Analysis of 'Before You Were Mine'

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Robyn Ashton

‘Before You Were Mine’ by Carol Ann Duffy


Carol Ann Duffy’s Before You Were Mine is a poem written retrospectively about her mother ten years before she was born. The title indicates that it is a love poem whilst the first stanza could be mistaken for being written about a lover illustrating the strong bond between her and her mother. A conversational is adopted throughout that demonstrates this love and this is communicated through false conversations between the two of them. For example, through the colloquialism “eh?”

Moreover, the title also gives a sense of possession that is consistent throughout with the conspicuous use of the pronoun “mine” and “my loud, possessive yell.” Generally, the mother is thought of having ownership of a child and not the child, however, alternatively Duffy utilises an inversion of the natural use of the phrase. She also takes on the role as a parent in the third stanza to reinforce this notion: “Whose small bites on your neck, sweetheart?” The reoccurrence of the possession by the child gives the reader a sense that Duffy’s mother had lost her freedom. Duffy refers to this loss of freedom throughout the poem and youthful life of glamour and vivacity that she perceives her mother to have had before she was born. This is supported through the quotations: “I knew you would dance like that…” and “…dress blows around your knees. Marilyn”, referring to the film star. Duffy perceives recklessness and contentment, idealising and applying an imaginative image of what her mother was like from the famous photograph of Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch standing on the grid, revealing her legs, introducing a sexual element. This sexual element is brought in again with “in the ballroom with the thousand eyes.” It could be interrupted that Duffy is referring to the glitter ball or the eyes of potential partners.

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Furthermore, the poem is divided into four regular stanzas of five lines each giving the poem regularity. It could be interpreted that time passing is the same for all humanity and it is inevitable; reflecting on a parent’s past is something very familiar. This is highlighted again when Duffy professes “Before you were mine, your Ma…” Everybody experiences similar events.

Duffy gives the consensus that her mother enjoyed life much more before her existence. This is elucidated by “bend at the waist” and “shriek.” Both phrases give connotations of excessive laughing, screams and exhilaration. There are numerous references to time ...

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