In the exam you'll be asked to write about four poems, two pre-1914 and two post-1914 (Heaney and Clarke or Duffy and Armitage), comparing and contrasting them with each other.
The poems will usually have something in common - such as their subject matter, or an aspect of their language, or the ideas expressed - but also important differences. In comparing them, you may be able to notice things about the way the poems convey their meanings which you might not have noticed before.
When you are asked to compare poems, it's a good idea to run through in your mind each of the headings under which we have looked at the poems in the revision bite: subject matter, structure, language and imagery, sound, ideas and attitudes and tone.
Now look at this question:
Then hit Next to compare your points with ours...
Compare Catrin with one other post-1914 poem and two pre-1914 poems of your choice that include a portrait of a mother. What is each poet's attitude to the mother/child relationship?
Three poems suitable for this comparison would be Clarke's Cold Knap Lake, Yeats's Song of the Old Mother, and Wordsworth's The Afflication of Margaret.
What would you want to include in your comparison? On a piece of paper, note down some points to make in comparing Catrin with each of these three poems.
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The poem begins with the poet’s voice speaking to a child. The poem highlights the differences between mother and child and the common problems parents have with their children.
The second and third lines create a sense of an uncomfortable atmosphere, with the ‘hot, white room’ making the place seem clinically white, as she gazes outside watching cars pass.
The description of the room adds to the intense, angry atmosphere. Clarke looks out of the window, rather than at her daughter, almost avoiding her gaze as she knows this make weaken her resolve and allow her daughter to do what she wants.
The ‘remembered’ is in the past tense throughout, making it seem as though the person she is talking to is gone, or has changed completely.
There is a memory of ‘our first fierce confrontation’ and a metaphor of ‘the tight red rope of love which we both fought over’ making her seemed tied to her daughter by an invisible rope of love, which is red to express the colour of the heart, or the sense of anger which love can cause.
The sense of an emotionless location is continued with ‘a square environmental bank, disinfected of paintings or toys’ making the place seem love-less and unpleasant.
Clarke talks of writing over the walls her words, almost as if she does this literally (for real) or she does it in an imaginary manner, writing the words that express her emotions and feelings for her daughter. The use of oxymoron, ‘wild, tender circles’ emphasises the contrasts in emotions that the relationship can bring, with ‘wild’ and ‘tender’ seemingly opposites, and yet there are both feelings in their relationship.
This is continued with the idea that they wanted to be ‘two’ together or to be two separate people as well: ‘to be ourselves’.
The second stanza begins in stalemate. ‘neither won nor lost the struggle’ and the metaphor of a fish tank is used, ‘clouded with feelings’. It is as if they are trapped in a claustrophobic place, surrounded by ‘feelings’, rather than the water of the tank, drowning them both, overwhelming them.
The image of Catrin, the daughter, is one of strength, so much so that Clarke has to fight her off. She looks powerful, ‘with your straight, strong, long brown hair and your rosy, defiant glare’, making her seem the one in control.
The image of the rope is brought in again, with the idea of the daughter tightening it ‘about my life, trailing love and conflict’ so the rope metaphorically is a tie between the two of them that, despite their differences, seems to bring them closer. Despite their intense feelings, they can’t escape from each other.
The argument is about whether the daughter can stay outside in the dark skating for ‘one more hour’.