Family in ‘Brothers’ and ‘Before You Were Mine’
Each of these poems comprise of motifs prevalent throughout Duffy’s anthology, ‘Mean Time’. Mortality and nostalgia are exemplified, in which Duffy often writes about –with love, with heartfelt feeling but never with sentimentality, and she explores its complex nature, its pain as well as its bliss. Each poem diverts from the past to the present, merely because these memories and the structure of the poems are disjointed like the persona’s trail of thought.
Firstly, the brevity of ‘Brothers’ indicates that the persona is constantly nostalgic, suggesting memories are all that she has. Likewise, memory applies to ‘Before You Were Mine’ where, although the persona is looking back at her mother’s past through a photo, we sense that same feeling of being an intruder in something that is intimate and personal, putting the reader in the position of Duffy’s mother. In ‘Brothers’ the persona alludes that one of the brothers is struggling to fit in to comfortable life through the simile, ‘like a new sound flailing for a shape’. The verb ‘flailing’ reiterates Duffy’s extensive use of senses, which is also manifested in ‘Before You Were Mine’, where words such as ‘shriek’ create a more realistic scene. The caesura ‘a baby’ offers a sense that the brother was destined for trouble. Duffy recalls one of the images of her brothers’ childhood, and what they were like as children. This is analogous to ‘Before You Were Mine’ in that the first stanza directly addresses a photograph of the persona’s mother with her friends whilst, ‘ the thought of [persona] me doesn’t occur yet’. The structure of each poem contain regular stanzas, which could symbolize the regularity of time passing. They each include abstract examples of synaesthesia. The persona in ‘Brothers’ repeats ‘the names’, whilst in ‘Before You Were Mine’ the ‘scent’ evokes the memories.
However, the poems contain some disparity in that ‘Before You Were Mine’ connotes sexuality briefly, as opposed to ‘Brothers’ which solely focuses on the persona’s estranged relationships of the now adult brothers, suggesting life with these 4 brothers was short. ‘Dress blows round your legs. Marilyn.’ This has connotations surrounding sexuality, and the contemplative caesura, ‘Marilyn’ represents the pervading symbol of sexuality – and primarily, how her mother was credulous at a young age.
In ‘Before You Were Mine’ there is an essence of the mother’s life in the final stanza through the polysyndeton of ‘and’ which reiterates the mother’s ‘glamour’. Directly analogous to the third stanza in ‘Brothers’ whereby the persona articulates her admiration for her mother; she hears ‘her life in the words’. Each poem alludes that the outcome of these events have not ended well, with the brothers becoming ‘thieves and businessmen’ with UB4Os – which is an index card for unemployment benefit. Enjambment is utilized by the persona in each poem. In ‘Brothers’ the simultaneous memories, ‘in my other eyes they shrink’ the effect of the enjambment creates a sense that memories are seamless and flowing, like the passage of time. This is further augmented through ‘Before You Were Mine’ where the persona states that the mother laughs on, which overtly elicits her credulity and oblivion as to what will happen. The isolated ‘laugh on’ manifests this demeanor.
Antithetically, in ‘Before You Were Mine’ the language the child uses is very lucid; short sentences with pronouns such as ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘mine’ in them. This engenders a sense of the demand inflicted on the mother from a small child. ‘Brothers’ is embedded with colloquial language with an overriding impression of nostalgia and the visual imagery generates a somewhat photographic aura. This ultimately reflects the naivety and youth of childhood: Both poems are like snapshots of a moment in time which the persona has experienced.
The closing of each poem seems to admonish us of the fact we are all victims of the ticking clock, whereby ‘time owns us’ in Brothers, and the persona ‘wanted the bold girl’ which is an impossible envy – the transitive verb highlights the improbability of it. The persona seems to suggest the world is focused on a life of nescience and anticipation for a regular lifestyle as opposed to a ‘glamorous’ one. Perhaps this is because there is an inevitability to the loss of glamour and youth – a process which cannot be transfigured. Duffy attributes to such built-in epistemological factors as the limits on insight and inclusiveness imposed by adhering to a specific systematic point of view. The reader, however, becomes fixated on time and the irrevocable passing of it.
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Each of these poems comprise of motifs prevalent throughout Duffy’s anthology, ‘Mean Time’. Mortality and nostalgia are exemplified, in which Duffy often writes about –with love, with heartfelt feeling but […]