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An Essay on the Comparison of the Two Poems “Catrin” and the “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” and How they Portray Time and Change

The two poems “Catrin” by Gillan Clark and the “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” both show how time and change affect physical and mental ways of life. However, both of these poems portray this in different ways, giving the reader different feelings towards the poems.

In a good poem, I look for effectiveness and the use of unusual imagery. Also, I like to be able to relate to a poem so it helps me get into it and more involved. I find it effective if a poem uses complex and deep-felt descriptions which have multi meanings as I think this is an effective way for the reader to portray the poem in their own interpretation as it lets them use the extent of their imagination.

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Gillian Clarke’s “Catrin”, is tackling one of the well-considered themes in feminist writing – the mother-daughter relationship. The aspect of the relationship that, even before birth. Clarke explores the bond, “rope”, that ties them together and from which they try to free themselves from the very beginning remembering giving birth, the atmosphere and environment of the delivery room. She describes the “first fierce confrontation” of labour and the process coming apart from her daughter. This then brings us into the present day, the conflicts of growing up and letting go – the example used in the poem is Catrin wanting to “skate in the dark, for one more hour”.

The “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” also shows how time changes people’s perspectives on the world. In the beginning, we see the views of a naive young boy and at the end, we see how time has changed him into an older, more arrogant man. It portraits the physical development of man and our surroundings.

Both poems use different tones to represent the writer’s feelings. In “Catrin” the writer gives us a sense of solemnness and sadness. She achieves this by trying to create pity on the woman as she stands still watching the world move past outside; “I stood in a hot, white room at the window watching the people and cars taking a turn at the traffic lights” However, we could see this as a way of showing her maturity. She could be mocking the drivers of the cars and sees them as naive as she knows that not all the cars are going to make it through the green light and some will have to stop. Nevertheless, all the cars try to drive as fast as possible to make it without stopping.

This could be a metaphor for life. Almost everyone will have to unwillingly stop at some point in his or her life and feel pain, and sorrow as she does now. However, we also get a sense of calmness nearer the beginning of the poem. This could mean that the beginning of the poem was written about the past, and now, her attitude has changed and has created fear as she resents the effect of time and change that is happening to her and her daughter.

In the “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience,” the tone is very different. At the beginning of the poem, it is very lively and upbeat and has a steady rhythm because of its short and rhyming verses. This creates an immature and naive tone that the reader may find amusing. This produces a rather happy mood over the poem. Then, towards the middle, the tone switches to a more serious and depressed mood. The writer creates this by using dark and depressive descriptions such as when he describes the returning ship as “grey” and the morning as “steel”.

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This “grey ship” symbolizes growing up, with the battles in life. These tones are rather similar as they both are quite depressing, which may be trying to convince the reader that growing older is depressing. The reader can find this effective because they can relate to it. Even though people don’t want to admit that they are changing over time, there will always be an overshadow of old age. People don’t realize how quickly they are growing up but when they look back they don’t even remember childhood adventures such as the boy cannot remember why he had asked for children’s toys. This is also rather an anticlimactical moment as it was juvenile and happy at one moment and then in a gloomy and sober mood the next, which is similar to the tone used in “Catrin”.

This could also be symbolic of life. We are all carefree children one moment and then are thrown into the world of adulthood full of low moments. Towards the end, we feel as though the guy is more arrogant as he complains, “why have you brought me children’s toys”. This may generate hate towards him, as he seems to be so pernickety and selfish towards the sailor who travelled afar to bring him back toys that he requested. Nevertheless, we could also feel pity towards the boy now as we feel sorrow towards him because he has grown up and is no longer an untroubled boy but a confused man. We can tell he is confused as the last thing he says is a question, which ends abruptly.

In “Catrin”, the poet uses a lot of enjambment that creates a great impact on the reader. It breaks up the poem in erratic ways that make the poem seem disconcerted and helps to build up the poem, as there are no pauses that make the poem flow. This creates a sense of tranquillity in the poem that makes the reader more laid back to the idea of change. However, the poem is worked up again as the poet uses emotive language such as “we want, we shouted….” Which makes the poem feel as though it is “clouded with feelings” as we see the struggle and high emotions between the mother and daughter.

This contrast between peacefulness and high emotiveness stops the poem from being too over the top. There are two crescendos in the poem. There is one at the end of the first verse because this is when the two people joined as one are finally separate people. The second verse is mild with a small crescendo where the mother is talking about her emotions and gets more emotional.

The “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” however, uses short and simpler verses. This shows that the poem’s naivety. Also, the use of repetition such as with the line ” And my apricot tree” and the way that the poet uses a list; “a fez from Algeria, An Arab drum to beat, a little gilt sword and a parakeet” are all ways in which a children’s book may be structured. The four-line verses also help create rhythm, which reminds us of a song, or more like a nursery rhyme as suggested by the title.

