The Light Gatherer by Carol Ann Duffy explores the joy of motherhood, the child, and the happiness she brings being represented through ‘light’. The warm symbol depicts the joy that her daughter brings to Duffy, the poet celebrating motherhood.
Explore The Light Gatherer
Carol Ann Duffy begins The Light Gatherer by focusing on her daughter as a baby, ‘When you were small’ using the second-person personal pronoun in order to direct this poem towards her daughter. Duffy moves through images, all using a shared semantic of light, attributing beautiful and luxurious imagery to the daughter. She is the titular character, starting with ‘a candles worth’ of light and gaining more and more. By the end of the poem, the daughter has captured the brilliant light of the ‘moon’, her shine lighting up Duffy’s world. The final stanza focuses on the promise of a bright future, the use of light representing the joy that her daughter brings Duffy, and the promise she holds for the future.
You can read the full poem The Light Gatherer here.
Form and Structure
Duffy splits The Light Gatherer into nine stanzas, each measuring three lines. Although there is no regular rhyme scheme, Duffy does use internal rhyme, linking specific elements of the poem as she progresses. This cohesion of internal rhyme furthers the joyful presentation of the daughter, the rhyme bringing a light-hearted flow to the poem.
One of the key techniques that Duffy employs in crafting The Light Gatherer is the semantic field of light. Light, frequently representing joy or happiness within the literature, is used within this poem to connect this sense of joy with Duffy’s daughter. The fact she gathers light represents the happiness she brings to the world, metaphorically lighting up Duffy’s life.
Another technique that Duffy employs when writing The Light Gatherer is Enjambment, the technique allowing from one line to flow to the next seamlessly. The free-flowing style of the poem reflects Duffy’s sense of joy at seeing her daughter grow up, happy to have her in her life.
Context to The Light Gatherer
In 1995 Duffy gave birth to her first and only child, Ella. This poem is written for Ella, to Ella, and about Ella, Duffy using the imagery of light to suggest the warmth and happiness her child brings into her life. Although in a lesbian relationship at the time (Duffy is bi-sexual), the father of Duffy’s daughter is Peter Benson, an author of novels, plays, and short stories. The anthology was published in 2002, 7 years after the birth of Duffy’s daughter, which explains the observations that span over many years within the poem.
The Light Gatherer Analysis
When you were small, your cupped palms
enough to begin,
The poem opens by focusing on the childhood of Duffy’s daughter, the ‘small’ girl having tiny ‘palms’ that only ‘held a candlesworth’. The fact that the light is ‘under your skin’ suggests that the daughter is producing this light herself, Duffy using this as a metaphor for bringing happiness to the world. The caesura within the first line in the form of a comma places emphasis on ‘small’, Duffy focusing on her daughter’s growth, both in size and amount of light gathered, throughout the poem. The rhyme of ‘skin’ and ‘begin’ could demonstrate that the daughter’s light starts from within, the ‘candles worth’ is only the beginning of this journey.
The use of personal pronoun within the first line if the first stanza, present within ‘you’ and ‘your’ instantly suggest that Duffy will be addressing her daughter directly, writing this poem in order to let her daughter know how much she means to her.
Stanzas Two and Three
and as you grew
the light of a smile after your tears.
Duffy uses internal rhyme within this stanza, linking ‘grew’ and ‘you’ through this technique. In doing this, the poet establishes a connection between these ideas, Duffy showing how as her daughter grows, she begins to gather more ‘light’.
Duffy uses multi-sensory descriptions of the light to further the intricacy of the image, ‘warm pearls’ of light being comforting images. Light finds its way through the daughter’s emotions, ‘light of a smile’ linking the happy image of ‘smile’ with the suggested warmth of ‘light’. The daughter is presented as happy, this happiness in turn inspiring joy in Duffy.
Stanza Four and Five
Your kissed feet glowed in my one hand,
silver, clever with fish,
Duffy’s daughter exudes light from every part of her body, even her ‘feet glowed’. The quantity of the semantics of light within the poem further the idea of happiness. Even the space in which she played, ‘lit like a stage set’, the child bringing light wherever she goes – a representation of bringing joy and happiness.
In the fifth stanza of the poem, Duffy presents her daughter reaching a new milestone of life: speech. ‘When language came, it glittered like a river’ depicting light encompassing even the words she uses. The luxurious and beautiful image of ‘silver, clever with fish’ depicting the harmonious sound of the daughter’s words.
Stanzas Six and Seven
and you slept
mirrored in you,
While sleeping, the daughter captures the ‘whole moon’, the depiction of ‘whole’ suggesting the extreme capabilities of the daughter to gather the representation of joy. The ‘moon’ is an image that provides comfort to Duffy in other poems, such as within Sub, therefore being used here to further the happiness Duffy draws from her daughter.
The daughter’s importance is paramount within the poem, Duffy returning every image to the daughter’s presence. Indeed, the short sentence structure of the first line of stanza six serves to emphasizes the title, ‘Light Gatherer’. The title assigned to her daughter is grammatically isolated, the first words of a new stanza and followed by a caesura, ensuring that it stands out as a bold title, the joyful power the daughter holds being incredible to Duffy. This poem idolizes the daughter, presenting the beautiful side of motherhood.
The fact the child ‘fell from a star’ depicts an almost angelic quality, ‘star’ playing into the semantics of light while also bearing religious connotations.
The protection suggested by ‘into my lap’ insinuates that Duffy will protect her child. The use of ‘soft lamp’ furthers this idea, all the light within the poem being delicate and ‘soft’, rather than abrasive and expository.
Stanzas Eight and Nine
and now you shine like a snowgirl,
at the end of a tunnel of years.
Expanding upon the natural semantics attached to her daughter, Duffy presents her daughter ‘shin[ing] like a showgirl’, the purity of snow reflecting the metaphorical light into a more intense image. This is coupled with the brilliant yellow fo a ‘buttercup’, Duffy also playing into the childhood game of putting a buttercup under your chin. The daughter is represented by all these, the happy images overwhelming Duffy as she lists them off one by one.
Duffy uses polysyndeton within the final lines of the poem to present the endless possibilities the daughter has. She flows from ‘turquoise and diamond and gold’, the valuable items being placed as representing the future of Duffy’s daughter. The ‘tunnel of years’ will open out to a resounding light, Duffy suggesting that her daughter will continue bringing light to her life, and to the lives of those she touches.
By starting and finishing the poem with an idea of time, ‘small’ and ‘years’, Duffy presents the growth of the child, moving from a baby into a young girl over the course of the poem.
The Light Gatherer is a beautiful deception of motherhood, presenting the love Duffy has for her daughter through the semantics and imagery of light.