“Catrin” is a poem that shows the bond between mother and daughter. Its shows the bond by telling the struggle of parenthood- a fight between two people who are wanting to be apart, the problems of childbirth and child rearing and the synchronized love and worry that comes with having a child. At the start of the poem she is remembering giving birth, how the delivery room was and what she was feeling at the time, when she looks out of the window and during labour the room is “hot” and “white” and “disinfected”. It might be hot because of the glass, since later it is a “glass tank” – almost like a fish tank.
She is trying to explain her reaction to the “disinfected” and “clean” or “blank” environment – without “paintings and toys” and colouring in the white spaces. She sees this now as two individuals struggling to become “separate” and shouting “to be two, to be ourselves”. From the first, the mother and child seem to have been in a tug of war or a tug of love, fighting over the “red rope”. The poet uses the image of a rope figuratively to describe the relationship that binds her with her daughter: “The tight Red rope of love which we both fought over” [lines 7-9]
The poet talks about “the fierce confrontation” in line 7, which suggests that the mother and daughter are fighting to declare themselves in the relationship, and no matter how much they love each other, they each struggle to be themselves. In lines 25 and 26, the poet writes: “From the heart’s pool that old rope, Tightening about my life… “. Once again, the rope is used figuratively to imply a strong connection as we see the mother struggling with the opposing feelings of love and conflict. The second stanza tells what happened. Neither has “won nor lost the struggle” but it “has changed us both”.
The poet is still fighting off her daughter who can tug at her feelings by pulling “that old rope” (using the rope again). The mother seems very much to want to be able to agree to the request to play out, and it hurts her to say no – not only because she foresees an argument with a strong-willed teenager, but also because she very much likes the idea of her daughter’s skating in the dark. But she cannot give in – both because it would be irresponsible to allow the skating, and because it would be even more unwise to allow her daughter to think that she was winning the struggle that is still going on.
Basically the poem is telling us that, the mother-child relationship is full of struggles – as one ends another begins, and although they are now physically apart (i. e. after the umbilical cord was cut) figuratively speaking they never truly will be. The poem contrasts the natural and instinctive love of a mother for her own child with the apprehension she feels for another’s child, whom she does not know. Rather ironically this lack of emotion causes her to express an intelligent sympathy for the other child.
Because the baby is too young to understand such things, being faced with a strange babysitter may seem worse, the poem suggests, than the more serious losses that any adult women may suffer. The start of the poem gives a simple statement of the situation – except that the reader at first wonders how a baby can be “wrong” – not really a fault in this baby, merely its not being the babysitter’s own – which is the “right” baby, by implication. The child is depicted very much as the ideal pretty infant – “roseate” and “bubbling” in her sleep, and “fair”.
But this is contradicted by the cold understatement of “a perfectly acceptable child”. Worse, the babysitter is afraid of the child – of her waking and hating her, and of the angry crying that will follow. She thinks of how the baby’s running nose will disgust her. The statement about the “perfume” of breath is really a comment on her own children, whose breath does “enchant” the mother in an instinctive way. Mali describes a similar relationship to Catrin – except that this time the poet writes of her grandchild. Why Mali? It has nothing to do with the West African country of this name.
It is a common feminine personal name in Wales. Mali is the fifth poem in a sequence of seven under the general title, Blood. The sequence is published in The King of Britain’s Daughter (1993). It is about the child’s third birthday and looks back to the day she was born. The details are not completely clear, but it seems that mother and daughter, staying at her parental home, had been blackberry picking on a summer’s day, when the premature labour began. Mali is born in the nearest hospital, twenty miles away, instead of in the city where she usually lives, which explains “too soon, in the wrong place”.
The poet jumps to a memory from the following day of “my daughter’s daughter/a day old under an umbrella on the beach”. As with her own child, the poet is overwhelmed by her instinctive love for the new baby – “I’m hooked again, life-sentenced”. The poem ends with the birthday party – the grandmother bakes a cake “like our house”. It is past the time for real blossom, but she decorates trees with “balloons and streamers”. The poem finishes with a simple celebration – with seawater, candles and what seems to be blood – but we are not told whose.
Going by the title “A Difficult Birth, Easter 1998” you might be led to believe that the poem is of the same nature as Catrin and Mali but in fact the “difficult birth” is of a lamb, at Easter. The poet gives the reader the date 1998, as a clue to the meaning of the title – which refers to Good Friday agreement, which has brought some peace to Northern Ireland. The talks that led to this were also having a “difficult birth” over that Easter time. The poem also hints to Jesus’ crucifixion and rising from the dead (as this is also around Easter time). This double meaning appears in the first stanza – where the poet looks forward to good news.
That is that something that has gone on for years seems about to change – “eight decades since Easter 1916”. They have planned to celebrate the good news from the peace process, but have to put this off to look after the “restless” ewe. Throughout the poem the struggles the sheep go through coincide with the troubles of Northern Ireland e. g. “but the lamb won’t come” and “we strain together” The ending suggests the miracle of the first Easter – the stone rolled away from Christ’s empty tomb and is also reminiscent of the nativity scene when the difficult birth is over and everything is peaceful.