A Childhood of Emigration:
A Commentary on “Originally” by Carol Ann Duffy
Outgrowing childhood is leaving many cherished people, memories and treasures behind. Emigrating in childhood is leaving a culture, a language and a home behind. Carol Ann Duffy moved from Glasgow, Scotland to Stafford, England when she was six years old, in the 1960s, thus later writing this poem “Originally”. Through laying out childhood memories and ending on the note that she hesitates when asked of her origin, Carol Ann Duffy expresses regret that she has lost her own origin during her emigration at a young age in a nostalgic tone despite many of these memories being far from pleasant. The most striking thing about “Originally” is that it is mainly composed of flashing images of memory. They are carefully selected moments that most represent her disoriented feelings brought by emigration and her losing her origin in the adaptation to her new environment. Scenes of “unimagined, pebble-dashed estates” and “an avenue where no one you know stays” presents the protagonist as a stranger lost in a new country. These places are unknown and intimidating to her. So many strangers are housed in such huge areas that there is a strong sense of loneliness conveyed as well. The child grows changes and adapts to her new society, from not understanding what is said by the people around her to her “tongue shedding its skin like a snake”, from balking at boys “eating worms” to accepting her “brother swallow a slug”. One after another, these are all presented as short, clipped images that allow the vast subject of “all childhood” be captured in few words, making the feelings in emigration more intense and the subject of childhood more tangible. They also correspond to the scattered nature of childhood memory. These images are increasingly abstract. In the very first line, the poet as a child describes the train compartment she is in as a “red room”. This is simply because the child does not...
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