"To My Nine-Year-Old Self" was written by British poet, novelist, and short story writer Helen Dunmore. First published in 2007 in the poetry collection Glad of These Times, the poem is framed as a dramatic free verse.delivered by the speaker to her childhood self. The poem expresses fondness and nostalgia for the wonder and curiosity of childhood, while also acknowledging the impassable divide between maturity and innocence. In acknowledging this, the poem suggests, one can move on from the past and into a state of peace and acceptance. Like much of Dunmore's work, the poem is written in
You must forgive ...
... height than anything.
I have spoiled ...
... a bruised foot.
Do you remember ...
... the summer morning?
That dream we ...
... sherbet lemons –
and besides, that ...
... by the cesspit.
I’d like to ...
... keep you then.
Time to pick ...
... from that tree
long buried in ...
... us both –
I leave you ...
... on your tongue.
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.
Helen Dunmore's Legacy — Read about Dunmore's lasting legacy after her death.
"To My Nine-Year-Old Self" Read Aloud — Listen to a reading of the entire poem.
Dunmore's Obituary — Read about Dunmore's life and accomplishments in her obituary published in 2017.
Helen Dunmore on Conflicts — Listen to poet and author Dunmore speak on the theme of conflict in her work.
Tribute to Helen Dunmore by Her Son — Read a tribute to Dunmore written by her son.
1You must forgive me. Don’t look so surprised,
2perplexed, and eager to be gone,
3balancing on your hands or on the tightrope.
4You would rather run than walk, rather climb than run
5rather leap from a height than anything.
6I have spoiled this body we once shared.
7Look at the scars, and watch the way I move,
8careful of a bad back or a bruised foot.
9Do you remember how, three minutes after waking
10we’d jump straight out of the ground floor window
11into the summer morning?
12That dream we had, no doubt it’s as fresh in your mind
13as the white paper to write it on.
14We made a start, but something else came up –
15a baby vole, or a bag of sherbet lemons –
16and besides, that summer of ambition
17created an ice-lolly factory, a wasp trap
18and a den by the cesspit.
19I’d like to say that we could be friends
20but the truth is we have nothing in common
21beyond a few shared years. I won’t keep you then.
22Time to pick rosehips for tuppence a pound,
23time to hide down scared lanes
24from men in cars after girl-children,
25or to lunge out over the water
26on a rope that swings from that tree
27long buried in housing –
28but no, I shan’t cloud your morning. God knows
29I have fears enough for us both –
30I leave you in an ecstasy of concentration
31slowly peeling a ripe scab from your knee
32to taste it on your tongue.