Before You Were Mine is a poem by contemporary poet and British Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. It portrays the narrator conversing with her mother, whilst looking at an old photograph of her. The poem never mentions looking at a photograph but Duffy has affirmed that this is indeed the case. The poem portrays her mother as a glamorous woman, in her younger days and explores the way she changed with time due to motherhood. To read Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, Before You Were Mine, you can either click here or purchase Mean Time.
About Carol Ann Duffy
Carol Ann Duffy was raised a Roman Catholic in an impoverished part of Glasgow called Gorbals. At the age of six she moved to Stafford in England where from a very young age she showed great academic prowess, particularly in the field of literature. From the youngest of ages she talked of wanting to be a writer. In 2009 she became the United Kingdom’s Poet Laureate a prestigious position bestowed on a poet by the monarch. Her style of poetry is very conversational and often addresses the reader personally. She covers many present-day issues in her poems. Due to the accessible nature of her poetry her work is often studied in secondary education.
Form and Tone
The poem is written in four stanzas, in blank verse, with no rhyming pattern. Each stanza contains five lines. There are a few enjambment lines which give the poem a steady pace and provide a nice ebb and flow but conversely it also contains a few lines that do not follow on, this gives these particular lines a very authoritative feel as if they contain a truth in some way. The poem has a conversational tone, typical of Duffy’s poetry. The rigid, unfaltering structure of the poem could symbolise the organization of photos in an album.
Before You Were Mine Analysis
In this first Stanza the narrator reflects on the subject (her mother) hanging around on a street corner with friends. I would presume this describes the scene in the photo the narrator is looking at. It is clear that the narrator is in fact giving the opinions of Duffy herself therefore I believe when the Duffy talks of being ten years away she is suggesting she is sixteen years old when writing the poem, as this would be ten years after she left Glasgow in reality. She makes her mother appear to be free spirited by describing her and her friends as “Holding each other, or your knees” and “shrieking at the pavement” this gives the image of a group having fun. In the final line this idea is solidified when she likens her mother to the fun-loving, Marilyn Munroe (One would assume, as Duffy’s mother wasn’t called Marilyn!)
The narrator begins the second Stanza by saying “I’m not here yet” what this means is the photo was taken before she was born. She then continues to say “the thought of me doesn’t occur” suggesting that at that age her mother hadn’t even considered having a child. The rest of the stanza once again creates an image of the narrator’s mother being carefree as she describes her being told off by her own mum for being late home, although there is an element of wistfulness as Duffy uses the line “before you were mine” meaning that her mother was carefree before she came along.
In this first line the narrator questions her mother’s insistence that the years following her daughter’s birth were her best. She belittles herself somewhat by referring to herself as “possessive” this stanza is far more somber than the previous two. Duffy talks about her hands being in “high heeled shoes” before referring to the shoes as relics. This helps to give the impression that her mother’s best years are behind her. The line about seeing her ghost in George Square isn’t referring to her actual ghost but rather an imagining of her mother. The final line is very conversational and would probably be indicative of how the narrator’s mum would have spoken to her daughter.
I love the opening two lines of this final stanza. Duffy is masterful at conveying imagery with simple words and she does this here with aplomb, creating an image of a kind of anti-Hollywood by alluding to the lack of stars on the pavement. This contrasts the purported glitz of the opening stanza where her mum is compared to a Hollywood icon. This shows how being a mother has changed the subject of the poem’s life. The last lines of the poem are very evocative as the narrator seemingly pines for the “bold” version of her mother, the woman who wore red shoes and polka dot dresses. The suggestion that since the narrator had been born her mother no longer “laughs” and “sparkles” is a very moving concept and generates a feeling of sympathy and pity towards the narrator who clearly feels her mother was better off before she arrived.
Summary of Before You Were Mine
Before You Were Mine is a sweet but poignant poem. It emphasizes Duffy’s love for her mum but looks back at how her possessiveness may have made her mother’s life somehow worse. This sour undertone gives the poem an understated sadness. The title of the poem offers an interesting contrast in of itself as being called Before You Were Mine seems to suggest the notion of a romantic love when in fact the poem is about a platonic relationship. The poem has a nice symmetry beginning on a street corner in Glasgow and ending in England mirroring Duffy’s real life. Another interesting point is that the poem is told in present tense. Even though the Narrator is reflecting, she uses the present tense; this gives the poem a resonating immediacy. The bold assurances of the narrator with statements like “I’m not here yet”. Give the narrative voice an authenticity, but some statements are made in a softer, more familiar way as a child would speak to their mother. I think the poem tells the story of a journey of the narrator’s realisation of the burden that her love had taken on her mother.