2 Context Carol Ann Duffy was born in Glasgow in 1955. Although her first works were published when she was 16, her first full poetry collection, Standing Female Nude, did not appear until She has since written five other collections that include poems about love, women, memory, desire and loss.She often writes dramatic monologues (poems from the point of view of a character) using the voice of an outsider or someone who is often ignored by others. She has been awarded both the OBE and the CBE. She now lives in Manchester, where she teaches creative writing at the Metropolitan University and lives with her daughter, Ella (born in 1995).
3 Read the poem aloud as a class to a punctuation point What is the subject matter of the poem?
4 Subject matterThe poem is a dramatic monologue: an angry parent (or parents) is talking to a grown-up child. The parent denies that the child was ever hurt or mistreated in any way, although it's clear that the child remembers things very differently...
5 Why is the title interesting? We Remember Your Childhood WellIs Duffy’s choice of using past tense verb forms interesting?
6 LanguageThink about how the language the poet uses helps to convey her ideas. Here are some points to consider: Think about the title. We may often hear adults saying 'I remember my childhood well', so it is significant that Duffy has deliberately twisted this to We Remember Your Childhood Well. The grown-ups definitely present themselves as in control.The poem is written mainly in the past tense, however, reminding us that it is dealing with memories. As readers, we cannot be sure whose memory is more accurate - the parents' or the child's. Is the child exaggerating about the horrors that appear to have taken place? Or are the parents guiltily trying to convince themselves that they didn't happen?
7 Imagery and SoundThere are many frightening ideas in the poem that are suggested but not developed: 'The bad man on the moors' (line 2), a door being locked (line 3), the child being sent ... away (line 13). It is left to us to imagine exactly what happened on those occasions, but there is a definite sense of fear on the part of the child. Again, we wonder exactly what took place - who do we believe?There are a number of violent verbs - hurt, argued, forced, begged - which add to the sense of danger.Some ideas are sinister: 'the secret police of your childhood' (line 11) brings in an even darker theme, once more creating questions for the reader. Who are these secret police, described as 'older and wiser than you, bigger' - the parents themselves, assuming a role of authority and power, or some other dictatorial group?
8 Explore the poem and complete the table below Parents' words (lines from the poemWhat they meanWhat they tell usWhat you recall are impressions; we have the factsYour childhood memories are not accurate; we remember things as they really were.The parents are discounting the child's view of events - even though it was the child who actually experienced these things - and arrogantly assume that adults always 'know better'That was an extra holiday, with people you seemed to like.There was none but yourself to blame if it ended in tearsYou were loved.
9 Parents' words What they mean What they tell us What you recall are impressions; we have the factsYour childhood memories are not accurate; we remember things as they really were.The parents are discounting the child's view of events - even though it was the child who actually experienced these things - and arrogantly assume that adults always 'know better'That was an extra holiday, with people you seemed to like.The child was positively lucky to get an extra holiday, and with nice people tooThe parents were eager to send their child away, and not too fussy about whether the child really did like these peopleThere was none but yourself to blame if it ended in tearsThe child was on holiday in the care of nice people, so it must be the child's fault if they didn't enjoy themselvesSomething obviously went badly wrong on this holiday. The people 'were firm': does this mean 'brutal'?The parents seem shockingly unconcerned about the child's tears...You were loved.This was a normal childhood in a normal, loving family.It is significant that the past tense is used: it does not say You are loved - suggesting the child is no longer loved, even if it once was.
10 Reflection Examine the poem Before You Were Mine Identify one similarity in themeIdentify one similarity in stylistic device