Gillian Clarke's Catrin tackles one of the well-considered themes in
feminist writing - the mother-daughter relationship.
Gillian Clarke's "Catrin" tackles one of the well-considered themes in
feminist writing - the mother-daughter relationship. The aspect of the
relationship that Clarke explores here is the bond ("rope") that ties
them together and from which they try to free themselves from the very
beginning, even before birth. Freeing yourself as an individual within
a relationship must result in conflict on both sides, which is what
the mother and daughter in "Catrin" are experiencing now. The question
we ask ourselves here is, when does the struggle begin?
Notice how the speaker uses monosyllables to describe the 'tight, red
rope'. The effect of this is to make a tight sound and to perhaps
simulate the mother's breathing patterns during birth, which are short
There is a striking contrast between the white, sterile room and the
red rope, which is literally red, as it is covered with blood. This
has the effect of making the 'red rope' memorable against the white
backing. It also emphasises the neutral nature of the room as opposed
to the battle of wills, love and pain that goes on there.
Perhaps 'circles' suggest the shape of the birth canal through which
the baby emerges. In shape they contrast with the squareness of the
room. 'Wild' suggests to us that the struggle is intense and painful,
almost out of control, yet paradoxically it is 'tender' at the same
time. 'Tender' might refer to the type of physical sensation the
speaker feels, or it could refer to the sort of love between the
mother and the baby.
Perhaps the speaker did, but I think she is arguing on a metaphorical
level here. We must not forget that this is a 'confrontation', and
carries with it the idea of the words that are said in raised voices
during an altercation. The real or literal meaning of the metaphor is
that each participant in the confrontation wanted her own way. Their
actions were shouting.
A 'tank' reminds us of a fish tank, and of the idea that it contains
everything to do with its occupants. In the speaker's case, the tank
contains and holds in complete focus the confrontation, which the
participants neither won nor lost.
yet we find that it is only another manifestation of the same
confrontation, this battle of wills, the need for autonomy.
The first stanza is longer because it deals with the defining