The poem explores the relationship between mother and daughter from birth to adulthood. With the umbilical cord (‘the cord’) being the physical starting link that the narrator (the mother) relates to and clings to throughout the poem. With the main aim of the poem being that although the physical connection between them is severed, their mental connection will always be present.
- A direct reference to Duffy’s daughter Ella: ‘(for Ella)’
- A reference to the doctor cutting the umbilical cord: ‘They cut the cord she was born with’
- A potential reference to the tree of life or the birth tree: ‘and buried it under the tree in the heart of the Great Forest’
- A reference to the technique of holding a baby with one arm: ‘she was exactly the length of her mother’s nursing elbow’
- A reference to the idea of turning the cord into a fairy tale concept and metaphorical term rather than literal: ‘had a princess spun it from a golden spinning wheel? Could the cord be silver? Was it real?’
- A reference to the daughter not understanding the cord: ‘Real enough and hidden’
- A reference to the connection being everlasting. However, it directly contrasts with the loss of the umbilical cord: ‘in the roots of an ancient oak, the tangled knot of a riddle’
- A reference to the daughter growing more mature, as she ties the cord to a more realistic, solid concept, rather than a fairy tale. ‘As she grew, she asked again if the cord was made of rope’
- A reference to Ella writing her own history, not ‘his‘story: ‘like black unreadable books and the wind in the grass’
- A reference to her metaphorically ‘leaving the nest’. As she is leaving home to find her own way and her own identity: ‘following a bird which disappeared’
- A negatively connotated connection between Mother and Daughter, fading due to outside influences, but that the mother is always there is the positive she holds onto: ‘but the stars were her mother’s eyes and the screech of an owl in the tree above was the sound of a baby’s cry.’
The poem focuses on the umbilical cord (The cord that connects the developing foetus with the placenta while the foetus is in the uterus). The poem begins by focusing on the moment in which they ‘cut the cord’, severing the physical link between the poet and her daughter. As the child grows, she remains curious about this ‘cord’, wondering if it was a real thing or just something Duffy made up.
She listens to the story of it being buried in the forest, which intrigues her and leads to her eventually venturing out into the ‘Great Forest’. This could represent the child moving out of her mother’s home into the real world. Duffy’s daughter can always rely on the connection between mother and daughter remaining strong wherever the daughter goes.