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"Mother, any distance greater than a single span"

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by

Tom McKinney

on 1 February 2015

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Transcript of "Mother, any distance greater than a single span"

by Simon Armitage
"Mother, any distance greater than a single span"
Mother, any distance greater than a single span
requires a second pair of hands.
You come to help me measure windows, pelmets, doors,
the acres of the walls, the prairies of the floors.

You at the zero-end, me with the spool of tape, recording
length, reporting metres, centimetres back to base, then leaving
up the stairs, the line still feeding out, unreeling
years between us. Anchor. Kite.

I space-walk through the empty bedrooms, climb
the ladder to the loft, to breaking point, where something has to give;
two floors below your fingertips still pinch
the last one-hundredth of an inch...I reach
towards a hatch that opens on an endless sky
to fall or fly.
Simon Armitage is a British poet who wrote the poem/sonnet "Mother, any distance greater than a single span" for his collection
Book of Matches
, which was published in 1993. The poem is about a young man moving out of his parents' home, but also shows the affectionate relationship between a mother and child.
Simon Armitage
Mother
, any distance greater than a
single span
requires a second pair of hands.
You come to help me measure windows, pelmets, doors,
the acres of the walls, the prairies of the floors
.
A personal poem, directed to a particular person, as suggested by the very first word.
A very small distance, suggesting that the poet needs his mother most of the time.
Metaphoric choices of ‘acres’ and ‘prairies’ relate to the natural world, and suggest a huge space much beyond the size of walls and floors. Exaggeration of the task at hand, suggesting the persona feels rather daunted.
You at the
zero-end
, me with the spool of tape, recording
length, reporting metres, centimetres back to
base
, then leaving
up the stairs, the
line still feeding out
, unreeling
years
between us.
Anchor
.
Kite
.
The mother is holding the end of the measuring tape.
She is his ‘base’, like the operation base of a space mission, somewhere safe that keeps things running smoothly.
They are still connected by the ‘line’ of tape, but it is becoming more than just a tape measure now.
I
space-walk
through the empty bedrooms, climb
the ladder to the loft, to
breaking point
, where something has to give;
two floors below
your fingertips still pinch
the last one-hundredth of an inch
...I reach
towards a hatch that opens on an
endless sky
to
fall or fly
.
Picks up on the image of the ‘base’…he is like an astronaut, connected to the ship.
This can be extended beyond the situation of the measuring tape to mean a breaking point in their relationship, picking up the idea of the him trying to strain away while she is clinging on…
The miniscule amount onto which she still clutches suggests a clear desperation to keep hold of him…
The tape has become a metaphor for the journey across the years: the distance the boy travels from his mother as he ages, though he is still connected to her.
An anchor keeps a boat secure, which is how he feels about his mum. He is flying, while she keeps hold of him on the ground, keeping him from going out of control. Although, there may be a hint of him trying to escape, and the mother being too possessive to let him free.
Beyond the sky, there is also a sense of the endless opportunities that face the man in the future.
The boy is reaching adulthood, where it is time for him to make his own decisions without his mother’s aid… and whether he will fall or fly is through his choices. It is noticeable, however, that there is no line in the poem where the connection between the mother and the son is severed. Although they have reached breaking point, they are still linked: there is a sense that she will still be there for him, should he fall.
Poem Analysis
A short film, produced by Zak Derler and inspired by this poem
Full transcript