GCSE English Literature - Overview of 'Mother, any distance' by Simon Armitage

Meaning, language and structure points for AQA English Literature poem 'Mother, any distance'.

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  • Created by: Megan
  • Created on: 23-05-11 09:42


This untitled poem by Simon Armitage describes a son asking his mother for help measuring out a new home, but also serves as an extended metaphor. The first couplet: 'Mother, any distance greater than a single span / requires a second pair of hands.' sums up both the literal meaning of the poem, and the metaphorical meaning. The poet is describing how the son needs help with measuring etc. in his new house, as he needs 'a second pair of hands' to hold the tape measure, and simultaneously describes the feeling that an emotional undertaking so big that one cannot cope with it alone (ie. moving out from home), calls for another person for reassurance and moral support.

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Language 1

Some of the language used is very metaphorical, in order to represent how the son feels as he breaks away from dependence on his mother.

In the first stanza, the speaker describes the walls as 'acres' and the floors 'prairies', showing how huge they seem and therefore how intimidating.'Prairies also has a feel of adventure, and venturing out alone (think of cowboys in old westerns).

The second stanza, as he walks up the stairs, describes how he is distancing himself from his mother, and yet still remaining connected to her. 'You at the zero-end' represents the way the mother was there are the beginning, when the son was born, and as he takes steps away from her (literally, and metaphorically - steps into independence), he keeps in touch with her, 'reporting metres, centimetres back to base', as their connection can never be severed (they are both still holding on to the tape measure). It's almost as if she is where he truly belongs, or his 'base'.

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Language 2

The unravelling tape is described by Armitage as 'unreeling years between us'. This shows how much the mother and the son have been through together, but which they now need to acknowledge and put aside in order to move on. He feels that he is discarding everything his mother has done for him by moving out.

The tape measure can also be interpreted as a symbol for the umbilical cord which connected the mother and son at his birth. This gives the reader a feeling that whatever happens, they wil not be completely separated. 'Anchor. Kite.' sums this up: the son being a kite, flying everywhere and doing his own thing; the mother being the anchor, holding him down at one end to save him from flying away. ('To fall or fly.')

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Language 3

The third and final stanza describes how the son is glad to be getting further away. He sees it as freedom, whilst the mother doesn't want to let go. 'Space-walk' gives the impression of unknown territory. (However, if we picture the idea of 'the mother ship', which astronauts remain connected to whilst they explore in order to breathe, we can see that he has not completely let go at this stage in the poem). As he climbs upwards this is symbolic of how he is moving away from his mother- until he reaches a certain point: 'to breaking point, where something has to give', where he has to let go of his mother, and she of him. However, I get the impression that she doesn't want to by the use of the word 'pinch' - she is clinging on but it is annoying him.

When he opens the hatch 'on an endless sky' this represents the new world of opportunities open to him.

Finally, the short last line of the poem, 'to fall or fly' sums up the feeling of fear and excitement. He has to take the risk and take hold of his own life, but his mother is (literally) behind him.

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As the poem progresses so does the speaker in his 'journey' away from his mother. To show this the poem has quite a fast rhythm which builds up to a climax (or getting higher as he climbs up the stairs).

The rhyme scheme is irregular, with assonance used in many places instead of a full rhyme ('tape'/'base'; 'leaving/'unreeling'). This, as well as the use of enjambement makes the poem sound like natural speech. A full rhyme is only used when Armitage wishes to put emphasis on words, as it makes them stand out when the poem is read aloud. ('on an endless sky / to fall or fly') 

Caesura is also used in places to emphasise certain points. For example, 'Anchor. Kite.' 

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