All of this makes it easier to read the poem as it gives it more structure that makes it catchy and more appealing, nevertheless, it could be seen as too simple for the reader so they may dislike this poem. The writer, however, makes the poem more personal as we learn of the character’s feelings through dialogue. An example of this is at the end of the poem. The boy keeps on asking questions that show confusion. This is a good expressive technique as it the reader can feel closer to the character.

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There is a crescendo near the middle and a diminuendo at the end. This is because in the middle is when the boy is growing up, over the “three long summers” and he doesn’t realize. In the end, is a sad part, he doesn’t recognize the sailor and he finally realizes, but doesn’t say, that he has grown up so quickly and by the questions, he seems confused, and wonders where all the time has gone. Through the questions, it also seems he is a child at heart because there is a list of questions being said all at once which the reader could imagine as a young, confused child that doesn’t know where he is, in this case, he is lost in time.

In both poems description of hair is used to show the effects of time. In “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” at the end of the poem the man asks the sailor “o where is the sailor with bold red hair?” The sailor had lost the colour in his hair due to old age that is one of the most visual signs of time. In Catrin, she says “with your straight, strong, long, brown hair”. This shows that her daughter is still quite young as she still has healthy hair. The description is quite vivid which shows that as the mother notices her daughter’s hair, she realizes that she is still young and maybe na�ve which is why the mother is resentful to let her go.

At the beginning of the poem both the children want something. In Catrin, the daughter wants to be torn apart and in turn, the mother will also be separated, which we know they won’t, “we want…. to be ourselves”. In Nursery Rhyme, in the beginning, the boy wants ‘a fez’, ‘drum’, ‘gilt sword’ and ‘a parakeet’, from the sailor, and in turn, the sailor was offered a penny and an apricot tree, which he turned down. This shows how demanding children can be.

However, in the end, it changes, in Nursery Rhymes the sailor is back and offering the items that the child wanted, but the child has grown up and regards them as “children’s toys”. In Catrin, the daughter is the one that wants something, “to skate…. for one more hour”, but we did not find out if she is allowed, but from the words that the mother says, “trailing love and conflict”, it is almost though she loves her so she’ll let her and she doesn’t want any more conflicts/ arguments and if she isn’t let out, that issue would arise. Both poems are about children growing up when they are very young, you can agree with them and please them easily. But when you grow older, it is more difficult to please them and it seems as though they are slowly distant from the past

In “Catrin” Clark uses the contrast between emotional and quiet clinical images. These symbolize the contrast between maternal feelings surrounding the birth of her daughter and the square disinfected blank of hospitals where the birth takes place. Clark uses clinical words such as “glass tank” and straight square images; “square Environmental blank, disinfected….” This is compared to the more emotional circular images; “the clean squares with the wild tender circles”. The clinical words make the poem feel detached and forced. In the outside world, everyone is subjected to clinical procedures that they want to break free from and control as a hospital controls diseases. However, on the inside, everyone has an emotional and loving side where they could find comfort.

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We see this contradiction of separation and bond again in the poem as it describes the “heart’s pool”. This is quite a cozy and enclosed image. It is then compared to “skate in the dark”, which is a much freer image. It is almost as though these opposites are battling each other as the confused feelings of the mother and daughter want to be separated yet they want to stay together; “Separate. We want, we shouted, to be two, to be ourselves” The torture from the immensity of this battle creates sympathy from the reader as we feel the pain and confusion the mother is going through. This vivid imagery has very effective contrast that makes the poem more complex which I feel makes the poem more effective overall.

Another strong image in the poem is “the tight red rope of love which we both fought over”. Again this is a maternal image as it represents the mother’s umbilical cord. It is almost as though it is suffocating them and gives the reader a sense of claustrophobia. This could be symbolizing the relationship of the mother and daughter. They are trying to run away from each other but the rope just gets tighter the harder they pull. They want to be separated and therefore cut the cord, which is normally done at birth. However, once cut it, they have the fear of being alone which makes them resentful to the change.

I think that “Catrin” is an effective poem, as I like the way they use a range of techniques to portray time and change such as the use of contradiction to show the contrast of emotions. This makes it more complex and therefore more effective, which is precisely what I like in a poem. “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” is very simple. The ABAB rhyming is rather boring I feel and is overused a lot, especially in children’s poems. However, it is easier to see the effect of time and how confusing it can be on people. It is also more humorous than “Catrin”. Overall, I believe that both poems are highly effective in portraying time and change yet “Catrin” is my favourite because of the wider range of imagery.

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An Essay on the Comparison of the Two Poems "Catrin" and the "Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience" and How they Portray Time and Change. (2021, Apr 26). Retrieved May 18, 2022, from