Study Guide


by Carol Ann Duffy

Originally Summary


Lines 1-3

Lines 1 through 3 of "Originally" establish the personas in the poem, identified by the phrases "our mother" and "our father's." The first word, "We," must refer to a family. These lines also establish the setting of the work and suggest a personal attachment to a place: "our own country." The setting, or place, however, is not stationary; rather, the "red room," most likely a reference to the vehicle in which the family is traveling, appears to rush along, falling "through the fields" that go by in a blur. The phrase "turn of the wheels" further clarifies that the speaker and her family are in a car, but the words that precede it are a bit misleading in the tone they convey: "… our mother singing / our father's name to the turn of the wheels" suggests a merrily traveling family, riding lightheartedly down the road. The rest of the poem, however, suggests otherwise.

Lines 4-6

Lines 4 through 6 imply anything but a carefree joyride. The speaker's brothers are distraught, crying, and "one of them bawling Home, / Home." This boy's cries disclose the source of the children's pain and frustration: they want to go home, but home does not exist anymore. Instead, it is only a house with "vacant rooms" back in the city they have left for good.

Lines 7 and 8

Lines 7 and 8, the final two lines of stanza 1, make clear that the family has moved permanently from their previous home. The speaker's mind is still back in her old house as she clutches a toy, "holding its paw," perhaps in the same manner she would like to have her own hand held in an act of comfort during a tumultuous time. Just as she offers solace to the toy, so, too, the toy provides her a measure of security and relief as she silently longs for the place "where we didn't live any more."

Lines 9-11

Lines 9 through 11, the first lines of stanza 2, present a more objective view of the effects on children of pulling up roots. The beginning of line 9 is significant: "All childhood is an emigration." The implication is that the simple fact of growing up involves a continuous departure from one moment, one age, and one level of maturity to another. It seems natural enough that children go through a variety of stages on the way to adulthood, but the word Duffy chooses, "emigration," implies a physical progression, a movement from one place to another. The speaker offers scenarios...

(The entire section is 1002 words.)