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 a 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
Brown hair and your rosy,
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.
It was written about an argument between them both while Catrin was young, as she wanted to skate outside in the dark and Gillian Clarke said no to her. This reminded Clarke of how she will have to let her go someday, as the dark symbolises independence upon herself.
"The tight red rope of love" also represents the umbilical cord as she gives birth to this child. She goes on "Which we both fought over." By this she is referring to the actual process of having a baby and how they struggle to remove the child from Clarke and the emotions she is feeling at the time. It says how Catrin was a beautiful person. It also describes how hard it is being a mother and the change that happens when a child grows up.
The poem begins with the poet’s voice speaking to a child. The poem highlights the differences between mother and child and the common problems parents have with their children.
The second and third lines create a sense of an uncomfortable atmosphere, with the ‘hot, white room’ making the place seem clinically white, as she gazes outside watching cars pass. The description of the room adds to the intense, angry atmosphere. 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 ‘remembered’ is in the past tense throughout, making it seem as though the person she is talking to is gone, or has changed completely. There is a memory of ‘our first fierce confrontation’ and a metaphor of ‘the tight red rope of love which we both fought over’ 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 sense of an emotionless location is continued with ‘a square environmental bank, disinfected of paintings or toys’ making the place seem love-less and unpleasant.
Clarke talks of writing over the walls her words, almost as if she does this literally (for real) or she does it in an imaginary manner, writing the words that express her emotions and feelings for her daughter.
The use of oxymoron, ‘wild, tender circles’ emphasises the contrasts in emotions that the relationship can bring, with ‘wild’ and ‘tender’ seemingly opposites, and yet there are both feelings in their relationship. This is continued with the idea that they wanted to be ‘two’ together or to be two separate people as well: ‘to be ourselves’. The second stanza begins in stalemate. ‘neither won nor lost the struggle’ and the metaphor of a fish tank is used, ‘clouded with feelings’. It is as if they are trapped in a claustrophobic place, surrounded by ‘feelings’, rather than the water of the tank, drowning them both, overwhelming them.
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.
The image of the rope is brought in again, with the idea of the daughter tightening it ‘about my life, trailing love and conflict’ so the rope metaphorically is a tie between the two of them that, despite their differences, seems to bring them closer. Despite their intense feelings, they can’t escape from each other. The argument is about whether the daughter can stay outside in the dark skating for ‘one more hour’.
This poem is included in the GCSE AQA Anthology.