To My Nine-Year-Old Self by Helen Dunmore

To My Nine-Year-Old Self ! Now, if you have not read this poem, I highly suggest you do so. I’d say the first time I read this, it was compulsory for my A-Level course. Nonetheless, I fell in love with the poem, for reasons I am going to explore with you now.

As you may know from my ‘About Me’ page, I love writing, but I do also love to analyse texts. When I had come across this poem, the first time I read it was like a walk in the park. Just absorbing the material in, but when I looked closer, there were layers that I just had to uncover. Before we dive in, I just want to make clear that everyone is entitled to their own interpretation. This interpretation just happens to be mine, regardless if it may be right or not.

Poem at a Glance

The first tip I was given when analysing a poem was to locate the ‘5 Ws’. This being ‘who? what? when? where? and why?’ This is so that you can break the poem up to gather a fine understanding. Let’s start with who? Who is talking in the poem? With poems that seem personal, it tends to usually be the poet. In this case, it wouldn’t be out of the question as the poem takes quite a personal tone. However, this is a genderless poem and it is not specific who the narrator is, so it could be anyone! This makes it easier for people to relate to. What? Well, the poem explores the theme of change; the transition of childhood to adulthood. When? The poem does not explicitly state the time because that is irrelevant. All we know from time is that this poem explores the present self talking to past self. Why? Why is the narrator talking about this? From what I gathered, the narrator has regret. They dislike the person they have become, more specifically, life as an adult.

Now we’ve gathered the ‘5 Ws’ for a general understanding of the poem, let’s dive into the title. As with any poem, the title is usually significant. It is essentially preparing the reader for what the content may be. In this case, To My Nine-Year-Old Self, seems to be like a diary almost. In a diary, the most common objective is basically a recollection of the past and present. It entails the most deepest thoughts, regrets, and complaints.

Before we dive into the specifics, let’s look at the poem from a distance. Themes! What themes do you see portrayed in the poem? When I had a look at it, there were recurring concepts, which I located to be childhood, memories, change, time, and regret. These ultimately link to the message the poet is trying to convey.

Structure and Language

Looking specifically at the poem, the structure sets out a visual interpretation. In this case, the stanza lines are ‘567653’, the first stanza being 5 lines and the last stanza being 3. From what I gathered, I see this as a development, then an unexpected change. This could be the expected transition from childhood to adulthood. When the lines suddenly decrease, it resembles the unexpectedness of what adulthood brings. Adulthood is seen as a negative.

Now getting into the nitty gritty part! As I explored the themes earlier, how did I come to those conclusions? The answers are all in the words. Phrases such as “balancing on your hands or on the tightrope” and “You would rather run than walk, rather climb than run, rather leap from a height than anything” shows the carefree nature of a child. Specifically, the ‘nine-year-old self’ she is talking to. It shows how children live life on the edge, risk take, and do much more than they are told; being one step ahead.

Initially, the theme of regret is present in the second stanza where the narrator says “I have spoiled this body we once shared.” Here, she has acknowledged and admitted the faults of the future self. They begin to talk about the the “dream which we had, no doubt it’s as fresh in your mind as the white paper to write on.” This also evokes the simpler times as a child as the younger child knew what they wanted, however they are unsure now as an adult.

The ‘change’ is highlighted in “I’d like to say that we could be friends but the truth is we have nothing in common.” The narrator is not the same person anymore. This is due to times being changed where they state “Time to pick rosehips for tuppence a pound, time to hide down scarred lanes from men in cars after girl-children.” As you grow older, the real world is exposed which is full of vulnerability, worry, and caution. These very concepts destroy childhood. What I also picked up upon, was the repetition of “time to”, which shows that this is daily life. A routine. Routines are an adult made concept, which children are not aware of. However, they learn this as they grow older.

Towards the end of the poem, the narrator ends by leaving the past self “in an ecstasy of concentration slowly peeling a ripe scab from your knee to taste it on your tongue.” Now, there is a lot to pick apart from this last stanza. At first glance, you’d think of it negatively due to the word “ecstasy” which has connotations with drugs. And drugs are seen as immoral substances. However, the narrator uses the drug as a way to describe the carefreeness of a child. Side effects of this drug include enhancement of energy and improvement in mood. But, it is also dangerous, makes you lose track of time, and increases blood pressure. These are all concepts related to childhood. The child generally has an improved mood, a lot of energy loses track of time, has increased blood pressure from all the energy of playing around, and they also do dangerous things! So, in my eyes, I see this description as a good thing.

Moving onto the rest of the quote. “Peeling a ripe scab” would uncover a fresh wound, the wound representing memories and the carelessness of a child. “Taste it on your tongue” refers to tasting the memories. Essentially, the narrator does not want the ‘nine year-old-self’ to forget the fun times and the way they were as a child, because very soon things will change and become different.

Well there you go guys! That’s my interpretation and analyses of the poem. Hope you guys enjoyed the read, and I’d love to hear what you guys think of the poem if you’ve read it. Please feel free to contact me and follow my blog for similar posts. Also, if you’d like, have a look at my poems on my poetry page.

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