Mother, any distance


On one level, this lovely poem tells the story of a young man, whose mother is helping him decorate a house (presumably where he is moving into on leaving home), but on a deeper level it is also about the affectionate and sometimes trying relationship between a mother and her child.

The Poem

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



A personal poem, directed to a particular person, as suggested by the very first word.

"single span"

A very small distance, suggesting that the poet needs his mother most of the time.

"acres of the walls, the prairies of the floors"

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.


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.

"line still feeding out"

They are still connected by the ‘line’ of tape, but it is becoming more than just a tape measure now.


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, is there a hint, also, of trying to get away in these image, and the mother being too possessive to let him free?


Picks up on the image of the ‘base’…he is like an astronaut, connected to the ship.

"breaking point"

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…

"your fingertips still pinch / the last one-hundredth of an inch"

The miniscule amount on which she still clutches suggests a clear desperation to keep a hold on him…

"endless sky"

Beyond the sky, there is also a sense of the endless opportunities that face the man in the future.

"fall or fly"

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 noticable, 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, and have just had to renegotiate their relationship...there is a sense that she will still be there for him, should he fall.

Compares well with...

Go to top!


AQA homepage

BBC GCSE Bitesize

Level Up

Pokemon Ultimate

Critique Circle

Web Site Counters
Dell Coupon

All text copyright © 2006 to EJ Taylor. Page Template created by James Taylor. Site created: 10 April, 2006. Last revised: 2 August, 2015