Infographic illustrating aspects of the poem The Way My Mother Speaks

A black and white photo of girl on train platform

In this poem the poet/persona is on a train that "goes down England". The journey is both literal and metaphorical, as here Duffy is concerned with the transition between childhood and adulthood, from dependence to independence, from seeing herself as being closely tied to her mother to then forming her own identity. Like Originally and In Mrs Tilscher's Class, Duffy explores how change causes conflicting emotions, which is why this poem is full of contradictions and contrasts.

The poem's title could imply "the way" her mother speaks in terms of her use of dialect and set expressions, but it might also suggest the manner in which her mother’s words come to her – they are bound up with her own thinking and breathing – they are part of her being.

The poem ends on a note of optimism insisting that you can be "free" but also still connected to your background and family.