Gillian Clarke Catrin Analysis



Gillian Clarke’s “Catrin” defines the speaker’s relationship with her daughter by depicting two important events: the moment she was born and then as a teenager demanding to be allowed to roller skate despite the late hour.


Catrin is portrayed as “defiant” in the second verse. This is evident in the language and rhythm of the lines describing her appearance:

“…Still I am fighting
You off, as you stand there
With your straight, strong, long
Brown hair and your rosy,
Defiant glare, bringing up…”

The adjectives used to describe her “hair” are monosyllabic and heavily stressed, forcing the reader to linger on each word. They are also emphasised the by sibilance of “straight” and “strong”, the rhyming “strong” and “long”, and the way those long vowel sounds continue in “brown”. This uncompromising list creates a striking impression of Catrin because the “straight” and “strong” hair also signifies her bold stance. She simply refuses to be ignored.

Her fierce “glare” is defined as “rosy” and “defiant”. The first adjective suggests vitality and youth and the second is a direct challenge to her mother’s authority.

The speaker clearly admires her daughter’s strength and determination because a rose is a traditional symbol of beauty and a prized flower. Also, the description of Catrin begins with “there” and then ends sonorously with “glare”. The rhythm created by that rhyme, which includes her “hair”, is almost heroic.

Finally, Clarke emphasises the first “you” in this quotation by making it the stressed syllable of a trochaic foot. This is followed by “you” occurring as the stressed syllable of an iambic foot. In the next line, the possessive pronoun “your” reinforces this sense of individuality because they are exclusive pronouns.

Catrin is clearly quite a character.

The Labour Ward

Setting is an incredibly important aspect of storytelling. By locating the opening verse in a sterile labour ward, Clarke places the reader at the very beginning of the “conflict”.

A labour ward needs to be “disinfected” to stop the spread of disease, but the speaker recognises the situational irony of a place built to bring new life into the world is so lifeless itself. It is not very homely. This is epitomised by the metaphor comparing the removal of “paintings or toys” to “disinfected” germicide. It is as if the hospital has killed childhood.

The place seems emotionless. The poet describes the space in terms of the geometric “square” rather than through feelings. There is a lack of warmth and “paintings or toys”. This is reinforced by the squared walls being described as “clean”.

The labour ward is also uncomfortable. The “hot” atmosphere and the fact that hospital staff can view this inhumane “glass tank” makes it an unpleasant place.


The setting then shifts from the clinical emptiness of the labour ward to their home now the daughter has become an irrepressible teenager. Her age is only hinted at by her demand to be allowed to “skate… for one more hour” even though it is “dark” outside.

The speaker wanted the warmth and human touch of “paintings or toys” in the previous stanza, but she couldn’t imagine her daughter wanting to “skate” so far into the future. Perhaps, the speaker is now identifying herself as the cold and clinical mother she needs to be to protect her daughter.

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