Before you were Mine
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Before you were Mine
This poem is a kind of love poem addressed to Duffy's mother. Duffy appears to be looking at an old photograph of her mother and is re-creating how she imagines her mother's life must have been when she was a young woman.
The mother appears to have been glamorous, energetic and happy: In line 5 Duffy compares her to the famous 1950's actress Marilyn Monroe. Her future was a full of potential and excitement, 'the fizzy, movie tomorrows'.
Clearly, though the baby changed her life completely and there is a feeling of regret on behalf of the poet that her mother lost some of her carefree energy, stopped being 'the bold girl winking'.
But throughout the poem there is also a sense of possessiveness the child has for the mother. This seems to be Duff's way of expressing just what a hold a child has over a parent, perhaps, in particular a mother.
There is even something a little threatening in the tone to a poem called 'Before you were Mine'.
The poet, and the reader, share the benefit of hindsight. We know what is going to happen to the 'laughing, sparkling girl.'
- [*]This seems to me to be the most difficult of Duffy's poems. Only write on it if you really like it, you feel you understand it, or because you have to.
The poem divides into the descriptions of the mother and the voice of the poet talking to her. In the first two stanzas they are separate. In the last two they come together.
|The Mother||The Poet|
|'You laugh with on your pals.'||'I'm ten years away'|
|'Your polka-dot dress blows round your legs. Marilyn'||'I'm not here yet'|
|'In the ballroom, with the thousand eyes'||'I knew you would dance like that'|
|'High-heeled shoes.'||'The thought of me doesn't occur'|
|'The decade ahead..Was the best'||'Before you were mine'|
|'Under the tree,... small bites on you neck.'||'I wanted the bold girl.'|
|'The bold girl winking in Portobello.'||'Before I was born.'|
|'You sparkle and waltz and laugh.'||'Before you were mine.'|
What impression do you get of the mother from these descriptions?
What does the last line in particular suggest about how the baby changed her?
As in 'Stealing' the language of this poem is mostly fairly straightforward, and Duffy creates a sense of a conversation.
There aren't any obvious poetic devices to write about. There are no metaphors, or similes, for instance.
There is however a lot of visual imagery. If you look at all the descriptions in the box above you'll find they all appeal to our sense of sight. We don't hear (until the end) or smell the mother, because this is a poem inspired by an image, by a photograph. The poet cannot fully connect with, cannot fully experience, the world of the 'young' mother because of this. There is a distance between them.
The effect is like a film with the sound down, Duffy, and the reader picking things up through gestures and expressions.
The language the child uses is very simple; short sentences beginning with 'I', 'me' or 'mine' in them. So we get the sense of the demands a small child puts on a mother.
A Speaking Voice
Like in 'Stealing' Duffy creates a sense of someone speaking to another.
She creates this impression by:
Referring to the mother as 'you'
Using relaxed, informal language, 'pals'
Addressing her directly, asking her questions: 'The decade ahead of my loud, possessive yell was the best one, eh?' 'Sweetheart?'
Using non-standard sentences and punctuation to convey the rhythm and pauses in speech.
[Table]Subject The poem appears to be one about Duffy's mother and how the poet would like to have known her when she was a glamorous young woman. There seems to be some regret about how the baby changed its mother. The possessive tone of the baby and its self-centredness also suggests the poem is about how children change and come to rule their parents' lives.[/table]
|The tone of the poem is at times tender and warm.|
|But there is also something slightly ominous. For instance in the repetitions of 'Before you were mine.'|
|Duffy seems to be able to see the relationships from both sides, aware of what the mother by having her child.|
|The reference to 'your ma' also suggests how these relationships are circular, passing from one generation to the next.|
|The vocabulary of the poem suits the fact that it is meant to be spoken: It is simple and straightforward.|
|However there is a lot of visual imagery, appropriate for a poem inspired by a photo.|
|The self-centredness of the child its impact of its mother's life is suggested by the poem starting with 'I' and ending with 'mine'.|
|The form of the poem doesn't change. Perhaps this is because that there is an inevitability to the loss of glamour and youth. It is a process we all go through and cannot change.|