Frances Cornford, granddaughter of Charles Darwin, was born in Cambridge, England, in 1886, where she also died, in 1960. She was awarded the Queen’s Medal for Poetry in 1959.
‘Childhood’ explores a dual perspective on the ageing process. On the one hand, it is a child who watches ‘through the banisters’ and is ‘helplessly young’, but the whole poem is a memory – ‘I used to think’. Between the lines, the reader understands that the crafting narrator is moving towards old age. Both young and old are ‘helpless’ in the progression of time.
These wider considerations are based on precise, particular memories and observations. The first section vividly describes the physical features of old age, while the second centres around the moment of realisation about ‘My great-aunt Etty’s friend’ and her rolling beads from a broken necklace.
Though written in one stanza, consider the effects of Cornford’s use of short lines. The first serves to complete the childish observation before the epiphany in the poem’s second section, while the final short line provides the ambivalent conclusion. Note the way too that the couplets, established in the early part of the poem, break up in the last four lines.
My Parents Stephen Spender
For Heidi With Blue Hair Fleur Adcock
Praise Song for My Mother Grace Nichols
Follower Seamus Heaney
Country School Allen Curnow
A Quoi Bon Dire Charlotte Mew
Songs of Ourselves: Section 5: Notes 3
ANALYSIS OF "Childhood" by Frances Cornford
1. I used to think that grown-up people chose
2. To have stiff backs and wrinkles round their nose,
3. And veins like small fat snakes on either hand,
4. On purpose to be grand.
5. Till through the banister I watched one day
6. My great-aunt Etty's friend who was going away,
7. And how her onyx beads had come unstrung.
8. I saw her grope to find them as they rolled;
9. And then I knew that she was helplessly old,... [continues]
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