I Won’t Grow Up!

In Carol Ann Duffy’s work Mean Time, she focuses on the presence of one’s childhood as a critical stage in developing one’s identity.  While many of her poems explore various childhood experiences as she reflects on them as an adult, the focus of her poem “Beachcomber” illuminates the struggle and desire to reconnect with and incorporate one’s childhood self within one’s adult self, while still acknowledging the growth that has occurred throughout one’s life.  This makes the reader question their own perspective on their “inner child,” considering such topics as are these two, one’s childhood self and one’s adult self mutually exclusive?  Are they the same?  Or do they connect in a unique way, different components of the same entity?

Duffy identifies that this is a sensitive and complex topic, since considering this notion can make one “think till it hurts” and “scare [one]self within an inch of the heart,” both of which suggest difficult experiences and emotions (20).  However, the fact that these deep thoughts are prompted simply by “a word” suggests that this is a crucial topic to consider, and perhaps eternally lies in one’s subconscious, easily triggered to move into one’s conscious (20).  This reflects the notion that one’s childhood self may also always be present.  Duffy further supports this notion as indicated by her statement that “the child, and not in sepia, lives” (20).  Therefore, beyond a tangible image captured in a photograph which immortalizes youth superficially, the essence of that child as an entity is also everpresent in every individual.  However, it is how one comes to terms with and embraces this child that is the true struggle for one’s adult self.

To illustrate this relationship, Duffy links her meditation on childhood to an experience at the beach she had as a child.  She urges the adult to mentalize the experience, rather than just explain from an outside perspective, encouraging them to “go for the sound of the sea” and feel “the platinum blaze of the sun” (20).  This brings the individual one step closer to their past, as they have a visceral response to the experience.  However, Duffy does seem to suggest that there is a limit to how much this child can be reconciled as “this is as close as you get” since the individual has aged and “those older, those shaking, hands cannot touch the child” (21).  There is a distance that will always exist due to the passage of time and one’s life experiences since that era, but the degree to which one can reconcile the past child to become part of one’s present self is the key to Duffy’s message.  Finally, in concluding her poem, she asks readers to ponder “what would you have to say, of all people, to her [the child] given the chance?” (21). This seems to be a rhetorical question, however Duffy supplies an answer “exactly” (21).  The ambiguity of this answer makes Duffy an affirmative voice in response to whatever message the reader would say to their childhood self.  Therefore, they are left with their own thoughts and answers to this question, to apply Duffy’s musings to their own life.  This poem underscores the significance of one’s childhood, and perhaps affirms the advice to never lose one’s inner child.

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