The poem is written in four equal stanzas of five lines each. How does this help you to 'see' the poem?
- It may help you to visualise photos in an album, set out regularly over a page.
- It may help you to realise the regularity of time passing. (The poem keeps reminding us that ten years after the photo was taken, the happy, bold teenager had become a mother.)
- There are many references to her mother as happy and bright - "you laugh / the bold girl winking in Portobello" ... "you sparkle and waltz and laugh"
- Life back then is seen as very glamorous. Her mother is likened to Marilyn Monroe and goes to a dance where a glitter ball hangs - "the thousand eyes". Her mother dreams of "fizzy, movie tomorrows" and she imagines her mother meeting a boyfriend "under the tree, with its lights".
- There is contrast between her mother's life as a teenager and as a mother of the young poet. The poet assumes her mother's life was better before her own "possessive, loud yell" was heard. The phrase "I'm not here yet" sounds almost like a warning to her teenage mother-to-be that the fun will end when she arrives.
- The poem is written in the present tense, as if the events of the photo are happening now. Why do you think this is? Is the poet trying to make her mother's past as real as possible?
- The poet has a very confident, assertive voice, and makes definite statements: "I'm not here yet". She speaks to her mother in a familiar way: "The decade ahead of my loud, possessive yell was the best one, eh?"
The poem is dominated by the image of the family snap, the dog-eared photo that turns up many years after the event in a shoe-box or album, and leads to the (imaginary?) conversation recorded in this poem. Interestingly, there is no actual mention of this photo; but we can see it clearly in the description of the three-girls-out-on-the-town scene in stanza 1.
The poet deploys a great deal of glittering light to evoke the excitement of carefree teenage existence: the ballroom "fizzes" with light; the tree under which the mother is kissed has "lights" in it; mother and child "stamp stars" from the pavement as they cha-cha home from Mass; life before motherhood waltzes and "sparkles".
The poem is written to sound as if the poet is talking to her mother, so the poet follows the patterns of ordinary speech. Many phrases begin with I, as if the poet wanted to assert her presence even before she was a presence: 'I'm ten years away .. I knew you would dance like that.'
The following ideas are all contained within the poem. Which do you think come across most strongly?
- The poet romanticises her mother and the glamorous life she used to lead.
- The poet longs to see her mother as she once was, before she was tied down with motherhood.
- The poet recognises that all mothers have mothers - her mother's mother used to 'stand at the close with a hiding for the late one', perhaps as the poet's mother now watches out for her...
- The poet is re-examining her own feelings as a daughter.
- admiringly, and with gratitude for the way her mother livened up her childhood - 'You'd teach me the steps on the way home from Mass'
- wistfully, dwelling on the poet's own memories ('I remember my hands in those red high-heeled shoes') and imaginings ('your ghost clatters towards me')
- ironically - contrasting the short-lived glamour of her mother's teenage life with the hard reality of motherhood
- affectionately - almost a love poem to her mother
Any of these tones would work. In fact the tone shifts subtly from one to another, ending on a note of enduring love between daughter and mother - "That glamorous love" that lasts.
On My First Sonne
- Again a conversation between parent and child; again a kind of love poem
- Duffy's poem takes pleasure in the continuing relationship between child and parent, Jonson's poem is an elegy (lament) for his dead son