Gillian Clarke's poem 'Cold Knap Lake' centres on a childhood memory of a girl almost drowning in a lake in South Wales. The poet, with her parents, 'watched a crowd' of people pull the girl out of the water. It seemed at first that they were too late: the girl's lips were blue and she 'lay for dead'. The metaphor 'dressed in water's long green silk' tells us that she was covered in weeds from the lake. In the second stanza, Clarke describes her mother as a 'heroine' as she knelt down to resuscitate the girl. The act of kneeling, 'her red head bowed', perhaps suggests a religious act. The mother seems to have been part of the whole rescue operation, 'her wartime cotton frock soaked'. The mention of her red hair is in sharp contrast to the girl's blue lips and gives a feeling of life. Clarke was obviously struck by the idea of her mother reviving 'a stranger's child' with 'her breath'. The third stanza tells us that the girl began breathing; 'bleating' suggests the idea of a baby animal calling for its mother. She is now 'rosy in my mother's hands', the colour assuring that she is alive. The poet's father took the girl back to her home; we are told that she came from a poor family. Rather than expressing gratitude for the fact that she survived, her parents 'thrashed' her for having got herself into such danger, a section of the memory that shocked Clarke as a child. The question 'Was I there?' that opens the fourth stanza signals a change in the poem. It stands out, as it is the shortest line in the entire poem and comes at the beginning of a stanza. It suggests that the poet (now of course an adult) is unsure as to whether she actually saw the girl being beaten or whether this is something her father told her about. The following five lines of the stanza form one long question that centres around an extended metaphor where the waters of the lake represent the memory. This second question refers to the 'troubled surface' of both the mind and the water.
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