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Mother, Any Distance: Love and Relationships Analysis

Mother, Any Distance was written by Simon Armitage and published in 1993. Armitage grew up in West Yorkshire. He was a prison probation officer for eight years before becoming a poet. He became the UK Poet Laureate in 2019.

Poem Summary

The narrator’s mother has come to his house to help measure things such as windows and doors. The mother and son each hold one end of a measuring tape, and the son records the measurements. He walks upstairs until the measuring tape is stretched to its maximum length. He pulls the end up to a window or door at the top of the house and imagines breaking free from the house.

The poem’s key message:

The narrator reflects on his changing relationship with his mother. He has always depended on her but is now gaining independence as an adult.

Language

The measuring tape serves as a powerful metaphor for the relationship between the narrator and his mother. She stands at the “zero-end” of the tape, a position that can be likened to the start or origin of something. Just as ‘zero’ often denotes the beginning point in measurements, it symbolises the beginning of the narrator’s life in this context, highlighting his mother’s role in his birth and the start of their bond.

As the tape stretches, he gains independence and moves further away from her. He describes how:

“your fingertips still pinch
the last one-hundredth of an inch”

These rhyming lines could symbolise the mother doing everything she can to still hold onto the closeness they had when he was a child.

Figurative language is used to describe the narrator’s yearning for independence:

“Anchor. Kite.”

In this image, the kite represents the narrator’s yearning for freedom, while the “Anchor” is a representation of his mother’s presence in his life. Much like an anchor that grounds a ship, preventing it from drifting away, his mother serves as a stabilising force. This emphasises not just their close bond but also her innate desire to protect and keep him close.

Armitage uses space imagery to highlight the moment the narrator finally gains independence. He is shown to “space-walk through the empty bedrooms”. After this, he reaches a “hatch that opens on an endless sky/ to fall or fly”. The “hatch” could refer to the door of a spacecraft, which could represent the safety of his family.

He is now going to leave them to venture out on his own, even though he doesn’t know if he will succeed. Like a spaceman, he is venturing into the unknown and taking a risk but is keen to experience the new adventure.

Structure

  • The first two stanzas show the mother and son being connected through the metaphor of the measuring tape.
  • The longer final stanza shows him moving away and gaining independence. In the last two lines, the narrator steps with apprehension into an adult life of freedom.

Form

  • The poem loosely uses the sonnet form. Sonnets are often love poems, so it could reflect the love he has for his mother. The fact that the poem is a broken sonnet form, with irregular rhythm and rhyme, could reflect how their relationship is becoming more distant.
  • It is written in the first person from the son’s perspective as he reveals his emotions about gaining independence. It is in the present tense, so this is a moment of change the narrator is experiencing in the moment rather than looking back on the past.

Themes

ThemeAnalysis
Family relationshipsArmitage demonstrates the close relationship between a parent and child. His mother is “at the zero-end” of the measuring tape, symbolising how she has been there for him since his first day alive. As the narrator measures the house, he realises that he needs help for any distance “greater than a single span”. This shows how dependent he has been on his mother for help. Dutifully, she comes to help him.
IndependenceAlthough his mother has always been there to help him, the narrator shows how his dependency on her stops him from gaining the freedom he wants. This is shown in the metaphor “Anchor. Kite.” The kite could symbolise how he wants to fly free, but he is always stopped from going too far by the “Anchor” that is his mother.

Eventually, he gains the freedom he yearns for. This is depicted symbolically as he pulls the measuring tape so far that his mother can no longer hold on at the other end. We see the narrator “reach/ towards a hatch that opens on an endless sky/ to fall or fly”. The “endless sky” in this image represents the freedom and independence that he wants. He is nervous that he may “fall” and be unable to succeed on his own, but he needs to try to “fly” to become his own person, away from his mother.
LossIt is hinted that, although the narrator is ready to move on with his life, his mother still clings to the relationship they had when he was a child. As the measuring tape stretches, his mother’s “fingertips still pinch/ the last one-hundredth of an inch”. This shows her desperately trying to hold onto their close relationship.

The narrator reflects that as the measuring tape is stretched to “breaking point…something / has to give”. This highlights a divergence in their feelings: while his mother clings to their bond, the narrator feels that their relationship needs to evolve.

Key Quotes to Learn

QuoteWhy is it important?
“You at the zero-end, me with the spool of tape”This extended metaphor of the measuring tape shows how his mother was there for him at birth, but he has grown further away from her as he got older.
“Anchor. Kite.”The narrator yearns for freedom. He wants to fly free, like a kite blowing in the sky. However, he feels his mother is an anchor, holding him back.
“a hatch that opens on an endless sky to fall or fly”The narrator reaches a point where he can fully gain his independence. He doesn’t know whether he will succeed or not on his own.

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