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English Literature

Before You Were Mine

Structure and Language


The poem is written in four equal stanzas [stanza: A group of lines of poetry that make up a unit - like a paragraph in a piece of prose; a verse. ] of five lines each. How does this help you to 'see' the poem?

  • It may help you to visualise photos in an album, set out regularly over a page.
  • It may help you to realise the regularity of time passing. (The poem keeps reminding us that ten years after the photo was taken, the happy, bold teenager had become a mother.)


A girl winking

Picture courtesy of Snaethor Sigurbjorn Halldorsson

Think about how the language contributes to the mood of the poem. Here are some points to consider:

  • There are many references to her mother as happy and bright - "you laugh / the bold girl winking in Portobello" ... "you sparkle and waltz and laugh"
  • Life back then is seen as very glamorous. Her mother is likened to Marilyn Monroe and goes to a dance where a glitter ball hangs - "the thousand eyes". Her mother dreams of "fizzy, movie tomorrows" and she imagines her mother meeting a boyfriend "under the tree, with its lights".
  • There is contrast [contrast: A description of all the differences between two things (in this case, two texts). ] between her mother's life as a teenager and as a mother of the young poet. The poet assumes her mother's life was better before her own "possessive, loud yell" was heard. The phrase "I'm not here yet" sounds almost like a warning to her teenage mother-to-be that the fun will end when she arrives.
  • The poem is written in the present tense [tense: The verb formation that describes the time at which the action occurred, eg past, present or future. ], as if the events of the photo are happening now. Why do you think this is? Is the poet trying to make her mother's past as real as possible?
  • The poet has a very confident, assertive voice, and makes definite statements: "I'm not here yet". She speaks to her mother in a familiar way: "The decade ahead of my loud, possessive yell was the best one, eh?"

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