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Gillian Clarke’s poem “Catrin” navigates the changing relationship between a mother and her child as she watches her child grow into an adult. In analyzing the poem, it is important to consider how Clarke employs metaphorical devices to illustrate the process of a mother “letting go” of her child and how her imagery depicts the inner emotional conflict that Clarke aims to express.

Throughout the poem, Clarke uses the image of a rope to emphasize the unwavering physical and emotional bond between mother and child from the moment of conception. The poem begins with the child’s birth in a hospital room; Clarke describes giving birth as their “first/Fierce confrontation” (6-7), symbolically setting a precedent for how their relationship will develop as they remain infinitely connected while also continuing their “struggle to become/Separate” (15-16). Accordingly, the “tight/Red rope of love which we both/Fought over” (7-9) metaphorically represents an umbilical cord, signifying the physiological origin of a child within its mothers’ body.

In the second stanza, Clarke again uses the image of a rope to illustrate the tug-of-war relationship that develops as a mother watches her child grow into an individual. As humans continually searching for separate identities, her description of this process oscillates between resistance and acceptance. She simultaneously expresses feelings of joy and melancholy: “bringing up/From the heart’s pool that old rope/Tightening about my life/Trailing love and conflict” (24-27). It is this conflict that strengthens the love between mother and child, even as they further become separate beings.

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