style & Language
Two separate verses/one poem = two perspectives = Two people bound together and yet fighting to be two separate entities
Free verse - No regular rhyme or rhythm – supports theme of struggling to be free
Enjambment – gives poem a conversational tone but could also suggest that there is no break in the mother’s love for her daughter - her love is never ending
Alliteration & assonance – red rope & strong, long rosy rope
1st stanza – set in labour ward, impersonal surroundings reinforced by vocabulary: white, blank, disinfected and the glass tank in stanza 2. Catrin’s struggle to be free, yet bound to her mother physically by umbilical cord, but also bond of love
2nd stanza – Change in perspective: Catrin as a teenager struggling for independence, yet still bound to mother by love – the umbilical cord becomes a metaphor
Vocabulary of togetherness = love, tender, tight red rope of love
Vocabulary of conflict = confrontation, fought, struggle, separate, ourselves, still I am fighting, defiant
Imagery. • "The red rope of love" is used as a metaphor for "that old rope" which refers to the umbilical cord as a rope which is both associated with tying together, joining and bonding and also in pulling and heaving apart. Gillian Clarke explains this as: "The invisible umbilical cord that ties parents and children even when children grow up. I