"Before You Were Mine" was written by the contemporary British poet Carol Ann Duffy, published in her 1993 collection Mean Time. The poem's speaker imagines her mother's glamorous, vivacious, fun-loving youth—all before her life was taken over by parenthood. The poem becomes a powerful tribute to the speaker's mother, and to mothers generally, highlighting the sacrifices they make for their children and arguing that there is more to them than motherhood.
I’m ten years ...
... and Jean Duff.
The three of ...
... your legs. Marilyn.
I’m not here ...
... it’s worth it.
The decade ahead ... best one, eh?
I remember my ...
... your neck, sweetheart?
Cha cha cha! ...
... you were mine.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Motherhood in Poetry — Read a range of poems about mothers and motherhood. How do these compare with Duffy's version?
The Poem Out Loud — Hear "Before You Were Mine" read aloud by the poet herself—accompanied by photos of her real-life family.
A Short Biography of Duffy — Read some background on Duffy's life and work from the Scottish Poetry Library, and find links to more of her poems.
Marilyn Monroe in The Seven-Year Itch — Watch the iconic Marilyn Monroe scene the poem alludes to in line 5—the very picture of 1950s glamor!
Carol Ann Duffy in Conversation — Watch an interview with the poet from the Lincoln Review.
1I’m ten years away from the corner you laugh on
2with your pals, Maggie McGeeney and Jean Duff.
3The three of you bend from the waist, holding
4each other, or your knees, and shriek at the pavement.
5Your polka-dot dress blows round your legs. Marilyn.
6I’m not here yet. The thought of me doesn’t occur
7in the ballroom with the thousand eyes, the fizzy, movie tomorrows
8the right walk home could bring. I knew you would dance
9like that. Before you were mine, your Ma stands at the close
10with a hiding for the late one. You reckon it’s worth it.
11The decade ahead of my loud, possessive yell was the best one, eh?
12I remember my hands in those high-heeled red shoes, relics,
13and now your ghost clatters toward me over George Square
14till I see you, clear as scent, under the tree,
15with its lights, and whose small bites on your neck, sweetheart?
16Cha cha cha! You’d teach me the steps on the way home from
17Mass, stamping stars from the wrong pavement. Even then
18I wanted the bold girl winking in Portobello, somewhere
19in Scotland, before I was born. That glamorous love lasts
20where you sparkle and waltz and laugh before you were mine.