Carol Ann Duffy's "Originally" reflects on both the specific sadness of emigration and the universal sadness of growing up. In this poem, a small Scottish child, confused and frightened by her family's move to England, slowly loses her sense of cultural identity. Her journey from Scottishness to an undefined Britishness mirrors the broader human journey from the security of childhood to the self-conscious alienation of adulthood. Every adult, the poem suggests, is an exile from the "first space / and the right place" of their childhood self. "Originally" was first published in 1990 in Duffy's collection The Other Country.
We came from ...
... of the wheels.
My brothers cried, ...
... holding its paw.
All childhood is ...
... you know stays.
Others are sudden. ...
... you don’t understand.
My parents’ anxiety ...
... , I said.
But then you ...
... skelf of shame.
I remember my ...
... like the rest.
Do I only ...
... And I hesitate.
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.
A Short Biography — Read about Carol Ann Duffy's life and work, and find links to more of her poems.
Duffy's Coronavirus Poetry Project — Learn about Duffy's initiative to collect poetry about the pandemic.
A Reading of Another of Duffy's Poems — Read an analysis of another of Duffy's poems, "Vocation," which asks questions about autobiographical poetry—some of which might be relevant to "Originally," too!
An Interview with Duffy — Listen to Duffy give an interview about her position as British Poet Laureate. She was the first (and so far, the only) woman elected to the role.
In the Poet's Voice — Watch Duffy perform her own poetry.
1We came from our own country in a red room
2which fell through the fields, our mother singing
3our father’s name to the turn of the wheels.
4My brothers cried, one of them bawling, Home,
5Home, as the miles rushed back to the city,
6the street, the house, the vacant rooms
7where we didn’t live any more. I stared
8at the eyes of a blind toy, holding its paw.
9All childhood is an emigration. Some are slow,
10leaving you standing, resigned, up an avenue
11where no one you know stays. Others are sudden.
12Your accent wrong. Corners, which seem familiar,
13leading to unimagined pebble-dashed estates, big boys
14eating worms and shouting words you don’t understand.
15My parents’ anxiety stirred like a loose tooth
16in my head. I want our own country, I said.
17But then you forget, or don’t recall, or change,
18and, seeing your brother swallow a slug, feel only
19a skelf of shame. I remember my tongue
20shedding its skin like a snake, my voice
21in the classroom sounding just like the rest. Do I only think
22I lost a river, culture, speech, sense of first space
23and the right place? Now, Where do you come from?
24strangers ask. Originally? And I hesitate.